I Don't Like Gambling, But Not For Reasons You Think

I don't like gambling.

It's not that I think it's a sin; I don't care what other people do with their money. It's a form of entertainment, every bit as valid as spending money on movies, restaurants, streaming services, or lattes and avocado toast.

Some people think gambling is a sin and refuse to set foot in Las Vegas. Some are even die-hard anti-gamblers and recoil in horror whenever someone says, "I'll bet."

But I hate gambling because the odds are completely stacked against you. The casinos have guaranteed that you will never win.

Let's say you spent an evening playing roulette, betting $1 on red or black. You'd think you would win half the time and leave with as much money as you started with, but that's not true.

There are 36 numbers on a roulette wheel; half are red, half are black. Fifty-fifty odds, right?

Wrong. There are also two green numbers, 0 and 00, which means your odds of winning aren't 50%, they're 47.36%.

Meaning, if you bet $1 with every spin of the wheel, you will lose nearly 53% of the time. If you play long enough, you'll run out of money. That's why the house always wins.

Treat gambling like entertainment. Some people go to a movie, a play, or a concert for fun, and others gamble. They know they won't win but like to imagine they could. You won't win big at a concert, unless a musician falls into your lap and they let you take him home.

Several years ago, I went to Reno, Nevada for a work trip. I told my mom, who loved to gamble. She and my stepdad used to drive up to Joliet, Illinois, every few weeks to hit a casino for a fun evening out.

She handed me a $20 bill and said, "Go gamble and we'll split your winnings."

That sounded like fun. I had never gambled, except Penny-Nickel-Dime Poker in high school, where I won $2.40 one night. This was in the days before lattes and avocado toast, so I blew it on McDonald's.

I went to the hotel casino where I was staying for my work conference because nothing says "professional development, like a week at a second-rate casino.

"Play the nickel slots," my mom said. "You can stretch out the fun." So I fed the $20 into the nickel slot machine and warmed up my hands to catch all my winnings.

It turns out that "stretch out the fun" means "extend your torturous misery."

Modern slot machines have a random number generator that uses a mathematical algorithm to come up with a combination of symbols. Tap a button, and the little symbols appear in a row. Your winnings depend on the symbols that appear.

The odds of winning are anywhere from 1-in-5000 to 1-in-34-million. In other words, I was going to lose $20 in the slowest, most painful way possible. So I tapped the button, a nickel at a time, 20 times per dollar. Tap. Tap. Tap. Lose. Lose. Lose.

Multiply that by $20. Tap. Tap. Tap. Lose. Lose. Lose.

I had to tap that effing button. Four. Hundred. Times. Tap. Tap. Tap. Lose. Lose. Lose.

I saw that I could bet three nickels at once, so I started doing that. Now, I only had to tap 133 times, which meant I could finally escape my personal hell 67% faster!

It was the only time that night that I felt like a winner.

After my first $2 had gone, I decided I hated slot machines.

After $8, I hated all games of chance.

After $15, I didn't care if God rained sulfur and fire on Reno, Nevada, with me still in it.

At $17.50, I won! The bells clanged, the siren sounded, and a little light flashed.

I looked at the readout for my big winnings.

It was two dollars. Two lousy, f-wording dollars.

And it didn't come gushing out of the machine in nickels either. Oh, no, that would be too enjoyable. I could have at least walked away, dignity in tatters, with 40 nickels clanking in my pockets.

No, it added the $2 back to my machine credits. Which meant I had to keep tapping that stupid button 40 more times, 13 times if I bet 15 cents, which you better believe I did.

I roundly cursed out the machine, the Nevada gaming commission, and all games of chance throughout history. If I could have handed someone $10 so I could walk away, I would have. But my mom wanted me to have fun, which meant I was going to do it even if it killed me.

So I tap-tap-tapped until the bitter end without winning anything else, and I couldn't have been happier. Because nobody wins at gambling except the house. Because the house always wins. Even in the best games, you only win 47.36% of the time.

There are no systems, no winning streaks, and your lucky baby teeth won't do a thing.

I'd rather just hand the dealer $20 and have them bring avocado toast and lattes all night.

Because that's the only green I'll see there.

Photo credit: Meineresterampe (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.