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12.17 40 Million Americans Depend on the Colorado River. It’s Drying Up.

12.17 Now we know: Air Pollution Makes You Stupid

12.17 What was agreed at COP24 in Poland and why did it take so long?

12.17 At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts

12.17 I led the National Park Service. Ryan Zinke leaves lasting damage

12.17 Former fossil fuels lobbyist to head interior department as Zinke exits

12.15 World leaders are trying to make a climate deal in Poland — despite Trump

12.15 John Kerry: Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change. [Might he be a candidate for President in 2020?]

12.15 Black lung disease is still killing miners. The coal industry doesn't want to hear it [Trump loves Coal]

12.14 You, Too, Are In Denial of Climate Change

12.14 After 30 Years Studying Climate, Scientist Declares: "I've Never Been as Worried as I Am Today"

12.13 'Whoever You Are, Wherever You Are, We Need You': 15-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Calls for Global Climate Strike

12.12 In Early Holiday 'Gift to Polluters,' Trump Guts Protections for 60 Percent of Nation's Streams, Wetlands, and Waterways

12.12 An Indication of What's Coming': Melting at North and South Poles Worse Than Previously Thought [4:47 video]

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12.17 Make climate crisis top editorial priority, XR campaign urges BBC

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12.18 'Not the Kind of Moral Leadership We Need': Critics Pounce After Schumer Refuses to Back Medicare for All

12.18 Chris Matthews Predicts Trump Could Resign ‘In The Coming Weeks’ [1:55 video]

12.17 Pennsylvania meltdown triggers Republican alarms

12.17 Floridians Voted to Restore Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights. But the Legislature Has a History of Ignoring Voters.

12.17 Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out

12.17 SNL cold open imagines a world where Trump isn’t president, angering the real-life Trump [8:55 video]

12.15 What the Hell Is Wrong With Paul Ryan? [”The Saudi check is in the mail.”]

12.15 Scott Walker signs bills to limit powers of incoming Wisconsin Democrats [Immoral people cheat, etc.]

12.15 Paying Congress’s interns a living wage is a good idea. Paying professional staff one is even better.

12.15 Trump science adviser casts doubt on links between pollution and health problems [Consider the ignorant/bribed source.]

12.15 How Republicans are turning US states into labs of anti-democracy

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12.18  'Confuse, distract' / Russian propagandists targeted African Americans to influence 2016 US election

12.14 The Trump inauguration is now being criminally investigated

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12.18 This Radical Plan to Fund the ‘Green New Deal’ Just Might Work

12.15 Top House Democrats join Elizabeth Warren’s push to fundamentally change American capitalism

12.14 A World That Is the Property of the 1%: Wall Street, Banks, and Angry Citizens

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12.18 Hungary’s prime minister stole the country’s democracy. Now Hungarians are rising up.

12.18 Migrant family who fled tear gas at U.S. border seeks asylum

12.18 181 Nations Just Voted to Help Refugees. Only the Far-Right United States and Hungary Voted "No"

12.17 The Guardian view on COP24: while climate talks continue, there is hope

12.15 How to do good better [Republicans may not understand this story]

12.15 Denmark gives new fathers paid leave. Why do so few take it? [Audio clip]

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  Print view: Casinos and Today's Scam Artists

Casinos and Today’s Scam Artists

by Alexander E. Hooke
Monday, 30 August 2010
Even as I approach the gambling hall, as soon as I hear, two rooms away, the jingle of money poured onto the table, I almost go into convulsions.
Dostoevsky, The Gambler
Both Ehrlich and O'Malley agree and condone that the State of Maryland should assume the role of scam artists. The easy prey will be their own citizens.

For the longest time these sorts of convulsions prompted human beings to talk about vice and social corruption. Today they are translated into easy and enormous bucks not only for big business, but big government as well. The emerging rematch between former Governor Robert Ehrlich and current Governor Martin O’Malley and their views on slots betrays an uncanny similarity.

It is now undeniable that both candidates agree and condone that the State of Maryland should assume the role of scam artists. The easy prey will be their own citizens and neighbors. There is no other way to understand their mutual embrace of legalized slot machines.

Consider the slot machine itself. Its pre-1980s forerunner, found in such sundry locales as bowling alleys and cafeterias, was aptly named the “one-armed bandit.” Operated by gears, pulleys and cylinders, it usually featured various fruits, blanks and wild cards. If a machine had three wheels, with each wheel featuring fifteen or twenty icons, players felt that they could learn and eventually beat the machine, and maybe hit the jackpot. It was assumed that a machine gradually developed a bias. As its mechanical parts started getting worn, patterns or tendencies supposedly became more pronounced. Learning this and finding the exact time to pull its “arm” could slightly tilt the advantage to the bettor, and defeating the wanna-be-bandit.

Thus gamblers felt they could eventually make reliable predictions and control the game. Obviously, this requires lots of time, concentration, and money spent on losing before detecting the game’s inner weaknesses. One could first wind up broke.

Once a coin or token is dropped into the slot machine, the outcome is already determined. Those seconds of rolling images and pulling the “arm” are tricks. They have no bearing on the final display.

Today’s slot machines offer no such challenge. They are run by elaborate computers. Continually scrambling the possible combinations across five windows, they make it impossible for even an alert gambling mind to keep track of any pattern or bias. The “arm” is strictly a gimmick. As mathematician Joseph Mazur lucidly describes in his remarkable study of numbers, odds and the gambler’s illusion, once a coin or token is dropped into the slot machine, the outcome is already determined. Those seconds of rolling images and pulling the “arm” are tricks. They have no bearing on the final display. Promotional signs about the casino paying off 95%, the clamoring of bells to announce an occasional winner, and free drinks to any player all contribute to the illusion.

In this sense slot machines, and anyone benefiting from their use, are pulling off a scam. A fair gamble means that each participant has a chance at winning. A scam means one participant is being duped into believing he or she has a chance of winning in the long run, but in fact does not. The incessant marketing of the rare jackpot winner underscores the scam.

Scams succeed because the mark is weak or ignorant. Indeed, there is considerable speculation that not all gambling is about winning. To the contrary, some experts claim that gamblers are psychological masochists who want to lose. Others hypothesize that they seek something akin to a high. For example, one friend still remembers a heart-thumping moment when he was on a roll at the craps table and dozens of people were betting on or against him.

Another theory holds that adult gamblers are still reworking the trauma of being potty-trained. For them money symbolizes bodily waste. As a baby or toddler, the future slots player was suddenly forbidden to delight in the body’s various pleasures; hence the phrases about “shooting one’s wad” or “filthy money.” Next time you visit a casino, observe how frequently players are fondling their coins and bills. For them, the issue is not leaving ahead but simply the duration spent at the machine or table. These explanations, however, bring us to the shadows of pathology.

In any event, Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O”Malley agree that the State of Maryland should engage in this con game, taking advantage of citizens with potential convulsions rather than protecting them. We should be debating whether either candidate is fit to be our next governor.

Dr. Hooke is a professor of philosophy at Stevenson University.

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This story was published on August 30, 2010.

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