The foremost blackjack player in the United States, the man who fashioned the cult and spread the word, his ineffable reverence "Bishop" Arnold Snyder, has a depressing message in his latest book, Blackjack Wisdom: YOU WON'T WIN.

Of course, there are a few players who do win, the Bishop explains. Professional card-counters exist; they are not entirely mythical. "It's just that I know that these professional players are so exceptional, so obsessed, so dedicated, such gluttons for punishment, so terror-stricken by the concept of working a nine-to-five job, so few and far between in every sense of few and far between, that, honestly, you are highly unlikely to be one of these human anomalies."

The most honest message he can preach to his followers, the Bishop avows, is: You won't win. The reason is the fluctuations. The negative downswings will be bigger, harder and longer lasting, and more upsetting and more unbelievable, than the player's level of toleration.

"Your losses will tear at your heart, and fill you with emptiness, and leave you in a state of quiet desperation ... Some card-counters will win, but not you."

The Bish concedes that some counters will experience inordinate positive fluctuations. But, again, not you. These card-counters will be having champagne parties in their hotel rooms, celebrating that marvellous life of freedom and money and adventure that just seems to come naturally with the lifestyle of a professional gambler. But not you.

"You will be among the unfortunate few who, statistically speaking, will be located in the far left tail of the Gaussian curve ... it is a cold and lonely place. Someone has to be there. It will be you."

Doesn't the Bishop's warning apply just as much to the lottery? And, in fact, to all casino games? What makes his advice so striking is that unlike these other games, professional blackjack counters do have an advantage over the house, of 1 per cent or so. And still, they suffer.

That will not deter blackjack players or gamblers. The appeal of the game is too great to be resisted. The Bishop's awful warning makes one wonder why casinos are so paranoid about counters. Casinos, if they knew their own business, should encourage counters. The negative fluctuations will do the casinos' job for them.

`Blackjack Wisdom', which is both funny and enlightening, is available from RGE publishing, 414, Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland, California 94610, price $25 including postage.