Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gamble

Like I said yesterday, we stayed in a casino hotel in Shreveport--"Sam's Town."

Staying in a casion hotel when you're not gambling results in a strange kind of dislocation, because the entire focus of the facility is on something you're not doing. However, there are plenty of advantages to staying in a casino hotel, because the casino's entire strategy is to have you never leave. That means that food is reasonably priced (and reasonably good), room service is prompt, and services like laundry aren't much more expensive than in the "real world."

In other words, unless you want to, there's no functional reason to leave.

Like I've talked about before, I don't gamble at casinos for strictly mathematical reasons. If the math is always against me, I'm not interested.

I'm always staggered, though, by the number of people who see the actual act of losing money as entertainment. They know that they're supposed to lose, and they usually do, but that's okay. Somehow, the possibility of not losing qualifies as entertainment.

I saw a family leaving the casino on Monday afternoon. It was a family of four--an obese man and woman, poorly dressed, with two kids around Eli 7.5's age. The father's face was so red that he looked like he was about to have a stroke, and the woman said (with a very thick country accent) "Well, you can't get mad when you're lose--they fix it so you're supposed to lose."

These people certainly didn't look wealthy. They didn't look like the kind of people who could blow money at a casino and never give it a second thought. I've always somehow associated casinos with the wealthy, but these people were hardscrabble (as were most of the people I saw there).

And the father was so angry. I can't understand what he expected--that the laws of probability would majestically roll back for him for one golden day? I'm not trying to mock him when I say that, because his anger was clearly genuine, but I can't quite discern what's going through people's minds when they play a game that is, by design, stacked against them mathematically, yet somehow they expect to win anyway.

It's tremendously interesting to see people walk in and out of casino hotels. On the way into the hotel, most of the people I saw had momentum to their stride. They had some steam. They were talking, laughing.

On the way out, people were walking more slowly. No steam. I watched several hundred people this way, and I never saw even one person look exultant as they left.

I missed out on a golden opportunity this trip, but I'm going to remember next time. I need to go into the casino and watch people play. I really want to see what happens between that look on their face when they get to the casino and the look on their face when they leave.

I do have one guess, and I'm sure you guys will tell me if this is true. Does winning at a casino feel so impossibly good precisely because you're not supposed to win? That would be an incredibly nefarious psychological transaction, but somehow it feels plausible.

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