Thursday, Dec 01, 2022
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Roulette Rules

Roulette Rules

I’M no friend of gambling, get that straight. The thought of what little money I have disappearing across a blackjack or roulette table leaves me cold. Poker with friends, now that’s a different story. But gambling with strangers is a pointless exercise, fraught with risk, best avoided. So it was journalistic enquiry, not greed, that brought me to visit Kathmandu’s casinos recently. I left my wallet at home, but brought my notebook and a television camera. I was looking for Indian tourists. They’ve all but disappeared from the Nepalese capital, post Hrithik Roshan, post hijacking.

But aside from Colombo—and it costs real money to get there, and you can’t spend your own rupees as you can in Nepal—there is no other place for the hardened Indian gambler than the four casinos of Kathmandu. A sign at the door greets you with the house rules: "No short pants, sandals, T-shirts or Nepalis." Perhaps it was a reading of those signs that touched off December’s riots in Kathmandu, not the non-existent venom of a very nice young Bollywood actor. If I were a Nepali, I’d take to the streets too. The Nepalese government, it seems, either thinks gambling is beneath its citizens, or something they must be protected from, even at the cost of an insult to national pride. The regulations are clear: anyone can gamble in Kathmandu, 24 hours a day, as recklessly as they please: so long as they weren’t born there. Once aside, officious security people kept hissing in my ear, "don’t take any pictures of anyone who looks Nepali". Frankly, aside from three Chinese and three white Americans, all of the gamblers looked Nepali. I asked a few and they said they were Indian, but a fiercely waggled finger from the security chief when I tried to take a picture pronounced on nationality more than any Immigration officer ever did. So I’m not sure if I found the elusive Indian tourists or not. Nor did I lose any money, which is an accomplishment in itself.

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