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In Chicago, after she and her partner Frenchy are caught with loaded dice during a backstreet craps game, Joan Phillips is severely beaten by the men she was cheating. Soon after, Joan's estranged husband, David Boothe, tries to explain to the cynical doctor who is treating her injuries how his once vibrant and sophisticated wife became a sad, desperate woman: While David, a reporter, gathers information for a story at Hoover Dam, Joan drops by the casino in their Las Vegas hotel with a hidden camera, hoping to snap some photos for a possible article of her own. A gambling novice, she is soon spotted by Horace Corrigan, the casino's suave owner, who criticizes her secretive methods but gives her some free house chips with which to gamble. That evening, Joan samples the various casino games and tells David that she finds gambling "exciting." When David announces that they are leaving Las Vegas the following afternoon, she tries to persuade him to spend the night gambling with her, but he insists he has to work. Bored with gambling with worthless chips, Joan surreptiously borrows fifty dollars from David's $600 expense account and quickly loses it at the craps table. By early the next morning, Joan has used up all the expense account money and begs Corrigan, who is attracted to her, for a loan. Recognizing that Joan is a compulsive gambler, Corrigan refuses her. Joan tearfully pawns her camera and, with that money, wins back the $600. After she replaces the expense account money, Joan learns that her older, neurotic sister Ruth has just arrived from Chicago. Ruth, who helped rear Joan after their mother died from childbirth complications and now controls Joan through guilt, resents David, and he decides to return to Chicago alone. That evening, Corrigan offers Joan a chance to sit in on a private poker game, and when she declines, he flirts with the homely Ruth. Later, Joan cautions Ruth about Corrigan, prompting Ruth to angrily remind her about the engagement she once broke because of her. Distressed, Joan joins Corrigan's poker game, playing all night with Corrigan's stake. Joan wins $6,000, from which Corrigan pays her $800. Claiming to know what Joan needs, Corrigan then kisses her, but Joan politely resists him. David, meanwhile, calls Joan from Salt Lake City where he has stopped on his drive back to Chicago, and when Ruth tells him that Joan's bed has not been slept in, he heads back to Las Vegas. Upon arriving, David takes Joan to Hoover Dam and demands to know where she was the night before. When she insists that she was merely having fun in the casino, he warns her about spending too much time gambling. After she cheerfully proclaims that she can quit anytime, she and David decide to spend some time relaxing at nearby Lake Mead. David soon catches Joan slipping away to gamble, however, and she confesses that she cannot stop herself. Determined to save Joan, David quits his newspaper job and takes her to a beach village in Mexico, where they spend several blissful months. One day, David, who is writing a book, leaves for an overnight research trip, and while he is gone, Joan runs into a couple she met in Las Vegas. The couple persuades Joan to join them in a backroom craps game, and before long, Joan has gambled away David's savings. Upon deducing Joan's transgression, David sadly separates from her and returns to his job in Chicago. With only a little money, Joan goes to Las Vegas and asks Corrigan for work. Corrigan, who has sold his casino, hires Joan as a front for a new horserace syndicate that he and some others have formed. Joan's gambling continues at the track, but now she bets in order to raise money to repay David. When David, who has not heard from her in months, sends her divorce papers, she panics and, against Corrigan's orders, bets $200 on one of the syndicate's young horses. Although the horse wins, Joan is too frightened to collect her winnings, because her bet cost the horse its longshot standing, on which the syndicate members had been counting. Disgusted by Joan's actions, Corrigan leaves her to fend for herself at an out-of-the-way bus stop. Joan wanders from dive to dive, ending up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she hooks up with crooked gambler Frenchy, and finally returns to Chicago. Back in the present, David and the doctor go to talk to the semi-conscious Joan and are joined by Ruth. As predicted by David, Ruth blames him for Joan's problems and accuses Joan of killing their mother. Overwhelmed by guilt, Joan tries to jump from the hospital window, but is saved by David. At last free of Ruth's emotional tyranny, Joan and David watch the sun rise together, confident that a new day has dawned for them.