Friday, December 16, 2005

Luck Be A Lady, Tonight...I Hope

The Journal of Gambling Studies will publish research by Drake University psychology professors that suggests the more mental mistakes gamblers make, the more they bet. In other words, gamblers are often raising the stakes when they really should be taking their money, going home, and paying their mortgage.

Professors W. Scott Wood and Maria Clapham say the two most common cognitive errors are the belief that the player possesses some sort of control over games of chance by their skills or through superstitious influence.

Wood said, "The first belief is an illusion of control. For example, they may believe that if they watch slots closely and see one lose over and over then the machine is 'due' for a payout." Also, the more "skill" the gambler believed was involved, the more the gambler is apt to bet, and continue betting.

In Ellen Langer's "Illusion of Control" study, they noticed gamblers would roll the dice really hard if they needed a high number, and rolled the dice softer if they need a low number. All of these behaviors border on idiotic, and how you throw the dice has nothing to do with the outcome. It's pure probability, but the gambler has this need to feel they have control, and they often believe they have that control.

The Illusion of Control phenomenon is supported by a well known group of misconceptions called The Gambler's Fallacy:

A random event is more likely to occur because it has not happened for a period of time;
A random event is less likely to occur because it has not happened for a period of time;
A random event is more likely to occur because it recently happened; and
A random event is less likely to occur because it recently happened.

Take the coin toss for example, if heads comes up 4 times in a row, people are apt to say, "Tails" because tails is due. This is incorrect, as coin tosses - like gambling - is based on only one thing...probability. Probability, like any math, doesn't bend for anybody. Even if "Daddy needs a new pair of shoes." If the coin comes up heads 100 times in a row, the probablility of it being tails on the next flip is still going to be 50/50.

The second cognitive error is superstition, Wood said. This is a belief that has to do with how lucky you are. Some call it "magical thinking," mojo, karma, or just plain luck. A wiseman once said, "In my experience, there's no such thing as luck" - Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Superstition is a strange thing to discuss, as it makes no sense, yet people hang onto these illogical beliefs. In some forms, the belief you are lucky is a good thing, as it's a form of positive thinking - and there is a correlation between people who feel good fortune continually is bestowed upon them and real success in life.

But when it comes to gambling, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

1) You do NOT have control over the outcome in games of chance, and luck won't make you a winner. It's all based on probability (some games, like Poker, have an element of skill involved). If you win at roulette, for example, the laws of probability say that it was bound to land on Red 33 sometime, and you just happened to have your chips in the "right place at the right time."

2) Overall, the House always wins. The more you play, odds are the more you're going to lose. It's funny how people kid themselves with this fact. You think the House doesn't do well? How do you think the Bellagio paid for that single $500,000 chandelier? Or how do you think Caesar's Palace was able to afford that incredible fountain? It's all built by the gamblers that have paid the price.

3) Numerous studies have shown that there is a correlation between problems in brain chemistry and problems with gambling. "A monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine,” reports Dr. Hans Breiter, MD, Motivation and Emotion Neuroscience Center in the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Addiction to drugs, food, sex, and gambling all have extremely similar natures, and science is working to discover in detail how all this works and how to help those with addictions.

If you're not addicted to gambling, you'll probably still cling onto one of these cognitive errors anyway. And if you ARE addicted, you're not paying attention to any of this anyway. However, I am one of those that still clings on to the belief in luck, and for those fellow superstitious people out there, here's a list of lucky charms that just might help you win big. Good luck!

From The Gambler's Luck:

alligator tooth
alligator foot
badger tooth
chamomile hand wash
five-finger grass
four-leaf clover
horseshoe plastic key ring from Mexico
Hoyt's Cologne
John the Conqueror root
magnetic sand
mojo bag containg gambler's lucky charms
money bag
money bags on an American charm bracelet
rabbit foot
raccoon penis bone
skull figural candle
skull as gambler's lucky charm
silver dime
slot machine key ring charm

Darnit, I seemed to have misplaced my lucky racoon penis bone.


Reiki said...

I've heard the saying about not believing in a lucky rabbit's foot b/c it didn't give the rabbit any good luck.

I guess that goes double for the raccoon boner, huh?

Andrew said...

It's often been said of us Aussies that "we'd bet on two flies crawling up a wall". Probably right! Who else closes down the whole country for a horse race?

Interesting fact: despite the huge gambling industries in Las vegas and elsewhere, and despite our tiny population (20 million), Australia is home to one in every three poker (slot) machines on the planet!

Where we live has the second-largest concentration of machines in the country ... and also a disproportionate concentration of welfare cases, mentally ill, addicts of various kinds, single parents, and the mentally ill living in half-way houses. You make the connection.

KC said...

A skull candle as a lucky charm? Cool! Does it have to be a real skull or can it be one of those plastic ones from a Halloween shop?

Mojotek said...

Yeah, ever since I took my first Statistics class in college I started to see how absolutely ridiculous most gamblers are... I think statistics should be a required course in all high schools.

It would help A LOT with the perception of probability and chance when it comes to things like gambling and the random statistics thrown out by the media on every conceivable subject.

Jim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Ben Heller said...

What always makes me smile is when I go to the casino and you'll often find a player keeping a list of the numbers that have been called, thinking that because a certain number hasn't appeared yet the odds are reduced and it's a "dead cert".

Stupid !!!!

Now.....where is my racoon C*ck ?


Jamie Dawn said...

I haven't gambled much at all in my life. I played Blackjack once, and that was really fun. I've done slots a few times... boring! We played Keno last year in Reno. I brought cards up to our room and let the kids pick numbers. My daughter's card won $400.
What I learned from that: let kids gamble!
Maybe kids are lucky charms. I didn't have any penis bones with me at the time.

:P fuzzbox said...

I am a firm believer in luck myself. There are some people who can fall into a bucket of shit and come out smelling like roses and others who can fall into a bucket of roses and just wind up with a thorn in the ass.

Jillian said...


Lucky...raccoon penis bone? Never heard of that one - LOL!

Nice Phoenix, are you hinting that this is what you want for Christmas? ;-)

Eve said...

Nowhere Girl in Vegas is a SCARY sight. I would EAT a raccoon penis bone if it ensured a winner!!! ;-)

NW Guy just bought me a vintage slot machine for the basement, so I can play for free. More for our checkbook than for me tho ;-)

Now the kids love it. Passing on the addiction. Lovely. *roll eyes*

Keshi said...

lol I dun believe in lucky charms and that too a penis bone!


David Amulet said...

Phoenix: That sounds like a good name for your next blog -- or, even better, a new jazz fusion band: Lucky Raccoon Penis Bone.

-- david

angel, jr. said...

Racoon bone penis? Haha!

Grafs said...

I also heard a study that said that random payoffs are the most addictive thing to the brain. If the payoff is just often enough to keep the gambler hooked, you're in business.

Dirk the Feeble said...

Unfortunately, not precisely true, at least not with reference to the coin flipping.

*cracks knuckles, prepares to dazzle blog world with amazing feats of mathematical genius*

If I flip a coin one time, the odds are 50/50 it will be heads. If I flip a coin twice, the odds are it will be tails. Check this out (H = heads, T = tails)

Two flips give you four possible combinations: HH, HT, TH, TT. This means there is only a 1/4 probability that both flips will be heads (25%) and the odds are 75% than in two flips, one will be tails.

Pretty smart, eh?

This means the odds of flipping heads 100 times in a row, like you propose, is 1 in 10,000 (0.0001%). So on the 101st flip, there is a 0.000009% chance it will be heads, and a 99.9999% it will be tails.

Okay, so maybe I'm full of shit, but that was fun anyway.

the weirdgirl said...

I have family that are gamblers so I have to hear this kind of "logic" all the time! Everything is "due" to hit. (It's especially hard on my husband who's a numbers guy.) I read an article a couple of years that studies showed certain low-level depressants also seemed to help people with psychological addictions, such as compulsive shoppers. For the next step they were going to try it with compulsive gamblers.

And here I was thinking "Lucky Raccoon Penis Bone" would be a great martial arts attack in an anime cartoon!

The Phoenix said...

I'm sorry for all of you other superstitious persons out there, but I called the raccoon penis bone store, and they are completely sold out.

The supply center was New Orleans, home to Hoodoo, and since Hurricane Katrina, bad mojo has made raccoon penis bones rare indeed.

Jim - My check is on the way, and you can be assured all my checks are good. Although I wouldn't cash it until the fifth waning cresent that happens to fall on the second Thursday between July and October.

Armaedes - Now THAT is what I call "fuzzy math."

I don't gamble much either, but the planets aligned for me only once in my life and I won a couple hundred bucks. I think I'm due for the 'big one.'

Jenn said...

I heart The Phoenix!

Mojotek said...

Did somebody say "bad mojo"?

Actually I wanted to ask The Pheonix about that oil additive you promote on the main page of your blog?

Any specific anecdotal evidence you got for it? I'm always looking for 'real' ways to keep my V8 truck more efficient and running longer.

The Phoenix said...


My neighbor has a pretty brand new Suburban and is the one who told me about Friction Free 3000. He says it's helped him get better gas mileage. You put one whole bottle into your oil after an oil change and drive the car around for 10 minutes. Thereafter, you only need to put half the bottle in following every oil change.

You could also hang a raccoon penis bone from your visor for good mojo.

Laurie said...

I've never been one to gamble, because I do not like losing money. A lottery ticket once in awhile is about it for me.

I went with a friend to a bingo place once, and I couldn't believe all the "lucky charms" people had sitting out on the table by their bingo cards. It's serious business. I'm sure that there was a racoon penis bone (I didn't know the penis had a bone..) somewhere in that bingo hall.

ObilonKenobi said...

I don't believe in lucky objects, like rabbit's feet, but I do always believe in luck. When gambling I always fall victum to those little habits. I shouldn't take it personally when I loose, but I do, like I'm not "cool" enough to win ro something ridiculous like that. Then when I'm winning, I feel like Sinatra.

By the way, great Star Wars reference. Obi-Wan was truly a wise man. (Except that little mistake he made with Anakin that led to the destruction of all the Jedi. Opps.)

Jim said...

I slept through most of high school match, but I thought the probability of 101 heads in a row would be caluclauted using the Poisson Distribution, the probability of the rare event -- a randon pick of winning Lotto numbers is based on the Normal Distribution but the winning numbers being exactly your waist size, your age, your lucky number, your IQ divided by 10, etc. would be based on the Poisson Distribution.

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