Winners &Losers

Winner & Losers
The Black Jack
American Statistical
Returned Casino
jam-packed gambles
Blackjack Heaven
Spooking & blackjack

Oh Not The Ritz

One Dark Night>
A spinall played
traced back< India
Poker Backgammon
1984 Aspinal
Gamester Extraordinary

View From The Downside

Gordon Moody
Powerful Stuff
Royal Commission

Gamblers Hospital

Gamblers Hospital
Individual Therapy

In The Casino

Take Risks
So Why Gamble
The Reason
Gambling Event

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Percentages and Chances

Percentages and Chances

      Action Man

Action Man
Las Vegas
Bucking The Odds
Kusyszyn concludes

 Mauvaise Epoque

Dynamic Management
Blanc Dies
The S.B.M
Eudaemons to Draw

Nevada & New Jersey

Mafia boss
Connection & Crime
Jersey Casino
Technical Issues


The Game of Life
Real Until



       WE ALL TAKE risks every day of our lives.  Driving to work, catching an aeroplane, even crossing the road.  These sorts of risk are quantified by actuaries and covered by insurance policies.  The insurance company, working on the past record of many hundreds of thousands of instances, calculates the probabilities of a particular accident befalling the individual seeking cover and sets its premium for the policy accordingly, plus a healthy margin to take care of its operating costs and profits.  Exactly as the casinos do.  But whereas most prudent people would take out an insurance policy, as a basic part of their game-plan for living, gamblers choose to take a wholly unnecessary and avoidable risk.  Seeking risk for its own sake, as a diversion.

            In this book I concentrate on casino gambling, because it is so intense and so fast.  If you buy a ticket in a lottery it may be weeks or months before the draw is made.  If you go horse-racing, you may find six or eight events in an afternoon to bet on, with long intervals in between.  If you have a bet on a football match, you have 90 minutes play in which the outcome is in suspense.  But if you play roulette or blackjack or dice … you can expect a rate of betting of over 60 coups an hour! On a slot machine, which may pay out anything from a few bucks to a million dollars on the jackpot, you get maybe five coups a minute!
            Part of this attraction, I feel sure, is the physical sensations offered.  Consider simply the case of someone like you or me, planning to spend a night out at the casino.  First comes the pleasure of anticipation, thinking through the day about going out to gamble;
then perhaps comes the agreeable social pleasure of making arrangements to meet friends, other gamblers; not forgetting the important point of ensuring you have the money to gamble… That may well be a nervous-making element, especially if you can’t really afford it, or can’t afford to lose (which is always the case as a young man); then comes the physical sensation, the pitter-patter of excitement as you walk through the doors of the casino, the sight and sound of action in the gambling rooms … twitches of nervous tension … finally the see-saw sensations of each coup, one after the other in rapid succession, as the wheel spins or the dice roll or the cards fall; the exhilaration of poker winning and the depression of losing.
            The same sequence of sensations applies to any other kind of bet, or, for that matter, an investment in the stock market.  Currency speculation, which I have tried , is much the best for round-the-clock action: as soon as market in London closes, the dealing starts up in New York, then moves to the Far East, and so back to London again.  All bets are essentially the same, it is the time scale that ’s different.  However this amalgam of sensations, of anticipation, excitement and resolution, may be described, the impact is in the body, physical.

            Such feelings are not limited to gamblers.  The same sort of sensations, I suppose, are felt by glider pilots, racing drivers, deep-sea divers, to name but three (operating as it were above, on and below the level of everyday living).  The difference is in pay-off: the thrill of trusting to the wind, speed around the track, piercing the darkness of deep water.  When you come to think about it, almost all human activities carry an emotional charge, in varying degrees the actor going on stage, the politician at a public meeting, the salesman trying to close a deal.  In this sense gamblers are not so different.  The emotional charge is a common poker experiences known colloquially as ‘getting the adrenalin going’.
            The classic expression of this highly complex bodily reaction was given in Walter B.  Cannon’s The Wisdom of the Body  in 1932, long a standard text for medical students.  ‘Our bodies, ’ he wrote in his introduction, ‘are made of extraordinarily unstable material.  Pulses of energy, so minute that very delicate methods are required to measure them, course along our nerves.  On reaching muscles they find there a substance so delicately sensitive to slight disturbance that, like an explosive touched off by a fuse, it may discharge in a powerful movement.  Our sense organs are responsive to almost incredibly minute stimulations.’
            ‘Fight and flight ’ is the formulation – the body had to reach to give primitive man the capacity to get out of trouble, to run , to survive.  As Cannon put it:
            In the long history of the race bacteria have not been the only living foes of man, and in wild life, perhaps, they have not been the most important.  There have been savage creatures, human and subhuman, watching with stealth and ready to attack without a moment ’s warning.  And there has been, also, the necessity of fighting, for revenge, for safety and for prey.  In that harsh school fear and anger have served as a preparation for action.  Fear has become associated with the instinct to attack.  These are fundamental emotions and instincts which have resulted from the experience of multitudes of generations in the fierce struggle for existence and which have their values in that struggle.
            It is remarkable that most of the reactions thus noted occur as the accompaniment to rage and fear.  ‘Respiration deepens, the heart beats more rapidly, the arterial pressure rises, the blood is shifted away from the stomach and intestines to the heart and central nervous system and the muscles, the processes in the alimentary canal cease, sugar is freed from the reserves in the liver, the spleen contracts and discharges its content of concentrated corpuscles, and adrenalin is secreted from the adrenalin medulla.’  These transformations in the body stem from fear and rage – running away in order to escape from danger, and attacking in order to be dominant.  Either way, a life-or-death struggle.

            Easy to see that many of these bodily changes occur when one is engaged in gambling.  One may be only subconsciously aware of a heightened sense of physical tension, but it ’s there all right.  Rapid breathing and a faster heart beat are well attested reactions to excitement.  There are many others, whose force one doesn’t need a medical explanation to appreciate – dryness in the throat, sweaty palms, tautness in the pit of the stomach as the pokercards come off the deck, and – excuse the crudity – the favorite threat of a former airforce captain with whom I sued to play poker in Washington, as he put in a heavy raise, ‘Boy, this’ll make your asshole pucker!’  This pepping up of the body is what is meant by ‘getting the adrenalin going’.  In gambling it is not a life-or-death struggle (leaving aside Russian roulette ); nor is it, in modern terms, enhancing the capacity for flight exactly.
            It is, rather, the accentuation of alertness, as it were doing battle over the green baize, which is what the gambler feels.  And – this is the point – it is a highly pleasurable sensation.  It ’s good to get pepped up, to feel the adrenalin going.  The ‘arousal’ takes place in the brain when one is faced with uncertainty or probability decisions.  It is a way of alerting one to signals, to be more aware, like picking up blips on a radar screen.  This is its purpose.  But it also has a secondary effect of being pleasurable in itself.  Asleep, the pattern of cells in this part of the brain are like waves, in unison; in arousal, millions of cells are agitated, dancing about so to speak.  It feels good because one is on top of things, in expectation of performing well.  This is part of the pay-off for gambling, just as it is for gliding, motor racing and diving.  People do these things for a variety of motives and one of them is feeling the experience of being alive more intensely.
            The same idea was expressed for different reasons by Thorstein Veblen in his classic critique The Theory of the Leisure Class, which first appeared in 1899.  He saw sports, or the sport of the upper class and nouveaux riches, as a modern manifestation of an ancient, predatory instinct for fighting and displaying prowess.  ‘Sports of all kinds are of the same general character, including prize-fights, bull-fights, athletics, shooting, angling, yachting and games of skill, even where the element of destructive physical efficiency is not an obtrusive feature.  Sports shade off from the basis of hostile combat, through skill to cunning and chicanery, without its being possible to draw a line at any point.’  (He might have mentioned play poker , above all.)

            The propensity to gambling, he goes on, is another aspect of the predatory temperament, of almost universal prevalence among sporting men.  Belief luck – stemming from the remote past when man apprehended the natural world through spirits which could be moved and propitiated – is the basis of the gambling habit.   But betting on the outcome of contests of strength and skill has a further motive, without which the belief in luck would hardly figure so prominently in sporting life.  ‘This further motive is the desire of the anticipated winner, or the partisan of the anticipated winning side, to heighten his side’s ascendancy at the cost of the loser.  Not only does the stronger side score a more signal victory, and the losing side suffer a more painful and humiliating defeat, in proportion as the pecuniary gain and loss in the wager is large .. But the wager is commonly laid also with a view … to enhancing the chances of success for the contestant on which it is laid.’  Such bets, Veblen adds, serve to encourage a victorious outcome.
            I stress the physical sensations aroused in gambling because I think in the extensive investigations of psychological motives that have been conducted by psychoanalysts and psychologists over the years, this aspect of the matter has been undervalued.  It ’s what we laymen call fun.  Gambling awakens and stimulates deep animal instincts in the bodily reactions it sets in motion.  This is not to suggest that study of the psychology of gambling has been overvalued: it is obviously crucial to any understanding of gambling.  But psychological drives cannot exist without a physical base.  A gambler is not two beings, one acting and the other feeling.
            The term ‘emotion’ should not really be used in psychology.  It has been argued, because it is only a convenient label for behavior which cannot be explained in physical terms.  A man’s actions, his thoughts and his poker and emotions are different aspects of the single complex of processes in the interacting organs which comprise the individual, and which interact in turn with the environment.  ‘One is justified, therefore, in seeking the changing patterns of material substrata that must, in all reason, be part and parcel of those phenomena that we call emotions, ’ (Emotions and Emotional Disorders, Ernst Gellhorn & G.N.Louflbourrow, 1963).  Because everyone has experienced states of elation, indifference and depression, fear and anger, anticipation and dread, it tends to be forgotten that such feelings are the result of changes in activity of the central nervous system.  They are heightened in gambling because there is no exercise involved to ‘burn off’ adrenalin.

            There is one key difference, though, which distinguishes the activity of gambling from gliding, racing, diving and all the other thing that people do when they are enjoying themselves.  In all these activities, the pilot, driver, swimmer, or whoever, has trained or practiced or worked out the right and wrong way of doing it, has been taught and tested at some length how to perform and has, in sum, established that he or she is in a position to carry through the action successfully.  There may be accidents – freak winds, oil on the track, oxygen failure – but the chances are very strongly in their favour, in gambling it is exactly the opposite! The odds are against the player, and everyone knows it.  the risk is worse than fifty-fifty.  Gamblers who manage to get a 50-50 break, as with the odds bets at craps, count themselves lucky!
            After all, you cannot win at gambling in the long run, and that is the basic truth and the basic point about it.  The very point that makes the motive for gambling such a mystery. Put it this way: suppose you ’re walking down the street and you meet some fellow who offers to toss a coin with you, heads or tails: the only snag is, when you lose you pay a dollar, when you win, you get paid only 99 cents.  You wouldn’t do it, would you?  You ’d be out of your mind to do it.  but that is what happens, exactly what happens, when you bet in a casino.  I do it, you do it, and everybody does it.  That is how the casinos make their huge profits.
            Note that the casinos’ advantage, their profit, comes from players’ winning bets, by paying out less than the true odds.  In the coin–tossing encounter you would on average win half the flips and lose half the flips, so that for every two coups you would win back 99 cents for the other dollar you lost.  All right, one cent in two tosses may not seem too serious.  But in fact it is one-half of one per cent of the two bucks wagered, which is 0.5 per cent.  The odds are in the other fellow’s favour–the casino’s favour–and that is an unalterable law of probability. 
            No ‘system ’ can overturn that law, not varying the stakes, or waiting for a run one way and betting the other, least of all doubling up your stakes.
  You get to an impossibly high figure too quickly: 1,2,4,8,16, 32… ten bets from the start of such a sequence you are up to 1,024, and if you still went on doubling up at, say, roulette you would reach, after another ten losses, a figure of over a million, 1048576 to be precise far be young the table limit even if you had the money.  The chances of the next spin coming up red or black, as everyone knows but so often prefers to ignore, are the same as they were on each separate spin, namely events.  (And this is to leave out of account the unfortunate little matter of zero, or in American casinos the doubly unfortunate zero and double zero, or in American casinos the doubly unfortunate zero and double zero, which makes the true chance of winning significantly less than evens.)

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