Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Taking a gamble

I’m not much of a gambler, but two recent articles on the topic caught my eye.

The one in The Boston Globe described the plight of one David Schreiber, a compulsive gambler who a few years back asked Foxwoods, one of the “local” (Connecticut) casinos to ban him for life.

Foxwoods, like most casinos, keeps a “voluntary self-exclusion” list of compulsive gamblers who sign an agreement that they would be denied entry or ejected from the premises, and denied rights to winnings. Casinos, responding to critics, point to the program as evidence that they are responsible institutions. (Source: Boston Globe)

Problem is, the ban is not enforced – and probably not enforceable, unless a casino invests in all kinds of pricey facial recognition systems. Most don’t. Presumably, they have other ways to keep out card counters and cheats. (As an aside, I have no idea why card counting is banned at casinos. If someone’s smart enough to keep all the cards and probabilities in their brain, good for them, no? Guess it’s just another example of our society’s growing disregard for intelligence, expertise, and elitism of any kind.)

Anyway, while the casinos can’t/don’t enforce the bans in full, they do – heh, heh – enforce the part where they’re “denied to rights to winnings.” Which seems pretty mean spirited and thieving, but I guess if you’re a compulsive gambler who has voluntarily signed up to be banned, that’s what you’re signing up for.

If you only win a little – say, $200 on the slots (which just happens to be the biggest jackpot I ever won)  –  they probably won’t catch you at it, but:

Schreiber said he has been detected only once, when he won a $1,250 jackpot, large enough to trigger the requirement that he deposit a portion of his winnings into a tax withholding account. As it turned out, he didn’t get to keep a cent, he said.

Anyway, Schreiber’s pretty annoyed that they haven’t kept him out, and only seem to catch him when he tries to collect a jackpot. But, of course, the casinos are in the business of taking money out of people’s pockets, and only putting enough money back into those pockets to keep people coming back. They’re not the morality police. And, of course, they really don’t have much motivation to keep folks out if those folks have signed an agreement letting the casino keep their winnings. (For the one casino in Massachusetts that’s open to date, the winnings go to the state.)

Winner winner chicken dinner, alright. Only this way, the casino gets to keep the chicken dinner. (Other than in Massachusetts.)

Despite the problems with the include-me-out systems, some see them a s a good first step for gambling addicts, i.e., they’re admitting that they have a problem. Unfortunately, not all take the second step and get help. Some, like Mr. Schreiber, keep coming back for more. By the by, Schreiber apparently contacted the paper to complain about Foxwoods. Not clear why he’d want his picture and story all over the place as a compulsive gambler. Perhaps this is his way of taking a second step? Good luck to him, if that’s the case.

Anyway, I do feel bad for anyone who’s in the throes of this addiction. It must truly be terrible to have what has got to be a serious mental health problem.

The other gambling-related article, from The Wall Street Journal was an altogether perkier one.

It’s for sports bettors who keep making the wrong picks – or who don’t have the time to try to improve their luck by learning something about the games they’re betting on. For these folks, there is something called “entity-wagering funds” that aggregate the money of a number of gamblers and makes the decisions on how to game the over/under for them.

Entity-wagering funds are tiny by Wall Street standards—the largest has just over $1 million under management. By comparison, Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons alone is expected to generate more than $100 million in bets at Las Vegas sports books. (Source: WSJ)

Gavin Lazarow has sunk $25K into a sports betting fund. He likes sports, but “by his own admission, [he’s] a terrible gambler.

One weekend, during NCAA March Madness, he picked 10 games—and lost nine. His friends began asking him for his picks just so they could bet the other side.

Well, I can sympathize with him there.

While I’m not much of a gambler, I do enjoy sports and generally do a March Madness ladder, if one gets put in front of me (which used to be at work, but is now at the gym). I don’t know enough about college hoops to make any intelligent choices. I can make those 9 out of 10 bad picks without giving it much thought beyond which city or state do I like better, which mascot do I like better, which team color scheme do I prefer, do I know anyone who went to that school (and do I like them). Oh, and I generally pick the Catholic school, which is not as daffy as it sounds, as Georgetown and Villanova sometimes do win the whole shebang.

The alternative to making my own ill-informed picks is asking my friend Sean, who actually follows this stuff closely, for his ladder. And, sorry, Sean, but I haven’t won using your way either.

I’ll also be in the Super Bowl pool at the gym, but for that one, you just pick a ,and whether you win or not is entirely random. My kind of betting! (As for my own favorite for Super Bowl: I’m 90% sure that I’ll be rooting for the Pats. Local heroes, home team, really want to see Roger Goodell have to hand that trophy to Tom Brady… My 10% is around whether Bob Kraft invites his BFF, Donald Trump, to sit in his box. Last week he had Jon Bon Jovi and Patriots injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, who’s playing the lovable lunk character all the way to the bank. Anyway, if Trump sits in, I’m switching allegiance to the Atlanta Falcons.)

Back to the entities, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and someone who has actually been successful in multiple businesses (not to mention is an arch enemy of Donald Trump), is a big proponent of sports betting funds. And he’s no dummy.

Neither is Mr. Larazow, who’s a patent-holding engineer at Microsoft.  Plus he’s a Red Sox fan, another sign of high intelligence. But which has put him in a curious position vis a vis his investment.

Last fall, Mr. Lazarow saw his longtime allegiance to the Boston Red Sox come back to bite him. He realized that if his beloved Red Sox won a postseason game against the Cleveland Indians, his fund would lose its bet—and his investment would take a hit. “I was like, Oh, man, this sucks,” he recalls. The Sox lost anyway.

But the bottom line is that he’s running even on his investment, beating his own dismal track record.

Meanwhile, there’s even a contrarian fund, called, quite directly, Contrarian Investments, “which specializes in targeting underdogs and out-of-favor picks.”

It must not pay to be a contrarian, because the fund is down 15%.

Guess those guys in Vegas who set the lines are pretty good.

As for me, I go by the only gamble what you’re prepared to lose, which, in my case is $10. Which I’ll be placing later today on a Super Bowl square at the gym. Go, Square 62!

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