By James Strauss
A long time ago in Las Vegas a bright man befriended the general manager of a gambling casino called Caesar’s Palace (well before that manager mysteriously disappeared into the desert). The man wanted to know, from the general manager, whether it was a good idea to gamble to supplement his income, as some of his friends did who came to Las Vegas. The manager told the man that Las Vegas had the greatest advertising program in the world, and then asked the man to guess what it was. The man considered for a while before listing television advertising, billboards, the radio, and more. The general manager smiled as the man suggested the different programs. Finally, he told the man that the advertising he was talking about had nothing to do with traditional advertising. This advertising was entirely free, and consisted of people coming to Las Vegas to gamble, and then returning home to tell anyone who would listen that his or her experience had been one of breaking even, paying the trip’s costs, or even winning. It seemed no one ever returned home from Vegas a loser. Then the general manager swept his arm out to encompass the huge gambling floor of the Palace and said, “from these people today, my establishment will make over a million dollars in revenue. In truth, nobody goes home a winner, except the people who own the place.”
The man had more questions about playing games, like poker, where people came to play other people, and the house makes only a small percentage of the total winnings. The general manager laughed again, and informed the man that high stakes poker games were all pre-set deals, arranged by the Palace, and other casinos just like them. Professional poker players were seeded into every game, and only visitors-and those who didn’t know better-could win against such experienced players. The professional players turned their winnings into the house, and actually made their money from a salary, just like all the other regular employees. The man felt dejected. He realized that he believed what the G. M. was saying. Seeing his expression the G.M. tried to reassure him with another comment. “Gambling is part of all life except, it’s not always called that. Every human gambles upon the presence, importance, actions, and even thoughts of other humans nearby, or even far away, all the time.”
The man soon left Las Vegas, but it took a long time for him to truly internalize what the G. M. had said. It was several years, and many, many transactions, and interactions later, before he finally understood. When an employee is hired, or a prospective employee interviewed, there is a huge amount of gambling going on for a lot of money. If the employer wins, then the employer makes a lot of money on their gamble. If the employee wins, then the employee makes a lot of money from the employer. And both can win, without either losing. Marriage is an even larger gamble, and for much higher stakes. Each spouse is gambling that the other will honor and fulfill their marital vows and promises, hopefully achieving mutual gain. Research statistics, and probability theory, are two phrases that are frequently substituted for the word gambling in daily life. When a street is crossed, a trail traversed, a mountain climbed, or an airline flight taken, risks are calculated before, during and after the actions. These ‘gambles’ are made by everyone every day, but are not usually described as gambles. And these gambles can be as fixed and crooked as any gambling games run by private or public establishments. The general manage of the Palace also told the man never to play slot machines, because there were no big winners. The bells, lights and sirens are meant to draw everyone’s attention. Customers see and hear the hoopla and think someone has just hit a jackpot. But they haven’t. The ‘winners’ are really employees selected to play special machines. They appear to be winners, thereby making all slot machine players on the floor think that they can win too. The ‘fact’ that slot machines must pay out a certain percentage of revenue taken in, is a myth. There is no law that says that slot machines must pay out any return on revenue, whatsoever.
In everyday life, the gambling going on in almost every facet of social and cultural survival, is just as fixed. The son, daughter, cousin or friend, gets the promotion, not the person who is most capable or experienced. Movie actors change their names so that the nepotism of Hollywood will remain hidden. And the belief that “if you just work hard enough, and do a good enough performance, you will become a star” is a myth prevalent around the world. But the lure of this mythology is very strong, and it is both embraced by, and perpetuated by, the very media that keeps insiders in power and outsiders out. Playing state lotteries is just as foolish as playing the slots in Las Vegas. The winners are known by, if not downright related to, the officials running the lotteries. People don’t willingly give away millions, or hundreds of millions, of dollars to strangers. People say that they do, however. Yet again, mythology.
How can knowledge of gambling be used to better understand and deal with life?
For one thing, once the stacked deck nature of all gambling is accepted, a person can relax, stop trying to control uncontrollable situations, and release a lot of frustration and anger. Many gambles will fail because the game is rigged, but even more will fail because the gamble was a bad gamble for reasons almost impossible for the participant to predict ahead of time. By not spending time and assets on fixed gambling schemes, or in accepted casinos, knowledgeable people can redirect mental and physical assets into more productive areas. Also, those gambles in business, or even marriage, that go bad can be perceived as more acceptable if it can be understood that every decision in selection among humans is one of chance, and that means that a lot of them are not going to end in success. Human beings cannot avoid gambling about everything in life, any more than they can stop taking air in and out of their lungs, and live. Humans can smell the aroma of the air they breathe, however, and choose to breathe air from somewhere more supportive of life and comfort. About 30,000 people lose their lives every year in automobile accidents. These accidents are now called crashes because trial lawyers wanted to be able to assign liability and fault to events that are much more often due to chance, than deliberation. Almost half of all marriages will fail at some point. And those failures will be much more the result of chance in selection, or implementation, than in people not wanting to, or not being able to, live together.
Accept chance for what it really is, and acknowledge how big a role it plays in your life. Accommodate gambling, but do it where it must be done. Don’t do it where others want you to do it so they can take your stuff, or money, or even your life. Accept that you are going to lose a lot. Life is not about winning and losing.
It is about living through all of it.