I really should not be up this early, but the successive jetlags have not been too kind on my bio-clock. First Dubai to east coast, and just when I thought I had the jetlag thing figured out, I sling-shot myself, on a rickety United flight, to the glorious capital of global sin.
And so, in the grand pyramid of Luxor, featuring the brightest man-made light projecting into the atmosphere, I had my first encounter with the slot machine. I lost a whopping 6 dollars – and here i was thinking I had skill.
On the way back, I quipped, to my friend who lives here: I don’t know why logical people gamble? And proceeded to have 30 minute discussion (argument?!) over the case for Vegas. My position, perhaps unfairly parochial, was this:
Why would a rational person put money in the slot machine, or on the table, when he knows that the odds are so heavily stacked against him that on an aggregate basis they will always lose money?
I mean, would you knowingly buy a stock that you know will eat 50% of your equity or even 15%? In my mind, playing a lottery and feeding a slot machine is like putting a wad of cash on fire – money you will never see again. And to be honest, I thought this case was so compelling that a counter argument is a non-starter.
Not if the friend arguing with you is a business-savvy, epicurean deconstructionist. Here is the case he made:
Firstly, the gambling industry is very closely regulated with the probability in favor of the house closely monitored – so in most games the aggregate probably is not “heavily” but reasonably stacked against you. In the slot machines for example, the aggregate probability is only about 5% in favor of the house. So an a sample of sufficient trials, you should only lose 5% of the money.
Secondly, gambling is not an investment, its entertainment. You go to the casino to experience the thrill, the adrenalin rush of winning and losing, of beating the house. And you pay for that – but how is that payment different from watching a movie? A “rational” person can decide what his apetite for risk is, if it is zero, he can always go watch Casino Royale on the silver screen, but he will still walk away 20 dollars and 3 hours poorer.
Thirdly, gambling can be a source of good. Take for example, the employment it has created for thousands. The chefs, the gymnasts, the singers, (the strippers? : P) . It created a city in the middle of the desert (sound familiar, right?)? so people could flock there for an escape, and in doing so, built a massive economy, universities, schools and architectural marvels.
Reflecting on this argument in the wee hours of the morning with the lucidity of a sleep deprived truck driver – I think he has a point. Not that a counter argument cannot still be made, but what it boils down to is:
People have always gambled, and in places of prohibition, it still happens, behind closed doors, unregulated, unchecked. Wouldn’t making it legit allow better monitoring and control, bring it under the tax net, and as an ancillary benefit, allow patronage of the arts, however, extravagant and plastic?
I think my friend and I were both discussing minutiae, because I was never questioning the legality of gambling. I believe adults have the right to do whatever they choose. What we were arguing over was the rationality of the gamblers and that again is a subtle point:
Spock will never gamble, as he will calculate the sterile mathematical probability and it will not equate. Kirk, on the other hand, will gamble at every galactic casino, while having three simultaneous love affairs with 3 different humanoid species. Irrational – yes. But that’s what makes him human – and captain.
Time to sign off…I can hear the slot machines ringing. :p