The law is sometimes a strange beast. It is illegal to gamble in the District of Columbia. It's also illegal to cheat at gambling. And if you gamble and lose $25 or more, don't worry -- you can sue the winner and get back your losses.

Alas, as Metro Scene reads the law, the provision permitting the recovery of gambling losses doesn't apply to bets on sporting events, such as today's Super Bowl game. You gotta live with those risks. Rather, it affects "playing at cards, dice or any other game or . . . betting on the sides or hands of persons who play."

Here are excerpts from the laws still on the books, the dates of their enactments lost in the mists of time because the 1981 edition of the D.C. Code contains only recodification dates:

*"Whoever shall in the District set up or keep any gaming table, or any house, vessel, or place, or land or water, for the purpose of gaming, or gambling device commonly called ABC, faro bank, EO, roulette, equality, keno, thimbles, or little joker, or any kind of . . . gambling device . . . [to] induce, entice, and permit any person to bet or play . . . shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not more than five years."

*"Whoever . . . by fraud or false pretenses, while playing any game . . . wins . . . above the sum or value of $25, shall, upon conviction of the offense, forfeit five times the value of the sum of money or other thing so won, and shall be deemed infamous." (The legal definition of an infamous person is one guilty of a crime of moral turpitude; broadly, the word infamous means notorious or detestable.)

*"A person who [in gambling] . . . loses . . . $25 or more . . . may, within three months . . . sue for, and recover treble the value of the [losses] . . . with cost of suit . . . one-half [of the recovery] to the use of the plaintiff, the remainder to the use of the District of Columbia."

Lawyers and D.C. government officials reached could recall no suits brought under this provision, and no resulting receipts to the D.C. Treasury. A caveat: The indiscreet filing of such a suit could be, to put it bluntly, hazardous to one's longevity.