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I'll Win Because I'm a Good Person

5 December 1999

©1999 by Andrew N. S. Glazer
All Rights Reserved

If you ever saw Let It Ride, the funny Richard Dreyfuss movie about a magical day at a race track, you probably remember the scene where Dreyfuss, in the midst of his great streak, exclaims "God likes me!"

Given the mysterious and perverse directions in which the winds of chance and fate blow, it isn't surprising that most gamblers embrace various superstitions, often without even recognizing them.

I'm not talking about black cats or throwing salt over your shoulder-type stuff. The people who carry around four-leaf clovers and rabbit feet know they're being superstitious and are comfortable in those beliefs. I don't buy into those kinds of superstitions myself, but since the one thing about the Universe that I do know is that I don't know everything about how it works, I'm not going get up on a soapbox and preach.

There's a very different kind of superstition, though, which can sneak up on even those who pride themselves on their math and logic, and because I believe this particular superstition can result not only in lost dollars but also in damaged self-esteem, I want to debunk it.

This highly seductive superstition is "I'll win because I'm a good person." It might also appear in the

  • Religious form: "I'll win because God wants to reward me" (in Dreyfuss' case, "I'm winning because God likes me").
  • New Age form: "I'll win because I've accumulated lots of good karma."
  • Fairness form: "The world is fair. I'll win because life has been unfair to me in other ways, so the winning will balance things out."

Naturally, the negative variations also come up. Some people believe they lose because they are bad, or their God wants to punish them, or they've accumulated bad karma, or they've received more than is their "due" from the world and the gaming tables are taking it back.

If you've ever embraced any of these theories, you haven't thought it all the way through.

First, let me hasten to say that I make no claim to know which religion is correct about Whom God is or isn't, and I certainly don't know anything about how God chooses or does not choose to run things.

But whether you want to call the mysterious force behind your gaming luck God, the Universe, Karma, Goodness, Fairness or some other title, you need to understand that most of these mysterious forces operate—-at least part of the time—-in very indirect manners.

Because I want to tread lightly around the religious issues-—no matter how respectfully I treat them, someone will get upset-—let me use "the Universe" as a shorthand for each of the Mysterious Forces I mentioned above, and you can insert whichever one fits your own version of reality.

So, let us suppose that you have been a Good Person and the Universe does want to reward you for that (of course, this begs the question of whether being a Good Person is its own reward, but I have to leave something to the mainstream philosophers, this is a gambling column).

You head to the nearest casino and pump dollars into a slot machine for four hours without hitting anything more exciting than two cherries. You switch to blackjack and lose 150 of your first 200 hands. You move to the craps table and hear the phrase "Seven out, line away" so many times you start wondering if "7OLNAWY" would make for a good vanity license plate.

You head home, confused. You think you are a good person, but you are just getting drilled at the casino. So you start to wonder, maybe I'm not such a good person after all.

Stop wondering.

Let's suppose that you are correct, and that the Universe does indeed want to reward you in some way for your good life. Let's further suppose that the Universe actually considers what happens inside casinos important enough to pay attention. Isn't it at least possible that the Universe doesn't want you to win gambling because it wants you to focus on something else?

In other words, if you become a very lucky gambler, maybe you'll start to rely on that, and won't work hard at your profession, and thus won't achieve what you're capable of and thus won't reap laurels which would feel 100 times better than any winning gambling session. Or perhaps you'll win so much (like a lottery winner) that you'll suddenly be unable to know who your real friends are and aren't.

(Studies have shown that the majority of lottery winners say winning changed their lives for the worse. I know, you'd probably still be willing to risk it, and so would I. But that's what the winners say.)

Let's look at the other side of the same coin. If your casino experiences are losing and negative, maybe you won't visit casinos as much. Maybe you'll spend more time with your kids, or exercising, or something else more constructive. Maybe you won't get in a traffic accident on the way to the casino. Maybe, maybe, maybe....

Get the idea? In the short run, it's very hard to look at a big losing casino trip as anything other than negative input from the Universe. But Mysterious Forces work in Mysterious Ways. Even if we do assume that the Universe is paying attention while we're sitting at our favorite slot machine (and that strikes me as a very big assumption), we can't be sure we understand what hitting the jackpot—-or failing to hit the jackpot—-really means in the Grand Design.

Maybe the Universe likes you, or maybe it doesn't. Maybe the Universe loves everyone. Either way, you can't deduce anything about this from your gambling results. Pray if you want to, live a good and just life if that is the way you want to live, but don't expect a cause and effect relationship between your life and your casino experience--and if there IS a cause and effect relationship, don't expect to be able to understand it.

As a result, while I think there are many good reasons to live that good and just life, I don't believe "improved gambling results" qualifies as one of the reasons. Don't doubt your worth because you lose, and don't hurt your arm patting yourself on the back if you win.

You want to win more often? Take the time to learn more about slots, craps, blackjack or whatever form of gambling you enjoy. I've heard a rumor that the Universe helps those who help themselves.

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer:

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer: