There are two ways to consistently win at gambling. One is to choose your games very carefully, then steep yourself in the data and statistics with a fervor that will rival any job. The other is reset your definition of “wealth” to include the power of dreaming, but make sure that idea does not include delusion.
Either way, be clear-eyed. Casinos do not hide their bright lights, the giveaways and the bling. Anyone with the most basic grip of math and economics can figure out how all that glitter got there. It is from gambling–at which almost everyone loses, thanks to the irrevocable laws of probability.
Most gaming math was established a couple of centuries ago–a pair of six-sided dice have so many outcome; 52 cards in a deck can be arranged a certain number of ways. The trick is to invent games with rules that entertain–and favor one side just a little more than the other, most of the time.
The most equitable game, Blackjack, is still designed to take 50 cents from every $100 a player spends over the long haul. Though arduous, card-counting can wipe out that edge. Other games take $5, $10, even $30 of the Benjamin, though, with no shortage of takers. All of them guarantee losses, yet we still play–in casinos, on riverboats and reservations, and anywhere that sells a lottery ticket (possibly the worst, and most popular, bet you can make).
At first pass it is enough to make you wonder why economists assume people are rational. But what if economists and statisticians miss the point, and most people (gambling addicts aside) are rationally choosing to lose money? Only instead of “lose” they use the more common term, “spend.”
Adam Smith pointed out that the math of lotteries dictates that the more you spend, the more you are likely to lose. What he missed, however, was that failing to buy a single ticket guarantees you will never get the jackpot.
That is the core of the casino industry, to which game designers add elements like the “story” of a fishing-themed slot machine (catch five tuna!), or the competition of Blackjack, or the shared adventure of betting on someone at craps. People pay for those experiences and the fleeting fantasy of the outcome, losing 5.3% of the time on roulette, 1.4% of the time at craps and perhaps 10% of the time on the slots.