On the face of it, the banker wins the bet, because the lawyer leaves his cell five minutes before midnight—the time of his release—thereby violating the terms of the bet. In doing so, the lawyer lets go of the two million that would have been given to him had he...
stayed in his cell until the very last minute. Through the fifteen years of his imprisonment, the lawyer learns a lot about life and the material wealth of the world. Before the prison term, he was materialistic and easily swayed by worldly things. This is one of the reasons why it was easy for him to place a bet that required giving away fifteen years of his prime life for the sake of money. Afterward, he learns that money is not everything. As he says in his letter to the banker, he "despises freedom, life, health, and all the so-called blessings of the world.” He says that “everything is void, frail, visionary, and delusive as a mirage.” He has come to realize that life is fleeting: it can be here one second and gone the next. The question then is this: Does life imprisonment “kill by degrees”?
If one should answer this question by looking at the lawyer’s physical looks (“he was a skeleton, with long curly hair like a woman’s, and a shaggy beard. The color of his face was yellow, of an earthy shade; the cheeks were sunken, the back long and narrow, and the hand upon which he leaned his hairy head was so lean and skinny that it was painful to look upon”) then it could be said that indeed the banker wins the bet. However, the bet was placed to determine whether the lawyer could last fifteen years in complete isolation—this he has proved possible, and he does not leave the cell a “dead” man. Rather, he is alive and even wiser, for he lets go of the stake.
Imprisonment changes the lawyer’s view toward life, while freedom does little to improve the life of the reckless banker. In fact, he loses a lot of money through the years so that he cannot even afford to pay the stake. As the fifteen years come to an end, he spends his time brooding about the two million dollars that he owes the lawyer. He even thinks to kill the lawyer so as to avoid paying the two million dollars. In this regard, he has lost the bet, having learned nothing from his free life while the lawyer proved his ability to survive and thrive.