The first casino I ever went to was destroyed by guerrillas shortly afterwards. It was called the Elephant Hills Casino, and it was near Victoria Falls in what was then still called Rhodesia. It was an easy target for mortar and rocket fire, because it was large and isolated; moral outrage at the destruction was muted, because few people consider casinos to be the finest flower of Western civilization.

I had never played roulette before: I mistrusted myself, and took only what I thought I could afford to lose. I had no experience of gambling, beyond having read Dostoyevsky’s Gambler and having heard family rumors of an uncle who had been ruined, or at least relatively impoverished, by his love of the races. I sensed danger, and took precautions.

I lost my money almost immediately, without a single win. I had experienced briefly the unbearable and yet thrilling tension as the ball hovered over the ever mo ...