People Is Stupid: Why We Gamble


people-is-stupid-why-we-gamble-articleIt’s asinine, really. You’ll never win. There’s a reason the Las Vegas Strip is full of skyscraper hotels and Eiffel Towers and dancing fountains, and it’s not because people win at blackjack. Hell, the immigrants passing out baseball cards for escort agencies aren’t even playing toward the winners; for every client who spends his four hundred dollars in winnings on one night’s good time, there are ten more paying just to forget they lost four thousand.

And for what do we piss this money away? To chase a ball around a wheel? To hope that playing cards equal twenty-one, as if that number had any meaning? To play slot machines, which are really just computerized random number generating machines with a face? And what is that face, really? Mr. Cashman (who can suck my balls – he doesn’t give any cash to anybody), or even worse, Judge Judy?

The casinos have it figured. They rationalize it as entertainment. As if it’s fun to stare at Judge Judy’s ugly mug for hours at a time, or to see cartoon characters bounce across the screen once an hour. They build “penny slots” that cost 50 cents a spin, and pay 15. They act as if there’s glamour to chasing cards, printing millions of advertisements showing attractive couples at a table game, smiling and laughing, arms up in the air with the sweet feel of victory. There’s never a picture on the Caesars website of a lonely drunk, who watched a blackjack dealer go 3-2-6-J against his dealt 20. (If there was, I’d have a modeling career.)

No, they’ve got us figured out. And we’re dumb enough to go along with it. Hell, Caesars properties show little reminders about responsible gaming, reminding us not to leave our children unattended. On the Las Vegas Strip. That’s how dumb they think we are; that we might get so caught up in our blackjack game, that we’d send our 13-year-old son off alone, maybe with our credit card, to go collect some hooker baseball cards. Of course, if they really wanted to promote responsible gaming, they’d force our children to stay with us. One hour watching Daddy play Judge Judy slots will turn a child off from gambling for a lifetime.

In the movie The Usual Suspects, the Kevin Spacey character Verbal Kent/Kaiser Soze utters a phenomenal quote (and, by the way, if you wanted a spoiler alert there, the movie is 18 years old. Quit watching the Kardashians and get your shit together.) “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled,” he says, “was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The greatest trick Las Vegas has ever pulled is convincing the world that it offers “free drinks.” Ask the guy who wakes up in a hotel on the Strip with a hangover, opening his wallet to find nothing but a receipt for an ATM withdrawal of five hundred dollars, just how “free” those drinks were.

And we play right along. We all figure out the proper ways to beat the system. On my way to Las Vegas this week, my best friend texted me to remind to play 8 and 25 on the roulette wheel. “They always win,” he told me, which explains why he spends 40 hours a way hanging drywall. How stupid does he have to be? 8 and 25 don’t always win; 2, 10, and 22 always win. He should know; that’s his kid’s birthday. I majored in mathematical economics (I’m not bragging; I dropped out). I studied statistics; I fully understand random distributions and sample sizes and the undeniable existence of the “gambler’s fallacy.” Yet every time I push in a blackjack hand, I double my bet the next time. Why? Because it works. It worked once, anyway. That’s all I need.

That’s why we gamble. Because every now and then, it seems like we have a level of control we can never find it in life. And because gambling is awesome. Winning at gambling is like stealing, without the guilt. It is literally the act of conjuring money out of thin air: no work, no effort, no joy. It is alchemy; it is free money. The irony, of course, particularly in Las Vegas, is that you never really win. Why? Because gambling winnings are “found money.” So you just spend the money buying dinner or table-side massages or free drinks or happy endings, because it’s not your money – it’s the casino’s. You might as well give it back to them.

The thousand dollars you lost last time was your money, of course, but who gives a shit? We didn’t do anything wrong. We can blame the dealer, or our girlfriend, or the fact that we left our lucky underwear in Oklahoma. It’s always somebody else’s fault. And isn’t that all we want? We want to feel special when we win, and yell at everyone else when we don’t. (It’s kind of like being Kobe Bryant.) That’s what casinos promise, and that’s what we fall for hook, line, and sinker. It’s asinine, it’s immature, and it’s flat-out stupid. And if you’ll excuse me, I have to go; I have a very strong feeling that 22 is due on the roulette table.

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