Bible study (updated)

Gambling has been around for thousands of years, and many religions have at least tolerated it in moderation. Still, many churches offer religious objections to gambling.A recent letter to the editor in the Jamaica Gleaner lays out a Christian pro-gambling argument:

CHRISTIAN GREETINGS. It is with great trepidation that I write this letter, asking the question ‘What principle of the Bible shows it wrong to gamble?’ I have seen many letters by Christian commentators saying that the practice of gambling is to be shunned. In fact, I understand that leaders of the religious community have pressured the Government in the past against casino gambling and lotteries, in particular. Which Bible verse was quoted to justify this?

A brief analysis shows the following:

1. God is not against the taking of risk.
a) Men and women took great risk, sometimes to death’s door, in their lives, e.g. Esther, the three Hebrew boys etc.
b) When God created this world he ran the risk of man sinning and hence for the Son of God to come and die for men’s sins.
c) The Son of God in coming down to earth risking his life for fallen mankind took one of the greatest gambles (If he had sinned, he would have lost his life ­ the Father is no respecter of persons.)
2. God is not against the casting of lots i.e. raffling. (See Acts 1:26).
3. God won one of the most famous bets of all time when he bet Satan that Job would remain faithful to him. (Read the book of Job)!

A word of warning and advice: Sinners would be wise to repent and avoid the risk of God’s wrath!

My questions are: Is it evil or covetous to expect high returns from high-risk investments? Isn’t it evil and covetous for Christians to charge their fellow Christians interest on loans? (see Lev 25:35-37). Isn’t it evil and covetous to underpay your helpers, gardeners, practical nurses, pump attendants, etc.? (see James 5:1-4)


A prudent banker would teach us that we should act in a way to minimise our risk so that one would obviously tend to invest the least funds in the portfolio of highest risk. Thus one would first seek to invest in education to gain employment, after which surplus funds can be invested in a bank account, then insurance, then stock exchange, then finally in, say, a lottery ticket. 

Where does the Bible prohibit gambling?

The writer, Keith Coombs of Kingston, Jamaica, offers some good points.  I would be interested in hearing the theological case against gambling as well.  Does Max Weber’s interpretation of the “Protestant work ethic” mean that Protestantism is inherently anti-risk, and therefore anti-gambling? What do other religions say?

UPDATE, 7/29

Here is a rebuttal letter, also from the Jamaica Gleaner, written by Diane Berlin of Pennsylvania:

Gambling is NOT entertainment, as touted by the pushers. It is a predatory activity. When one gambles, he or she wants to take what belongs to others without earning it or it being given freely as a gift would be. Under any other circumstances, that is robbery or theft.

In fact, gambling has been called theft by consent or robbery with permission. The 10Commandments address both coveting and stealing. Gambling undermines, and even destroys, the work ethic. Labour is advocated in the Bible. Ordinary activities all have an element of risk-taking in them… even crossing the street does. This is very different from gambling.

Gambling’s negatives include addiction, bankruptcies, crime, corruption, divorce, violence, child abuse, homelessness, etc. Gambling recycles wealth, usually from many losers to the pockets of the gambling kingpins. It does not create new wealth.

The recent legalisation of gambling has desensitised people to its harmful effects and the reasons it was an illegal activity in most countries. Wise people learn from the mistakes of others. There are many people and countries which have made the mistake of embracing gambling to their detriment. The Bible advocates wisdom ­ whether Jewish or Christian ­ that is not bad advice for any person or government.

Gambling is really ‘theft by consent’

While certainly impassioned, this letter just says that gambling is bad–it doesn’t cite anyplace where the Bible specifically attacks gambling.

Look for this debate to continue.

Loveman talks shop

Chris Palmieri of BusinessWeek recently spoke to Harrah’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman about the impending Harrah’s/Caesars merger.  Here are some excerpts:

Q: What’s the rationale for this deal?

A: We want to be the leading distributor of gaming. The way our company does that is to leverage distribution. Caesars gives us vastly improved distribution in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Southern Mississippi. We’ll be more effective in scale and scope. The second part of this is that we’re anxious to grow in areas where the business and regulatory environment are stable. Nevada, New Jersey, and Mississippi have that stability. The price was fair, and the timing was right.

Q: MGM Mirage (MGG ) hopes to buy Mandalay Bay Resort Group (MGB ). That would give the two of you a lock on hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip. You’ll also have a much larger presence than you do now in Atlantic City. Do you think that will have an impact on the level of competition in those markets?

A: I don’t think the level of price competition will change at all. It will create better opportunities for our customers in Mississippi to see Celine Dion, for example. Promotional spending is increasing. Room rates are up, but that has much more to do with demand. Everyone thought the rise of Indian gaming would be the end of Las Vegas. That hasn’t been the case. Harrah’s capital budget last year was $500 million. So was Caesars’. We’ll continue to invest at those kinds of levels. We’ve had all kind of competition — discounts, room rates, food pricing. Pennsylvania is adding 60,000 slots. The competition from Pennsylvania will be brisk.

Q: Why doesn’t Wall Street like your merger?

A: There are large investors that like the deal. There are investors who don’t like Atlantic City, because of the competition. There are investors who are concerned about our having to sell assets [because of antitrust concerns]. Those are the two principal reasons. The [antitrust] thing is greatly overblown by people who don’t like the deal. These deals are examined market by market. I don’t think you’ll see much opposition.

Q: Isn’t part of the problem that Harrah’s is perceived as a middle-market, slot-machine-oriented company and you’re buying Caesars, a company known for higher-end gaming?

A: Caesars does $4.5 billion a year in revenues (vs. $4.4 billion at Harrah’s). They have one property, Caesars Palace, that’s different than Harrah’s. The other 20 or so properties are exactly like ours. One property caters to a very high-end customer. And there are roughly 100 such customers in the world. It’s a small number of people. We don’t believe margins in that business are good. It’s an inconsequential part of the business.

Q: You’ve had trouble in the past with acquisitions, particularly the Rio in Las Vegas.

A: We bought Rio on Jan. 21, 1999. Immediately thereafter you had a host of new properties open [in Las Vegas] — Paris, Mandalay Bay, the Venetian, and the Aladdin. Did Rio struggle? Yes. We made mistakes, but a lot of it was timing. We were quickly under tremendous pressure. That lasted for 18 months. Now the Rio is doing great. Margins are among the best in the city. We know what we’re doing. Harrah’s Las Vegas [is among the hotels with] the highest return on capital in the city. That’s because the rooms are filled with gamblers, not conventioneers. They’re not there to see shows or tour the Grand Canyon.

Q: A lot of that is due to the way you have developed your frequent-gambler database over the years, targeting your most active visitors with promotions and special offers. What will that look like after the Caesars acquisition?

A: Harrah’s has 27 million customers in its database; Caesars something north of 20 million. We don’t know how many of those names overlap. But we’ll have a stunning database and be far better at mining it than anyone.

Harrah’s Pit Boss on the Caesars Deal

One note:  In my naivete, when I saw the headline I first thought that the magazine found an actual pit boss and interviewed him or her about the impact of the deal on the casino floor.  Silly me.  I can’t think of too many other businesses where the person at the helm of a multi-billion dollar corporation is referred to as a middle-manager.  It would be like headlining an interview with Bill Gates, “Programmer talks about anti-trust.”  Except that Bill Gates, at one point, actually did write software, but Loveman did not come into the business from the operations side.

I think the most significant answer was the final ones; assuming some overlap, let’s guess that the combined database has 40 million unique names.  This would create a real juggernaut with presence in virtually every US market.

Don’t youse knock NJ

In an otherwise unremarked-upon political outrage that I picked up from the Drudge Report, here’s this.  Christie Vilsack, Iowa’s first lady, apparently has been quite critical of the ways that African Americans, residents of Eastern PA and New Jersey, West Virginians, and Southerners speak.  She’s no political lightweight: her endorsement of John Kerry is credited with helping him triumph in the Iowa caucauses, and she’s a primetime speaker at the Democratic convention this week. 

Because I’m proud to be from South Jersey, I’m going to concentrate on those remarks.  By way of backstory, about ten years ago she published a series of articles in an Iowa paper criticizing a number of regional dialects.  From the Boston Herald:

Vilsack’s Aug. 24, 1994, column was particularly critical of dialects from other regions of the country. In addition to the knock on African-Americans, Vilsack knocked residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“Later, on the boardwalk, I heard mothers calling to their children, `I’ll meet yoose here after the movie,’ ” she wrote. “The only way I can speak like residents of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania is to let my jaw drop an inch and talk with my lips in an `O’ like a fish. I’d rather learn to speak Polish.”

Say what? Iowa first lady slammed blacks, Easterners and Southerners as bad speakers

I challenge First Lady Vilsack to a public debate: let her repeat her venomous attack on the speech patterns of New Jerseyans at a forum in the Garden State.  I suggest somewhere “down the shore.”  From the sounds of it, I can guess that she was on the Ocean City Boardwalk, but I could be wrong. 

As far as I’m concerned, this is an insult to everyone from Philly and South Jersey.  “Let my jaw drop and talk with my lips in an O?”  Why would anyone with any pretensions towards public life write anything like that about anyone

If you have led such a sheltered life that you cannot understand English as spoken by people from other parts of the United States or from different backgrounds, maybe you shouldn’t write newspaper articles publicizing that.  Just a thought.

USA plays slots today

More insightful journalism from USA Today, but this time I actually mean it.  Dennis Cauchon has a pithy survey of the recent slot expansion:

Slots increasingly are a rite of passage for state governments in search of a lucrative new source of tax revenue. State and local governments raised about $6 billion from taxing casino gambling in 2003. Slot machines provided more than two-thirds of that revenue. That’s double the amount of revenue that gambling provided five years earlier. As a result, more states are legalizing slots or considering it:

� This month, Pennsylvania approved installing as many as 61,000 slot machines over the next few years, more than any state other than Nevada. That will make Pennsylvania the 36th state to have casino gambling, either on Indian reservations, at racetracks or in stand-alone casinos. Maine also has authorized slots but doesn’t have any in operation yet.

� Voters in California, Florida, Nebraska and the District of Columbia may consider ballot measures this year to legalize slot machines or expand them.

� Even states that rejected slot machines may not be able to resist the lure of easy money. Although Texas, Maryland and Ohio turned them down this year, slots probably will return as a potential source of revenue because the governors or lawmakers in many of those states don’t want unpopular sales, income or property taxes raised instead. And they don’t want to see their residents cross the border to play the slots and provide taxes to neighboring states.

“Slots were the only plausible vehicle for property tax relief, which our state desperately needs,” says Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, who led the fight for slot machines in his state. “The Legislature is averse to raising taxes for anything, even if it means lowering another one.”

And with casinos at its eastern and western borders, Pennsylvania feared prohibiting casino gambling was a fool’s game. “It’s not like we’re bringing a new vice to Pennsylvania,” Rendell says. “The question was whether we wanted to keep some gaming revenue here or to send it to Atlantic City and West Virginia.”

Cauchon also gives West Virginia’s Mountaineer Park as a case study:

The Mountaineer casino, with 3,200 slots, is a classic example of why states find it hard to say no to slot machines.

Located on an economically depressed sliver of West Virginia that pokes between Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Mountaineer Race Track was on the verge of bankruptcy when slots were approved in 1994.

“The horses were one step above the glue factory,” says Tamara Pettit, the state legislator who helped win approval for slot machines and who now handles public relations for the track and casino.

Weirton Steel, the area’s dominant employer, had started shrinking from 14,000 employees to its current 1,900.

Seventy percent of local voters approved slots.

Today, the track and casino employs 1,740, up from 340 in 1994. In addition, the number of jockeys, trainers and other horse people working at the track has tripled to 3,600.

Mountaineer and two other horse track and casinos brought in $271 million to the state last year, about 8% of total tax revenue. Out-of-staters paid that bill. Fifty-seven percent of gamblers at Mountaineer are from Ohio; 35% are from Pennsylvania; 2% are from West Virginia.

Slots prove lucky for many states

This is a great capsule summary of the state of slots in the summer of 2004, and an excellent read.  Since slot expansion seems to be the wave of the future, even if you don’t live in states with slots, or slots impending, I would definitely suggest that you take a mintue to educate yourself by reading this article.


Inside an illegal gambling operation

If you were from the Maple Park, IL area, DJ’s Tavern West was the place to get some gambling done…until a May 28th bust, that is.  From the Daily Herald:

Court documents that detail the search of the tavern at 221 Main St. in Maple Park and the Yorkville home of its owner, David Weeks, paint a picture of a little Las Vegas in the cornfields.

Illinois State Police officers went undercover for a 15-month investigation of the tavern, which came to a head May 28 with the arrest of 12 people including Weeks, the bar manager, and the Maple Park village president. The Maple Park police chief was arrested about a week later.

The investigation found a complex gambling system mixed with a small-town openness, the records show.

According to court documents and officials, here is a look at how authorities say the operation worked:
Nearly three-quarters of the front room of the tavern was taken up by nine video slot machines all hooked up to pay out illegally, Melvin said. Just like in Las Vegas, patrons put cash into the machines and played until they ran out of money or decided to cash in credits.

Undercover officers said in the report winning players would tell whatever bartender was on duty how many credits they had earned and the bartender verified it by pushing a button next to the cash register, officials said.

Then money changed hands, something undercover officers said they witnessed more than 30 times.

The knob next to the cash register was wired to the video slot machines to allow resetting of the machines’ credits, the report said. Illinois State Police officer Joseph Stavola wrote in a court affidavit that the wiring was for “no purpose other than illegal gambling.”
According to court documents, police found much more to whet gamblers’ appetites.
Bartenders offered two rolls of five dice for $1. Winning rolls were based on poker categories such as a full house or four of a kind. Winners could earn free drink tokens, a six-pack of beer or for five of a kind, the cash pot, which could get as high as $500.
On Wednesdays, a vertical spinning wheel came out of the back office to offer $2 for one of the 120 lines on the wheel, according to court records. Patrons not present for the spin forfeited half of their winnings to help prime the pot for the following week’s spin.
The wheel, which was also used for local raffles, was so large that when officers raided the bar they had to disassemble it to make it fit through the front door.
Other gambling options changed by the season. In the fall, a football square pool offered a one in 100 chance for between $2 to $10 a square, court documents said. During the summer, a weekly race car pool offered a randomly selected NASCAR starting position and a percentage of the pot for those whose car finished first, second or third place.
Despite the plethora of games, there was one key reason officials focused on the Maple Park bar.
“Book making,” Melvin said. “That’s why we paid more attention.”

The Illinois Attorney General’s office estimates the video slot machines generated $700,000 a year in profits.

Officials won’t disclose how much the book making generated, but in a weekend raid on one of the duller professional sports betting times, officers seized $8,300 from the bar and $40,522 from the Yorkville home of the bar’s owner, according to court documents. Stavola wrote in court filings that a frequent patron at the bar told him Weeks netted $65,000 from the Super Bowl betting alone.

Court documents describe a complex system set up to take and pay out bets on professional sporting events. Patrons could cash checks at the bar, provided the money was going toward gambling. Bets and payouts for sporting events were kept separate from cash flow generated by other games. A cash register at the south and north end of the bar made the division possible.

Bets were primarily taken at the tavern by bar manager Michael Faber and sometimes through his cell phone, according to the documents. When he wasn’t around, bartenders would collect envelopes of money for him or pass out envelopes left by him to winning patrons. Undercover officers allege they repeatedly saw such envelope transactions and contacted Faber on his cell more than 18 times to place bets that totaled more than $2,000.

The gambling in DJ’s, as told by investigators

As a historian, stuff like this is invaluable in reconstructing the history of illegal gambling, which I think is just as important as legal gambling in understanding how Americans approach gambling. 

They didn’t, unfortunately, take action on the mystery mammal.

Mystery creature solution to budget crisis?

Unless you watch WBAL in Baltimore, WCAU (NBC-10) in Philadelphia, or get the local Philly news on, you don’t know about the “mystery creature” that, for the past year, has been skulking around Maryland. Here’s a photo:

Maryland mystery mammal

This creature has been showing up in backyards in Maryland, and it has perplexed experts everywhere. It might be a bear or fox with bad mange, a coyote, a hyena, or a hyena/coyote mix. One person even thought that it was the Jersey Devil, apparently pushed out of the Pine Barrens and seeking refuge down south.

Read more about the story here: Name That Mystery Mammal! You can even take a quiz.

Anyway, I think that, instead of legalizing slot machines, Maryland might be able to plug some budgetary holes by running a public sweepstakes on the true identity of the mystery mammal. You could draw it out for months, letting more detailed photos out, encouraging and discouraging various theories to spread the betting around, before finally capturing the creature and, on live television, having a zoologist name its species.

At the very least, how about a “mystery mammal” slot machine? I can imagine the bonus screen–you guess at a species, and points for it.

UPDATE 8/4/04: The mystery is solved! The animal was captured over the weekend. It was a baby red fox with sarcoptic mange.

Portrait of a slots player

Amid all the projections of revenue, one loses sight of the fact that slot machines make money because people choose to play them.  Just who are those people?  John Grogan of the Inquirer has an answer, in a column about one woman who likes to play:

In an earlier, better time, Patricia McNally enjoyed horseback riding, tennis and badminton. She loved to dance. “Sex was good, too,” she says with a wry laugh, “but, oh well.”

Now, at age 69, the West Chester grandmother is racked by degenerative arthritis that has turned her bones brittle and forced her to undergo two spinal fusions and several other surgeries. She is in near constant pain and has had to abandon all her physical hobbies.

These days, McNally has found a comforting substitute for the joy her active lifestyle once gave her – playing the slot machines.

She does not agree with those who believe slots gambling is a troubling and exploitative business that in effect taxes the poor, the elderly and the unsophisticated. She fully understands that slot machines offer astronomically bad odds of winning and that they are designed to string players along, draining their wallets.

That does not stop her from feeding in quarters. To her, slot machines are just one thing: a splash of escapist fun on an otherwise bleak canvas.

“When you get to be my age, there’s not a lot of excitement,” she says. “Quite frankly, playing the slots is crazy. The percentages are stacked against you. But it has an element of excitement you can’t get anywhere else, at least not at our age. The fireworks, you’ve got to get them where you can find them.”

John Grogan Don’t tell her not to play the slots

I strongly recommend this article.  McNally is a smart woman, who plays within set limits and views it strictly as entertainment–she could be a spokeswoman for the concept of casino entertainment.

Diminishing returns?

People have always wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes at Las Vegas casino hotels, right?  And if one show is a success, two is even better.  Well, how about three? 

Caesars Palace has granted unprecedented access to A&E Network to create a new real-life series offering the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at Las Vegas’ most legendary resort and casino, it was announced today by Abbe Raven, executive vice president and general manager, A&E Network.

In the spirit of A&E’s hit series AIRLINE, CAESARS will focus on trials, triumphs and tribulations of a compelling cast of Las Vegas characters, including a regular cast of Caesars Palace employees and a revolving cast of wide-eyed tourists, first-time gamblers, and other visitors of all descriptions who come to party in the world’s most famous adult playground.

Viewers will experience the Entertainment Capital of the World as they have never seen it before — through the eyes of the indomitable pit boss, the savvy sports book oddsmaker, the tactful hotel concierge, glamorous showgirls, imperious high-rollers, excited low-rollers, Vegas newlyweds and any number of the 60,000 visitors and employees who pass through the marbled hallways of Caesars Palace each day.

“We’re thrilled to have Caesars Palace as the setting for our next real-life series,” said Abbe Raven, executive vice president and general manager, A&E Network. “Viewers will have the unique opportunity, thanks to the unprecedented access Caesars has given us for the show, to experience the compelling stories that happen behind the scenes at the world’s most famous resort and casino.”

“We are pleased to have a television partner of the caliber of A&E Network to capture the innumerable intriguing stories to be found inside the storied walls of Caesars Palace,” said Mark Juliano, president of the renowned resort. “Caesars Palace possesses a mystique that eludes any other casino in Las Vegas. It is the perfect venue for A&E to create an engaging and entertaining television program which will showcase Las Vegas in an unscripted style as has never been done before.”

CAESARS: A&E Network to Produce a New Real-Life Series at the World’s Most Famous Casino Resort

I think the person who wrote this press release was a little burned out.  Why else would you use the word “cast” three times in the second paragraph?  And isn’t the whole idea behind reality TV that there is no “cast,” just reality?

It’s also interesting that this piece makes no mention of the fact that Caesars is ground zero for the biggest merger in American gaming history; I would guess that the show would be filmed as the deal progresses (or not). 

And why does every group have to have a descriptive adjective?  The ” indomitable pit boss, the savvy sports book oddsmaker, the tactful hotel concierge, glamorous showgirls, imperious high-rollers, excited low-rollers,” don’t just hang out at the casino; they walk through its “marbled hallways.”

Honestly, that whole paragraph reads like something out of MadLibs.  Just for fun, print that out, blank out the adjectives, and have your friends think of some new ones.  Post the results as comments.

In other news,’s DJ Gallo doesn’t get spectator poker.  From Page 2:

That’s it. I fold. I’m an outcast.

And it snuck up on me so quickly. A year-and-a-half ago, I was still pretty cool — in my early 20s, stylish and up on pop culture . . . but able to stop just short of that line that separates ‘cool’ from ‘annoying hipster.’

Yet today, I’m a social leper.


Because I’m the only male in America who doesn’t play poker.

So I’m going to start. I have to start. I don’t have a choice. It’s either submit to the poker craze or be devoured and spit out, left to roam the streets for the rest of my days with a huge scarlet “P” on my chest, muttering expletives about Phil Hellmuth.

I’ll join Poker Nation. But I don’t have to like it.

I visited my grandmother in the retirement home a while back. On the way down the hall, I passed a room where a bunch of old ladies, all connected to ventilators, were playing canasta. Yes, the cherry Jell-O they’d been served was enticing, but I still didn’t feel the urge to stand in the doorway for two hours and watch them play. I have absolutely zero interest in watching other people play cards.

Yet guys — guys supposedly just like me — are watching. They’re even planning their nights around it.

Millions of people. Maybe I just don’t get it.

ESPN carries a clock on the bottom of the screen now that counts down the hours, minutes and seconds until its next World Series of Poker broadcast. The only clock countdown I need to see on ESPN is the time my favorite NFL team has left before it makes its next draft pick. That, and maybe the time remaining until Maria Sharapova turns 18.

Yet on July 8, the Worldwide Leader in Sports pulled a 2.0 rating for its first show in the 2004 WSOP series — nearly double the ratings that the opening games of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals received. (Not that beating NHL ratings is the standard for television success, but at least hockey is a sport.)

Play Poker, or Else

I admit, I’m just as perplexed at the rise of gambling as a spectator sport, but who am I to judge?

If it’s now cool to express a disdain for the WSOP, does that mean that the poker craze is peaking?  Probably not.  I have to confess that I didn’t know that people pronounce it “wassup.”  I never heard anyone from Binion’s call  it that.  I call it the W-S-O-P or “the tournament” if its in context.

I have a feeling that, next year, hipsters will rediscover craps.  It has a history of coolness, and has just enough arcane math and prop bets to keep people perpetually interested.  You heard it here first.

A game called hope

There are certain things in life that appear to be contradictory but actually make sense.  Fans know, for example, that professional wrestling is “fake,” i.e., the results of the match are booked in advance, yet they still watch, which is a tribute to the athleticism and story-telling of the “sports entertainers.”  In some ways, this “fake” sport provides more real entertainment that actual athletic contests, which can sometimes be downright unexciting.  So it makes sense, in fact, that people looking to be entertained might choose an exciting “fake” over a boring “genuine” athletic contest.
I’ve written before on the parallels between professional wrestling and casino gaming; in both, the results are predetermined (statistically, in gaming’s case, but not in any individual instance), but both have become wildly popular after shucking any pretense at legitimate competition for “entertainment.” 
Here’s a news story from the Philadelphia Inquirer that might bolster my arguments about casino entertainment.  It asks the fundamental question of why slots players continue to fill the machines when they know, statistically, they are destined to lose over the long haul:

At the Borgata, slots chief Paul Tjoumakaris knows what he wants in a slot machine. Great math. Great hit frequency.

“It’s very important that the machine create a system where the customer doesn’t dry out quickly,” he says.

But the same math that doles out a bunch of hits also ensures that the customer will dry out eventually. Or at least come out behind. That’s the point. “Eventually the bankroll is going to deplete, but at least they had fun,” Tjoumakaris says.

In fact, slots players exhibit some of the most persistent positive thinking despite the near certainty that they will lose, say psychologists who study gambling behavior.

Tjoumakaris may chalk this up to entertainment – to machines that pay in little increments as they take your money, to machines with fun sounds, good graphics, complex bonus rounds, and video narratives and characters who talk and tease you.
But psychologists consider a slots player’s propensity for positive thinking, ordinarily a useful response to adversity, to be “maladaptive” – the kind of thing that leads to excessive gambling. Or to healthy slots revenue for the casino, depending on whom you’re asking.
New Jersey requires machines, over time, to return at least 83 percent of all wagers back to gamblers. (Pennsylvania’s new law requires 85 percent.) Payout percentages are reported monthly.

In Atlantic City, the average is about 92 percent, though the rate varies among machines, with higher-denomination ones returning a higher percentage. The Borgata, which claims the “loosest” slots in town, holds an average of 7.8 percent of all wagers.

That 92 percent doesn’t sound too bad, but the returns get smaller and smaller as your bankroll depletes.

Psychologists say slot machines are the crack cocaine of gambling. They promote a way of thinking known as the gambler’s fallacy, says Nancy Petry, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

“Cognitive illusions – there’s a whole series of them,” Petry says. “You think that past wins or losses are predictive of future wins or losses – ‘I’m bound to win next time’ – when every pull of the slot machine has an equal probability of payout. Everybody gets tricked into those illusions.”

Griffiths and colleague Jonathan Parke have studied “chasing” behavior, and they have written: “Gamblers report that they are reluctant to quit until they win. In essence, they believe that each loss brings them one step closer to winning. To some extent, this is necessarily true. If the gambler persists, they will eventually win. However, these individuals appear to ignore how these transactions balance out in the long run.”

New-generation slot machines, with video narratives, bonus rounds, and even trivia questions, give gamblers the notion that they are more involved in the outcome.

They get caught up with the themes, the humor, the choices, and the pop-culture references.

Psychologists say all the themes and interaction – some machines have animated characters that talk to, even taunt, the gamblers – can have powerful effects on some people.
The psychology of slots: Hooking players on hope

It is ironic, indeed, that something like perserverance, which in theory benefits people in a capitalist system, could actually hurt those having problems with slots. 
You’ve got to wonder if slots players are really as unsophisticated as these stories make them out to be.  For example, one of the few players quoted in this piece admits to being outsmarted by a “Cops and Donuts” machine:

Regulations prohibit casino operators from blatant “near-miss” manipulations, such as having the first two reels of a standard machine match more often to increase suspense. But newer machines have several ways of winning, including multiple pay lines and bonus rounds, so players feel as though they are always “almost winning.” And some bonus rounds present players with options, then show what a different choice would have yielded.
“They tease you,” says Joe Evers, 74, playing the “Cops and Donuts” game. That leads to regret, psychologists say, which can be most efficiently eliminated by playing another round.

I’ve often wondered why people play “Cops and Donuts.”  Now I know–because deep down inside, they want to be teased. 


Gambling and sports

I read an interesting piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the links between gambling and sports.  Here’s the opening, but I really urge you to read the whole thing:

The relationship between sports and gambling, once at arm’s length and now almost hand in hand, is embodied by the brothers Maloof.
The family owns both the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and, since 1998, the Sacramento Kings. The National Basketball Association approved the family’s purchase of the team after they agreed to quit taking bets on NBA games in their casino’s legal sports-betting operation.
“As long as we don’t have the NBA in our sports book, everything is fine,” George Maloof said. “And we haven’t had one problem.
“They are two different businesses. We just have an interest in both. We like the gaming business, and we like the sports business. It’s a unique combination.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw more sports owners get into gaming.”
The next sports team to do that could be the Penguins, who hope to use a slot machine parlor to finance construction of a new arena.
In addition to the Penguins’ plans, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis stirred a National Football League inquiry when he announced his limited partnership with Charles Betters’ proposal to build a horse track, casino, hotel and retail complex in Hays.
Both plans resulted from the slots law enacted in Pennsylvania two weeks ago and bring closer to the surface the often rocky relationship between sports and gambling.
Sometimes, the relationship is direct and ugly, as in the infamous cases of the Black Sox scandal (players fixing 1919 World Series games) and Pete Rose (betting on baseball and other sports) and numerous point-shaving incidents in college basketball over the past half-century.
In recent years, though, peaceful coexistence has been the rule. ITT Corp. set the precedent by becoming the first casino-owning corporation to buy major professional sports franchises, owning the New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey teams and their home, Madison Square Garden.
Pro sports and gambling interests get cozier

Actually, I think that Del Webb was the first corporation to own both casinos and a sports team.  It owned the Sahara and Mint in Las Vegas and also owned the New York Yankees, though I’m not 100% that the ownerships overlapped.  This was when the 10% bookmakers tax pretty much put casinos out of the sportsbetting industry, so there was no conflict in that area.
It’s interesting to see newspapers in areas that hadn’t previously been hotbeds of gambling–like Pennsylvania and California–suddenly begin running pieces on the subject.  I think that the result has been some great stories.