Thoughts on Gambling

Basically, I don’t get it.  There’s more to it of course, but my logical mind doesn’t understand how people can waste their money that way.

What spurs these thoughts is a recent experience working “The Money Wheel” for a neighborhood festival.  I looked at how it worked, did a rough estimate of the odds, and was appalled that anyone would think they might have a chance to come out ahead.  Then I looked at the way the “game” is played, and still can’t figure out what might be fun about it.

The game is simple.  There’s a large vertical wheel, with photocopies of currency attached to it, a pointer, and dividers so the pointer will always point at one of the bills when the wheel stops rotating.  There were 60 slots on the wheel, about half $1, about a quarter $2, some $5, a few $10, two $20, a joker and an American flag.  So that’s  1:60 to hit a joker or flag, 1:30 to hit a $20, down to best odds of a little worse than 1:2 on a $1.

To play, you place a chip on the location on a board that matches $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, joker, or flag.  You can play multiple chips and multiple locations at one time.  Then you watch the caller spin the wheel, and wait for it to stop.

OK, so playing is putting down some chips, watching the wheel go around, watching all the chips that didn’t match get taken off the board by the house (me!) and receiving the payout for anything that did match.  The payout is 1:1 on the $1, 2:1 on $2, 5:1 on $5, and so on, up to 25:1 on the joker or flag.

Oh, cool, I can put down one dollar on the joker, and get 25 back when I win?  Yes, but on average the house will have taken 59 dollars from you before you win – odds of 1:60, payout 25:1.

Well, how about playing on the $1?  I can’t lose so much there, right?  I hit almost half the time!  Yes, but you lose a little more than half the time.  28:60 I think I counted as the odds.  So you can’t win there, either.

The other numbers are about the same – and in fact, the odds are hugely tilted toward the house.  So standing around and putting down chips to see them go away most of the time is fun?  Oh, sure, every once in a while someone hits, and hits big.  And usually keeps playing and loses it all, and more.

I understand the idea that gambling on poker, or blackjack, or even horses can be seen as a way of paying for the entertainment time of enjoying the activity, win or lose.  But standing and watching a wheel go ’round?  Not for me!

And that brings me back to my beginning:  I just don’t get it…