Why does the banker want out of the bet?

In Anton Chekhov's "The Bet," the banker wants out of the bet because his financial situation has changed drastically over the fifteen years. He no longer has the money to spare and believes that if he is forced to pay the lawyer, he will thus be financially ruined.

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On the night the bet is made, the banker is an extremely wealthy man. He has organized a dinner party, inviting an array of guests who represent a scholarly and elite echelon of society. As his guests begin debating capital punishment, the lawyer's comment particularly inflames the banker's position. Without flinching, he wagers two million rubles that the lawyer could not live in solitary confinement for five years. The lawyer increases the length of confinement to fifteen years, and the men agree on this bet. Confident that he will win, the banker later asks the lawyer to consider, noting that "two millions are nothing to me."

His financial situation changes drastically during that fifteen years, however. After some risky financial investments on the stock exchange, he no longer has two million to spare. In fact, the banker isn't sure whether he has more "money or debts" at this point and realizes that if he is forced to actually pay the lawyer, it will be his financial ruin. The only way he can avoid complete bankruptcy, in his own estimation, is for the lawyer to die. He thus generates a plan to kill him on the day before the fifteen-year confinement is complete, thereby avoiding having to pay the lawyer his owed two million rubles.

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