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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Does superstition trump mathematics? For many, you betcha!

16 November 2012

Dear Mark: My wife wears a Las Vegas sweater for luck whenever we go to the casino. I think it is all hogwash, besides, she loses more than she wins. So, let me ask the expert. How prevalent is this type of superstition in gambling? Frank P.

The word "prevalent," Frank, would be an understatement as to superstition in a casino. Sometimes I wonder who doesn't have a lucky sweater, lucky underwear or lucky charms lining their pockets, player and management alike.

Coherent thinking believes superstition is a groundless belief in a supernatural agency; a belief, Frank, held without reason. Then there is Yours Truly, who followed the "Black Lady," Athena, the Queen of Spades around the deck, believing, mistakenly mind you, that it made many a player money (the good tippers), and busted others (the stiffs).

One of my favorites was a lady who dressed up both a Barbie and Ken doll in dealer Black and Whites, pulled yellow pins, supposedly signifying money, out of her purse and performed some New Orleans Voodoo at the beginning of each new shoe. Of course, this ritualized form of invoking the spirits didn't work, perhaps because she didn't have a piece of my DNA, although she did ask me multiple times if I would sell her my name tag, undoubtedly to acquire the effects from the doll.

I also remember a gentleman heating up his coins with a hair dryer in the men's bathroom, believing that inserting hot coins produced more winners because the coins coming out of his favorite machine were hot. It was a waste of time telling him that coins falling out hot are due to the proximity of lights and other electrical components of the hopper.

Many players' superstitions lead to strong, dubious beliefs, such as: A new player enters the game in the middle of a shoe, changing the order of the cards and causing the innocent believer-in-magic to instantly lose. If a die flew off the crap table, and if I chose to inspect the dice and didn't immediately put it back on the game, superstitious gamblers would yell, "Take down my bet." Their belief was that, "dice on the floor, seven at the door."

The casino beats back superstition by the math working in its favor, or as a last resort, believing in the same. Forked matches at the pit stand pointed at winning players, pixie dust (salt) over the left shoulder while circling the craps table, and no peanuts allowed in the sportsbook.

Changing dice, changing decks, changing dealers, all play their irrational roles. Gullible as I was early in my career, the first remedy I was taught for a hot craps table was tossing a penny under it, that is, if it lands heads. Tails, and you would see me on all fours fetching that penny because the game was about to blow up.

Tell your wife, Frank, that within the casino walls, the only way you can bring luck onto oneself is through smart wagering, hence my overused but straightforward catch-phrase, "The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be."

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Can one even as much as touch a gambling table without becoming immediately infected with superstition?" Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Gambler (1867)
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.