Several years ago a book by Richard Jessup called The Cincinnati Kid won acclaim for the deceptive simplicity with which it zeroed in on the High Noon suspense of two gamblers and their poker game. Now another book of the same genre examines more thoroughly, if somewhat less artfully, a compulsive gambler and a weekend spent wrestling with himself, a girl named Lisa Fortune and the probabilities involved in dice, blackjack, horse racing, poker and jai alai. Lew White, the protagonist of It Only Hurts a Minute by Don M. Mankiewicz (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $5.95), might well sing the Fugue for Tinhorns from Guys and Dolls, for in spite of his sophistication he is spiritual kin to Nathan Detroit and friends, ready to bet on anything that runs, falls or flies.
Gambling has cost Lew White a marriage—but that was probably dead anyway, because Lew is alive only at the table. If a gambler, he says, "considers seriously the possibility that no genuinely favorable opportunity to bet will ever arise, then he is moving on beyond the area of 'good gambler' into the area of 'non-gambler.' " Wryly, he remembers the Black Friday when he lost everything he owned in a game of craps to a man he despised. Later, presumably a reformed gambler, he sits in on a high-stake game as a house man in a California poker casino and realizes that one of the players, a beautiful blonde named Lisa Fortune, is cheating. Utilizing his fast hands and some fast talk, he covers for her. After she collects her winnings they go off together, driving first to the Del Mar racetrack where wheeling the daily double looks good. "I'd be interested in fifty dollars' worth of a double wheel," says Lisa. More than $3,000 later they are on their way to Mexico to take a fling at jai alai, a sporting lottery in which form counts for little, and the unknown but obviously high vigorish makes winning nearly impossible—a challenge to Lew White, whose total commitment is to chance. When he and Lisa finally retire they take the Caliente Racing Forms to bed with them. Tomorrow is another day.
Lew parlays his winnings into $60,000, first at the track then at a crap table in Las Vegas. It has taken him three days to build less than $150 into a fortune, and it takes him less than an hour to lose it all at blackjack. Without so much as a Take Back Your Mink, Lisa leaves. She's a winner's girl, and she knows what Lew does not, that in gambling there is no magic, only winners and losers. You can figure the odds at craps or how to handicap a horse race. But people still lose, the game wins.