Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Winning' in Las Vegas

At least once a year my wife and I take a trip out to Las Vegas. This tradition started many years ago - without me.

For many years, my wife would make this trip with her sisters and/or friends and I would stay home, secure in the belief that Sin City was beneath me. I had no use for all the glitz and glitter and would just as soon stay home with the kids, thank you.

My first time:

This changed about 15 years ago when a group of relatives and friends were taking an excursion flight from Minneapolis and our youngest agreed to stay - was eager to stay - with relatives while we were away. So, what the hell, I'll go along to see what this is all about.

I don't remember much about that first trip other than we stayed up all night before leaving. We had to leave for the airport at 2 AM in order to catch the plane so why go to sleep. The plane was full of pumped up people so there wasn't much sleep to be had during the flight. And how can you sleep in Vegas. (Maybe that's why I don't remember much.)

The other thing I remember about this first time is that it was pretty hard on my ego. Say hello to the slot machine. I put my money in and I played. Well this was fun after all. I won a little and then I lost it right back. There are all the lights and wheels and bells. Things to watch and things to cheer for. And everyone around you doing the same thing and having fun (?). So I'd win a little more but then pretty soon it was all gone. WTF? What's the fun in this, right? So, I thought, I am smarter than a stupid machine, so I will just come up with a system for winning. You know about systems, right? We've all tried 'em. I did things like trying to time my bets so I would have the most money bet when the wheels rolled a winner. That was my favorite and, no, it didn't work. I have been trained in scientific research and had worked in that field for many years so I understood statistics and probability. This trip was a painful lesson in what random really means (with a bit of weighting of the odds - away from me).

I don't like to lose. No, I REALLY don't like to lose. By the time we got on that plane for home I had lost most of what I took with. I was severely depressed and sincerely humbled. My wife, who is much luckier at these things than me, kept telling me not to get so upset. She'd say things like; "Look at all the fun you had"; "You'll win next time."; and my favorite; "I won so we've come out pretty even." Somehow that wasn't the same. I don't think it was so much about the money. Well, yes it was.

Okay, I'm ready now:

But I got over it pretty quickly once I was home and the year passed and when it came time to plan another trip I was right in there planning along with everyone else. I was hooked. The thing is, even thought I wasn't very good at playing the machines I still had a great time. There was so much to see and do that didn't involve gambling. The whole place glowed and jingled and the crazy, wild, colorful people everywhere. My work had shifted from research to computer systems support and I had less and less time away from work when I wasn't on call or connected to the network systems I supported (both physically and mentally).  There was something about all the lights and sounds - and the whole spirit of the place - that put my work totally out of my mind and for once I could relax. I was like a little child and the bells and whistles were the only distraction that could hold my attention.

'Beating' the odds:

I remember even less about the next trip.  I resolved to have it out with the slot machines and come to terms with this gambling thing once and for all.  With all the fun times I was having in Vegas, I couldn't let this gambling thing ruin it. I'd done some reading between trips and one tip struck me as sensible. Before you start at any game have a loss limit AND a win limit. And when either of these is met you get up and leave the game. So I tried it. No matter what I started with I would stand up and leave when I'd lost half. If I doubled my stake I would set that double amount as my new loss limit and leave if I went back below it. The other thing I did was to ALWAYS convert what I had left back into cash and put it into my pocket. That way I would always be able to cash in something and I would never be broken by the game if I was loosing. This is a very subtle point and it may sound silly to you but it has made all the difference for me. I am never beaten. I play the games and take anything they want to give me (large jackpots or small) and say thank you very much and walk over to the cashier and smile while she counts out my winnings (or my salvage). Win or lose, I cash it in either way and it feels good.

One more trick (or mind game, if you will): When I start the day, I put all my stake in my left pocket and draw from this pocket for every game. As I cash in my 'winnings' I put that money in my right pocket - and leave it there. When my left pocket is empty I quit and do something else - like sit and watch my wife win. I am always amazed at how much money I have in my right pocket at the end of the day. Of course, if I follow my rules my 'winning' pocket will never have less than half what I started with.

Over the years, I have usually taken $200.00 to $500.00 along with me to gamble while I'm in Vegas. I usually bring most of it back home with me - after running it through the games many times. I don't gamble to win, I just like playing the games. And I'll play as long as they'll 'let' me.