Gamblers – Read and Weep

In one of those pharmaceutical ads on TV (in which we consumers learn which drugs to tell our doctors to prescribe to us) we got a review of a list of side effects. Usually this takes up most of the commercial, and has the most intense smiling from the actors. The side effects we were advised about with this drug included “an increase in gambling or sexual urges.” Also be aware of any urge to have sex on a Blackjack table at a major casino.gambler

We know how sex can play hell with our minds, but – gambling? That gambling can be addictive is now understood even by rank and file citizens, but the fact of it raises questions about the human brain. Alcohol, smoking, and drug addictions are easier to understand. You are changing your body chemistry, physically. Food and sex addictions are physical, too. But gambling? That’s just flashing lights and a loss of money. If gambling is addictive, what else is?

The answer would seem to be – anything with an intense emotional aspect, anything that revs up the adrenaline and gets the dopamine flowing. Those are the physical components of addiction to an activity. (So… religion?) In the case of gambling, the activity can be absolutely ruinous, so there are more chapters of Gamblers Anonymous than there are for, say, Bass Fishing Anonymous. There are over a thousand chapters worldwide, in fact. Included are Israel, Kenya, Japan, and the Kingdom of Jordan. That’s www.gamblersanonymous.org/

Showing a tender concern for our newly discovered societal problem of compulsive gambling, the big American casinos now have warning labels. Little pamphlets and signs here and there caution about the affliction, and pass along the phone number of Gamblers Anonymous. It’s more than the back alley dice game offers, but how many compulsives are being helped is a big question. It turns out the casinos aren’t losing much on this public service campaign.

Gamblers Anonymous (GA) estimates that only 8% of the people who attend their first meeting are still abstinent a year later. That number goes up if the gambler is getting psychiatric counseling along with GA, or if he has family members in Gam-Anon. Yes, for the loved ones of the compulsive gambler there is Gam-Anon and Gam-A-Teen, offering us outsiders some vague hint at the dimensions of this problem.

Along with its lousy rates of recidivism, GA admits that the vast numbers of problem gamblers never seek treatment in the first place. That’s part of their psychological profile. They are invincible and will persevere unto the winning of the Progressive Jackpot. If they can come up with enough money to stay in the game long enough their luck is bound to change. Also there’s a new book on Craps strategy that’s said to be red hot. (There are entire book stores in Las Vegas, big ones, stocking nothing other than strategies for winning in the casinos.)

The compulsive gambler represents a small fraction of the people who play in casinos. Virtually everybody is losing, but only the small numbers of compulsives are there relentlessly, getting themselves gobbled up. The James Bond fantasy of gambling is fun, and everybody does it at some point. But should you be inclined to pursue it in earnest, here are some things to bear in mind.

Elvis slotsThe massive casino buildings of Las Vegas were not financed by paying out winners. The losers, in their teeming millions, financed those structures. (The construction of the Excalibur was paid for in cash. At the time it was the biggest hotel casino on Earth.) So the reality is the exact opposite of the first psychological impression one gets from looking at the casinos. They appear to be fountains of wealth. They are, of course. Just not for you.

Casino games are all slanted in favor of the house to a varying degree. Every last one. Some games (blackjack and craps) offer conservative, dull, strategies in which the player can get the odds down to almost 50-50. A coin toss. But who wants to bet significant amounts of money on a coin toss?

We now arrive at the ultimate scenario of reality in gambling. Let’s say you are there and you win a little something. That happens. You’re sitting there with a hundred dollar profit. Okay, what do you do now? Leave the casino, drive to a bank and establish a savings account? You might hear of that concept at the casino’s stand-up comedy club, but the reality is you are going to “let it ride,” or otherwise keep gambling in hopes of scoring another hundred. The longer you play the less likely you are to win, because the odds favor the casino over the player over time. The longer the play goes on the longer the long-shot odds against the player. And the odds of hitting a major, decisive “big win” are truly microscopic. So, you begin to see the reality that to get ahead in gambling you have to win and win again, steadily and consistently. It is simply not going to happen.

Just as some people die from lightning strikes, big wins do sometimes happen. That is where the casino gets the faces for their advertising campaign. But it’s like picking a few names out of a heavy telephone directory. The overwhelming numbers of people are losing, with a smaller percentage breaking even or leaving with an insignificant win.

You want to gamble? Start a business.

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