The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Because it is one of my favorites, I am going to begin this post with the classic wit of James Thurber by sharing one of his stories from, “Fables For Our Time.”

“The Fairly Intelligent Fly”

“A LARGE spider in an old house built a beautiful web in which to catch flies. Every time a fly landed on the web and was entangled in it the spider devoured him, so that when another fly came along he would think the web was a safe and quiet place in which to rest. One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around above the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, “Come on down.” But the fly was too clever for him and said, “I never light where I don’t see other flies and I don’t see any other flies in your house.” So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, “Hold it, stupid, that’s flypaper. All those flies are trapped.” “Don’t be silly,” said the fly, “they’re dancing.” So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.


Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.”

Life is a gamble.  We never know what the day ahead will bring.  If it were otherwise, there would be no such thing as an insurance industry.  We cannot control every external force which may beat at our door.  But we can and should prepare our houses to be as weather-resistant as possible.

Following up on yesterday’s post, I wanted to share some insights into the glamorous (and sometimes seedy) world of gambling because the rules here are applicable to our lives in general.

ATTITUDE

If you have come to Las Vegas or any other venue that offers gambling, you may have done so with the idea of enjoying a vacation or a little getaway.  You have not come with the intention of “breaking the bank” but want to engage in the milieu without spending a lot of money.  That’s fine.

The slot machines have greatly evolved from the old days when a player had to feed in coins, pull a handle that turned his hand black and hope to hit three oranges.

Today’s games feature towering interactive display panels on which we might see Superman rescue Lois Lane if a player hits the bonus feature.  This all happens while sitting in a seat equipped with Dolby surround stereo sound – just the sort of thing the player might encounter if he were playing a video game or attending a movie.

Let me tell you that the casinos don’t take gambling casually and if you engage in it, neither should you.  It is their livelihood and they have armed themselves with every advantage to maximize their profits.  If you don’t understand that, you have no business walking through the front door of one.

Every casino game has a house advantage built into it.  Every one – bar none, which means that no matter what game a player selects he is the underdog.  Well, sometimes underdogs win – but they had better be mentally aware that they have to play their best game in order to have any hope of surviving the experience.

Whenever I walk into a casino I think of myself as walking onto a battlefield.  I respect my opponent’s superior weapons and numbers.  I might have a thousand dollars in my pocket – but there isn’t one table in any casino where the dealer’s rack doesn’t contain ten to twenty times as much in chips.  Multiply that by the number of tables and the vaults in the casino cage which contain thousands of times as much and it should be obvious that my little wad doesn’t represent much more than a spit in the ocean.  My foe is Goliath and in my role as David I am not armed with some rocks and a slingshot but have brought a pea shooter to the fight.

There is one and only one advantage that the player has in this battle.  As long as the player chooses, the house must continue to let him play.  But it is totally within the player’s power to end the battle if he should be ahead, pick up his chips, cash them in and go home with his session’s profits.

Casinos offer “gambler’s junkets” which include air fare, rooms, meals and other amenities because they make money from the players who accept them.   Most people who enjoy them stay for only a few days.  Should they get behind when they begin gambling, there is a tendency to want “to get even”.    This usually results in taking greater risks – which more often than not result in yet bigger losses.

If you are serious about trying to earn some additional income through gambling, you need to record the results of every session.  This is a “business” and you should treat it as such.  Buy a little ledger and record the date, the time of day you played, the game you played and the win/loss result.  While figures don’t lie, gamblers who are dishonest with themselves refuse to record the actual results of their gambling experience.

Finally, if you expect that when you walk into a casino that the sound system will be playing Handel’s, “See, The Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from Judas Maccabeus, you need to turn around, go home, take an attitude adjustment pill and get a good night’s sleep.  That aria isn’t on any casino’s playlist.

KNOWLEDGE

It should seem obvious, but apparently isn’t, that if you do not have the knowledge to understand a game of chance, you have severely limited your possibilities of winning at it.  I can guarantee that on any given weekend I could go down to the Strip, walk into any casino and go up to a craps table.  It’ an exciting, fast paced and confusing game – especially for the uninitiated.

There at the table will be standing some young lovely from out of town, dressed to the nines (which today means wearing an un-torn T-shirt), hanging over the side of the table.  She has made a five dollar bet on “The Field”.  The dice are rolled and her bet disappears.

“What happened,?” she asks.  Simply that a number was rolled which was not included in her bet.  “Oh, cocktails – I’ll have another Bloody Mary.”

By the way, I would like to pass on a little knowledge which I have acquired over the years.  “In vino veritas” may be an old and true aphorism.  But having a couple of belts is the fastest way to impair your judgment and it is for that reason that casinos offer free alcoholic beverage service.  If you are drinking you should not be driving and you should not be gambling.  If you take nothing else away from this post, consider that if you observe this rule you will be doing yourself and your bank account a big favor.

Let’s return to blackjack as it is one of the simpler table games and one with which I suspect many readers are familiar.  There was a time when in Northern Nevada, the Reno/Tahoe district, the casinos required that their dealers took a hit if their hand was a “soft” seventeen” – as in A-6.  It was called soft because no matter what their next card was, the hand couldn’t go over 21, as A-6 is either 7 or 17.  Las Vegas casinos required that their dealers stay on that hand.

Hitting a soft 17 improved the house’s win percentage by a small amount.  But if you add a small amount to the hundreds of thousands of times that hand was held by the house in the course of a month’s play, it added a lot of money to the bottom line.  So, using their knowledge of how this improved their profitability, all the casinos began hitting this hand.

The standard and correct payout on a player’s getting a blackjack is 3-2.  A $10 bet should receive a $15 payoff.  But some casinos, not content with their already significant advantage changed that to 6-5 so that same bet received a payoff of $12.  If you’re sitting at a blackjack table where that is the house’s payoff on a blackjack, you are not only being “fleeced” but you’re being butchered as well.

Knowledge in gambling consists not only of an understanding of the game, using the best strategy in executing your play but it requires that you seek out and only play at casinos which are giving you a fair shake.  A 6-5 blackjack payoff is nothing short of criminal rape and if you play at that table you have invited the consequences upon yourself.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

This is a subject which is uncomfortable for many of us.  If you question that statement you have only to look at how government “deals” with this issue.  However, this critical aspect of successful gambling is essential if you are to have any hope of making any money at it.

I cannot count the number of times that I have seen someone walk up to a blackjack table with a $10 minimum bet requirement and hand the dealer a $20 bill.  Usually the person is on his way to dinner or a movie and will say to his date, “Let me just lose this and we’ll get going.”  Normally, that is exactly what happens.

There are many sage pieces that have been written about money management.  As it pertains to gambling perhaps the first and foremost is, “Never bet more than you can afford to lose.”  That is a piece of advice that unfortunately many ignore and it is the reason that “Gamblers Anonymous” exists and has a large membership.

I have a simple rule for money management.  I need to have one hundred times the minimum bet with me before I have the right to sit at a table.  That means that if I choose to play at a blackjack table with a $5 minimum, I have to have at least $500 in my pocket.  You need to have sufficient wherewithal to survive runs where the house seems impervious to the odds, because those sorts of runs happen every day.  It’s not pleasant but that’s just the way it is.

If you don’t have sufficient capital to withstand one of these assaults, you are out of the game long before things change and the cards or the dice or whatever turn in the player’s favor.  So do yourself a favor and make sure that you are sufficiently capitalized to play any game in which you choose to participate.

I have a second rule which comes in two parts.  The first part is limiting losses.  The second part is taking profits.

If I begin the day with a $500 bankroll, I will not let it fall below $250.  If it hits that number, I am done for the day.  It just wasn’t my day.  There are days when even applying all my knowledge and equipped with a positive and realistic attitude nothing is going right.  I accept that, take my loss and leave.  The casino will be open tomorrow.

But just as important, perhaps even more so, is knowing when to book a profit.  If I am willing to lose $250 I should be willing to accept the same amount in profit.  I have had days when I just seemed impervious to the laws of probability and would win hand after hand – much to my own surprise.  I never want to cut off a winning streak prematurely – but I also realize that “this too shall pass”.  So I have a simple way of letting the casino tell me when it’s time for me to go home.

Let’s say, for example, that I have reached my $250 profit goal.  For purposes of conversation, we’ll assume I’m betting $25 a hand.  I take my original stake and put it to the side.  That is going home with me no matter what happens.  I take my winnings and put them in a separate pile.  I now have ten bets left at $25 apiece.

I make my first bet and win.  I take that $50 dollars and place it in a third stack.  I lose the next bet, the bet after and win the fourth bet.  That $50 also goes in the third stack.  When all ten bets have been made, I take half of the winnings in the third stack and put them with my original stake.  They are also going home with me.  I will then “run through” the remaining chips in the same way until there are no more chips left to bet – and then I leave.

There have been times when I walked into a cold streak and lost all of those ten bets.  There have also been times when my hot streak continued and my original $250 profit turned into $1000.  Having a mechanical method of determining when to stop playing removes all emotion from the equation – and emotion is equally unwelcome in matters of divorce and gambling.

DISCIPLINE

We live in a permissive society where anything goes, no one is to blame and there are always external reasons which explain our failures.  If you are of that mindset, go nowhere near a casino – unless it’s to eat dinner.  Otherwise, you may be the main course on the menu.

Discipline is hard to acquire.  It doesn’t happen overnight but is something that has to be worked toward as an attainable goal.  Gambling is a grind it out business – both from your perspective as the customer and from the casino’s perspective as your host.  I can assure you that the casino staff are very disciplined and seldom make mistakes.  If they do, they lose their jobs.

I know of no successful business that achieved that status despite having sloppy procedures and internal controls.  There is a reason that companies write manuals on what is and what is not permissible, give them to their employees and expect them to abide by the rules that are outlined in them.  It is essential that people know what is expected of them and what they may expect from their employer.  This is something known as accountability – and if you want to gamble for a living, full time or supplemental, you must accept this as part of your pattern for success.

The way I sum up discipline is with this statement.  “Discipline is doing something that hurts because you know it is the right thing; and it is not doing something that feels good because you know that it is the wrong thing.”  Some people call that morality – but I find it hard to use that word when we are speaking of gambling.

While I realize that most of my readers have never contemplated making a livelihood by becoming professional gamblers, I would suggest that these rules apply equally to all life endeavors in whatever field.  And abandoning them usually results in personal failure.  Let’s look at a few examples from the world most of us know only too well.

Attitude – (Low Self-Image).  I was born into poverty; I’m not all that attractive; I’m a minority and people discriminate against me; my parents didn’t love me; nobody loves me; my life is meaningless.  Analysis:  This person will spend his life moaning about how unfairly he has been treated, how unfair life is and will try to suck you into the conversation so he can moan on your shoulder.   If you have the rest of your life to waste in a hopeless effort to “redeem” this poor soul, adopt him as your new BFF.

Attitude – (Inflated Self-Esteem).  Examples include, rock stars, politicians, sports legends, .com Executives (for a short while).  I am above the law; the rules that low-lives have to live by don’t apply to me; I can do anything I want because, well – I’m me; the universe revolves around me.  Analysis:  Most meteors, when entering the earth’s atmosphere mostly burn up, and those which aren’t fully consumed in the process, generally land with a thud.

Attitude – (Healthy Self-Esteem).  I am who I am; some parts of that are terrific and others need improvement; I’m a caring and thoughtful person – even if that is not always reciprocated by those I meet; I have standards and I’m going to hold on to them; I’m pretty good today – but I plan on being better tomorrow and better yet the day after.  Analysis:  We need more of you on planet earth.

Knowledge – The antonym of knowledge is ignorance.  If you believe you know all there is to know, you have died.  It’s just that your brain hasn’t gotten around to informing your body of that fact.  Life is a process of becoming more knowledgeable and, more importantly, using that information to improve you life and the lives of those you encounter along the way.

The knowledge each of us acquires not only has an impact on the quality of our own lives but has a profound impact on all society.  And our ignorance has an even more dramatic impact.  To verify this statement, look no further than those who are either un-educated or under-educated and who must rely on the general populace for their support and income.  Sadly, they have no job opportunities and even in a robust economy would have no more.  And, perhaps the saddest commentary on this scenario is that most are ignorant of their own helplessness.

Money Management – U. S. “official deficit” reaches $16.2 Trillion.

Discipline – There is a reason that the military, professional athletes and professional musicians practice and train on a regular, daily basis.  Repetition of successful behavioral patterns results in successful performance.

The word discipline comes to us from the Latin word “discipilus” – student.  Most of us would do well if we were to think about enrolling in some adult continuing education classes.

Summary:  The song, “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” is a charming little ditty, a “feel good song.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t reflect life’s realities.  For most of us a more accurate song depicting our view of the world is one from Peter Pan, “I Won’t Grow Up.”

Life is a gamble.  I’ve met talented people with all the advantages, money, looks, intelligence who squandered what they had and died of drug overdoses.  I’ve met people who were not particularly attractive who came from impoverished backgrounds and struggled to become great successes.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how we play the cards we are dealt.

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Comments on: "GAMBLING WITH YOUR LIFE (PART TWO)" (11)

  1. Now here is a life lesson that many will never learn. Very well done.

    Strangely, I became a poker player in the mid-60s, Our work rules stated that we only did emergency work (we were an electric utility) when the temperature was below 10 degrees. So when we had all our indoor work done, we’d gather in the back room for poker. $1 ante 5 card stud (really dealer’s choice but in that group 9 out 10 hands were 5 stud). I lost my butt a few times and Dad gave me a book.

    Strangely my home town had a Kaiser aluminum plant that made the aluminum dishes for pot-pies, and the book had come from the plant manager. The title was “Poker according to Maverick” and so interspersed with knowledge from Pappy was all you needed to know to win at poker which I did, not to the crew entire pleasure sometimes.

    Good times and a good lesson which tracks perfectly with your post.

    • A person with a little bit of information can be a dangerous force to himself and others – and with a little bit more can do miracles.

      • And there is a very big truth.

      • A thought that for ages has been passed to all who would listen, but for most seemed to fall on deaf ears:

        “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
        drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
        there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
        and drinking largely sobers us again.” ~ Alexander Pope

        Since the 18th century, Pope’s opening line to this stanza has been represented in one of two ways:

        “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”

        and

        “a little learning is a dangerous thing”.

        The first is obviously a misquote, but one that is meaningless in context because it points to the same deficiency – incomplete knowledge is more harmful and dangerous than that which comes from a topic fully studied. Most people get their information from and settle for soundbite sources as factual information to live by rather than applying themselves to studying that “information” [your blackjack guide card] in least a bicameral pro/con context, let alone the possibility of a third perspective. For most, understanding black vs. white is difficult enough to dwell upon in conscious thought; adding shades of gray to the equation is simply to much to ask of them to accept as part of being a member of a responsible and informed electorate. Just as the ignorant and cocky blackjack player loses and affects all others who sit at the table; so too, does the ignorant, unstudied voter lose and harm friends and neighbors in their pursuit of happiness.

        Our nation has struggled in defining simple words such as “all”, “men” “equal” “natural right”, “Nature’s God”, the God of Nature”, “duty”, etc. Our courts seem to have an equal difficulty in defining things like executive power, legislative power, federal power, state’s rights and other such things named in the Constitution of the United States. How many amendments would have been unnecessary were the phrase, “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Properly interpreted, by definition, slavery would have had to have been be outlawed, schools would have to have been integrated, Chinese immigrants already here would have had a right to become citizens, etc.

        This laziness of thinking and intellectual work has resulted in many Amendments to the original Constitution for no reason other than seeking an expedient manner of transferring powers not granted to the federal government by limiting the ability of States to exercise their individual authority. In the end, we pay for our ignorance and our soon to be $20 trillion dollar debt will come to prove the inaccuracy of the phrase, “ignorance is bliss” or “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.

        Your message in this wonderful two part article is a clarion call to those who read it that there is still great value in behaviors and principles such as lifelong learning, attitude, responsibility, moral thinking and actions that equate to a moral philosophy of living are, indeed, everlasting and crucial if man is to ever have a universal opportunity for a life of security, safety, liberty derived from the right to pursue a dream. Without a dream and the promise that one has the individual property rights necessary, to keep and enjoy the comforts and options of wealth morally earned through hard work, self-discipline, risk-taking and a leading a moral life where will the call for and the inspiration of such dreamers and achievers come from?

        Thank you, again, for another wonderfully written and thought provoking article. I enjoyed every word of each part immensely. You are both an amazing writer and thinking and I thank you for sharing each of those talents and for being one of those people who the world needs more of.

  2. Amazing post! I love the way your mind works. You are an exceptionally beautiful thinker. keep up the good work.

  3. Thank you for your kind compliment. It’s good to hear from you again.

  4. […] via GAMBLING WITH YOUR LIFE (PART TWO) « juwannadoright. […]

  5. Hmnn…a lovely take on human psychology, dissected and laid out for all to see. Excepting of course, those who as noted, will not look. And seems to me, it’s mostly in our DNA. I’d bet too that there’s a correlation between gambling patterns and voting patterns…

    Anent that money management: Ever wondered, as I have, why it isn’t taught in public schools? I have no answer for that, just suspicions…

    Any who would gamble for money had best first study statistics 101. That is free advice that is actually, priceless!

    Finally, anyone who knows that casinos are a business knows (though maybe refuses to face) one basic fact: A casino offers only one product, entertainment. It is one of few businesses where you can influence the price you pay for that entertainment, if you choose to do that. The post shows that clearly…for those willing to face reality…
    I’ve wondered what percentage of us generally face reality…not enough to threaten casinos, apparently. Or to assure electing the most qualified politicians.

  6. This is an excellent column, well-written and right on the mark. I have never visited a casino, but I have gambled in life. And your advice is just as good elsewhere as it is for the tables.

    Thank you

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