I am about to leave for Las Vegas on a 7-day vacation.
At this point, I intend to continue to post to my blog during my vacation. My wife has promised me several uninterrupted hours each morning. (I tend to rise early; she likes to sleep in late). However, if I end up disappearing for a week, you now know why.
In the mean time, I thought that this would provide an excuse to talk about what many people consider to be the sin of gambling.
I will not be gambling in Las Vegas, and I recommend against it when given a chance. Gambling is stupid. On average, every bet is an exchange where the customer goes to a casino and says, "I have an idea. I will give you $100, and you will give me $95 dollars back." Each individual exchange has an unknown range. Yet, by the end of the day, this will be the average. If the casino can get people to make $10 billion worth of exchanges such as this, then it can end the day with $500 million more than it started with.
It is important to recognize that this is in fact an exchange of giving $100 and getting $95 back. This allows the gambler to say, "I did well. I almost broke even." This is also per exchange. If he makes 20 of these exchanges, he will have gambled $2,000. He would have made back $1,900. I guess you can call this "almost breaking even."
Ultimately, the more bets one places, the more the Casino likes it. By the end of the day, the Casino would have been involved in hundreds of millions to billions of bets. The more bets there are, the more likely that the Casino will realize income equal to the average payback per bet.
Moral Argument against Gambling
There is a moral argument to be made against gambling -- that society should view gambling as "wrong" and discourage any desire to participate in this type of activity.
Such an argument springs from the fact that humans are poor at rational thought, and tend to base their judgments more on emotion than on reason. Gambling itself has a physiological effect -- creating a felling of pleasure or euphoria as it touches off hopes of a better life in the gambler. This combination of a tendency to base decisions on emotion and the euphoria that gambling creates yields a tendency for some rather foolish decisions.
A society that allows gambling is a society that allows one group of people to prey on this weakness in others.
One might respond to this by saying that people have a right to make foolish decisions, and that this does not justify taking away their freedom to do so. This argument would have merit if an entity known as 'intrinsic badness' exists and it can be shown to adhere in the act of interfering with the gambling acts of another.
However, intrinsic value does not exist. What exist are relationships between states of affairs and desires. We may have reason to believe that the relationship between the outcome of a gambling act and the desires the gambler seeks to fulfill are not what he thinks they are -- that the euphoria associated with gambling clouds his judgment. Bringing these relationships into actual alignment may best be accomplished with a prohibition on gambling.
For example, I consider casino gambling to be proof against any type claim of ESP, prayer, or any type of supernatural force that may benefit the gambler over the casino. If there were such a force, casinos would notice that their take from all of the bets that get placed in their casino would deviate inexplicably from the statistical average. We may expect that such a force will create an unexplained number of winners and, for the house, an inexplicably high payout to customers.
To the best of my knowledge, no such statistical anomaly has ever been found. Casinos can reliably predict their income and it will be a known percentage of bets taken.
I suppose that someone could say that these supernatural forces take from those who deserve punishment and give to those who deserve a reward in such a way that it maintains the balance while promoting cosmic justice. There is no end to the patches one can put on in an effort to save a cherished belief.
Yet, the evidence suggests, and the rational person will believe, that no supernatural force will trip the game in their favor.
The casinos, of course, prey on those who are not rational. People who think that some supernatural entity will guide the game in their favor are those who paid for the casino.
This fact suggests that there is reason to question the moral character of those who promote the idea that these supernatural forces exist. People who do so are promoting a belief system that leaves its victims vulnerable to the predations of businesses such as gambling houses. It leaves them worse off, on average, than they would have otherwise been.
Gambling provides a mechanism through which the rational people can prey on the irrational.
The Bigger Picture
However, there is also an argument that the fault lies not with gambling, but with the decision to embrace irrational beliefs. If the fault lies with the irrational, and it leaves them vulnerable to these predators, then the prey get what they deserve. The decision to become prey was theirs.
Personally, I am not inclined to punish those who gamble. They get punishment enough when they lose.
Rather, gambling itself is a symptom of a society that has not given enough attention to promote rational thought. When I meet people who gamble, I use this as an opportunity to teach lessons in math and statistics. These are lessons that they should have gotten when they were in school.
Yet, they did not learn these lessons in school. This is because we live in a society where there is more interest in outlawing some of the worst symptoms of irrational thought than teaching people to make rational choices. What would happen if we taught students the facts about gambling, and the fact that there is no evidence that there are special forces that will improve their odds above those that the laws of probability predict?
I explain to them how dividing up the day’s gambling into larger numbers of smaller bets benefits the house. It increases the odds that one’s final outcome will be near the average payout for whatever game they play. Every bet brings the average closer to, “I give you $100; you give me back $95” that casinos depend on. The greater the number of bets that its customers place, the more reliably the Casino can predict its income.
I also like to point out to my friends that gamble; “When I tally all of the wins and losses that I have made on my investments, I have made over $50,000. If you tally all of your wins and losses when you gamble, where are you?”
My choice is not to give money to those who traditionally and historically collect far more than they pay out. I prefer to put my money with those who have a history of paying out more than the collect.
No, I am not going to Las Vegas to gamble. I’m going there to enjoy the money that I have because I learned to make rational choices.