Social Connections


I must be very unlucky.

I recently spent some time at a conference in Las Vegas. I didn't have much free time, but I passed through the casino enough that I had the opportunity to stop for a few minutes and check out the games. There's an emotional side to gaming. There's also a strategic side that involves logic, mathematics, and money management. The emotional side is easy. Bells and lights and the fake 'chinka chinka' sound of virtual coins falling out of the machine into the tray below (it's all electronic now) prey on your desire to succeed. It can be very intoxicating. But let's take a look at the other side for a moment.

Casinos are very lavish, and very expensive. Who do you think pays for all that? That's right...the gambler. So there must be ways to ensure that the casino wins, and the gambler loses. It starts with the math behind each game. Take a simple game like roulette. A little chrome ball falls onto a spinning wheel and randomly lands on a number and the house pays out based on the odds of that happening. If all the numbers are split evenly into RED and BLACK, and the payout is 2-1, then it all makes sense. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave the house any way to make money. So they invented the GREEN 0. They still pay you 2-1 odds, but the odds aren't even anymore. If you choose BLACK, then the house wins if the ball lands on either RED or GREEN. Hey!....that's not fair! Welcome to Vegas, buddy! In fact, the casinos have gotten so greedy that they added a GREEN 00 number to the wheel as well, just to skew the results further in their favour.

Essentially, the casino's strategy is to make you think you're playing a fair game, and that your personal gaming strategy can beat the house, while they empty your pockets. I know a very intelligent individual who claims his roulette strategy is unbeatable. He simply waits until five or six spins in a row all come up BLACK, then he bets RED, figuring it's bound to equal out so the odds are in his favour. This would be a wonderful strategy if the wheel actually remembered its previous spins and adjusted accordingly. That strategy is so off base that casinos now gladly show you the last ten spins just so you can jump in and make them bankrupt. Of course, they know the math doesn't work like that.

Every game has an edge for the house. Slots are very popular. Most slots pay out up to 98% of what they take in. In Nevada, the law requires them to pay out at least 75%. A 95% payout should mean that a gambler can enter the casino with $100, play all night, and leave with $95 the next morning. Not bad entertainment for $5. Unfortunately, this isn't quite how it works. Because small profits continue to be re-played into the machine, that 95% payout is like having a small hole in your wallet. Eventually, if you stay long enough, it's all going to find its way out that hole and into the hands of the casino. Here's a similar game we can play. You give me $100 and I'll give you back $95. Come on...don't be shy. In fact, we can play this game all night if you want to!

Perhaps the saddest part about casinos is that they don't require their patrons to take intelligence tests before entering. They are always filled with people looking to make their fortune the easy way. In 99.99% of the cases, they just take money from people that can't really afford to lose it. I have nothing against them. If you want to go to a fancy, glitzy casino and play some games as evening entertainment instead of going to a movie, then go right ahead. But don't expect to come home a winner. Don't take more than you can afford to lose. Don't pull out your credit or debit card because you have a hunch the next game will be your lucky break. A lot of bad stuff happens to families that forget these rules.

Like I said at the beginning, I must be very unlucky. I hear all kinds of stories about people who made money on a particular night at the casino. I lost $4. I had a bit of fun. But my expectations didn't change at all. Beating the casino has never been part of my retirement plan.



The Real Meaning of Halloween

Darkness falls across the land. The midnight hour is close at hand...

Tomorrow is All Saints Day, making tonight All Hallows Eve, or Halloween for short. It's the one time of the year when it's okay to NOT be yourself. Costumes are encouraged, and it doesn't seem to matter whether they're scary, silly, or just plain creative. My kids went to school this morning in full garb, ready to enjoy the moment. Tonight they will be gathering with friends to conduct the traditional ritual of going door-to-door to exchange their cry of "Trick or treat" for some candy and other goodies. It's quite the strange concept when you think about it.

I know it has its roots in ancient times with Pagans and Puritans, but today it represents something more important...the opportunity to live life in the moment. It's a time to use our imaginations that are too often stifled during the rest of the year. It's a time to be part of a fantasy without being ridiculed. It's a time for neighbours to see each other, and comment on how much the kids have grown. It's a time for kids to say "Thank you", like a hundred times, and an opportunity for parents to remind them that respect for property is always important. It's a time for parents to realize that their little princess, or superman really is a princess or superman to them. And when it's all over, it's a time for families to feel good about themselves, their communities, and the special memories they will carry forward with them to the next generation. That's pretty special in my book.

So tonight as you wander the neighbourhood seeking out your treasure, or fly on your broomstick to your annual gathering in Salem, remember to stay safe, warm, and aware. And most of all, remember that tonight it's okay to live in a make-believe world. But the best, most fulfilling, creative experiences you will ever have, are right here at home.

Oh...and one more thing....BOO! (I hope I didn't scare you too much.)



The Home Team

Sometimes your team wins, sometimes it loses. But either way, you have fun cheering. Sometimes your team's rival is playing, and that's almost as much fun. It doesn't matter who the rival is playing, any opponent of your rival is your friend. I think General Patton said that. Okay, maybe not. My point is that as along as there is some sort of connection to your team, you can get emotionally invested in it. But what if no connection exists?

Tonight, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Texas Rangers for the 2011 World Series. I'd tell you how exciting it was for me, but the truth is, I didn't really care who won. The connection between either team and my chosen one (the Toronto Blue Jays) was too distant to be of interest. But sports (particularly baseball...sorry, I had to say it) can be very boring if you don't choose a side and get into it. So who did I choose? The home team.

It's always more exciting to root for the home team. The crowd gets into the game and your emotions are played like puppet strings by all their mood swings. When the visiting team scores, it's so quiet you'd think the game was on a temporary rain delay. But when the home team's ELECTRIC!

Tonight, in game 7 of the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals gave their fans something to cheer about...a World Series victory. Confetti flew. People screamed (and probably looted some stores and overturned some police cars downtown). It was exciting. No, my team didn't win, they weren't even playing, but at least the team that made the game exciting did.

It's always more fun when the home team wins the championship. Congratulations to the fans of St. Louis. Now how about some finals hockey games in Montreal, please.


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