VEGA$!!! pt. 2

Now for some other thoughts on our venture…


Gambling is the 500 pound gorilla. It makes the rules over the pitiful “rational” people that share the same space with it. In the final analysis, the big stars and fancy attractions are an add-on, the remarkable hotels only scenery. Games of chance are why there’s a fantastic metropolis where by rights there should be none.

Squiggy and DaveHo gambling. Isn't that the point...?The thing that always brings a smile to the truly rational person is that most everyone who spins the slots, rolls the craps dice, or watches the roulette wheel believes that there is a real system to win against these games. The truly rational person investigates the probabilities and knows that, in the end, the House beats you a majority of the time by far. These are games where each event carries the same probability to lose, to win small, to win big. Rationally, there are no actual streaks, no hot machines, no guaranteed patterns. To paraphrase the war simulation computer WOPR from WarGames: “The only way to win is not to play”. But in Vegas’ favor, the vast majority of people are not so rational, particularly when lured with the slimmest of slim chances of huge winnings. In fact, Vegas survives on the irrationality of most of its customers.

So am I irrational? Well, no. But Vegas kinda gives you a free pass to be irrational. What most rational people do in this case is to, naturally, “rationalize” thus:
“Well, if I was going on a trip somewhere, this would be money I’d be spending anyway. Besides, if I win big, I’ll come out ahead!”
…or so I would say to myself. I suspect less logical folk than myself would substitute “when” for “if” in that second sentence.

Blackjack, however, is the one game that has been proven to be “beatable”. That is, it can be played systematically to the point where a player will win (or come out ahead) almost every time, contrary to most casino logic. Thus, casinos go after these players with a vengeance, since they will take more than they leave, and they just can’t have that. Doc, probably the most rational of us all, is drawn to blackjack for this very reason. Whereas the other games are built to take your money and make you lose, she is determined to learn how to win at blackjack. She sees it as a solvable problem.

Squiggy, Rob, and I were the prime movers on the gambling front, and we brought Chip along to indoctrinate him into our game of choice: Craps!

Craps, or the game that befuddles doctoral graduates – Ah, craps, that unfortunately titled game. Craps in its component parts is only two dice, and nothing more. In the casino setting it takes on more paraphernalia: A fancy wooden table with a enclosing wall, a felt surface marked with epigrams, and three to four people who manage the orchestrated movements of the game; placing and gathering chips and pushing and retrieving dice, as well as slinging jokes, compliments, chiding remarks, and cautionary advice. But there are two other parts of the game that make it special: the rules and the people. If the game was something straightforward, like rolling a 2,3,7,11,or 12 loses, and anything else wins, I suppose you could still make bets, and have a good time. But the rules of craps are more than a framework of play. During the course of a night it becomes a ritualistic ceremony, like any good church service. Catholics are taught from a young age the Mass ceremony, and learn how to move through the ceremony, knowing what comes next, and what to do. Good Catholics even know why you do what you do and when. The same can be said for craps: There is a prescribed set of steps, and a series of events that will happen depending on the fall of the dice. Everyone at the table knows the steps, and those that don’t get confused. They say things like the rules are just arbitrary. But there are many things that could be considered arbitrary in the way we do them. More likely, somewhere in the distant past, these rules were made with quite reasonable thinking behind it, and through the passage of time these rules lost their meaning. Just like many things in our modern life that seem arbitrary.

Craps, more than any other game in Vegas is a communal event. Slot machines are man vs. machine, facing off against an emotionless opponent. Poker is player against player, and while it can be fun and sociable, for me the thought of going against other players for money doesn’t seem right in these billion-dollar cash factories. And while roulette and blackjack have groups of people all wanting to take the casino’s money, it still retains a me-alone-against-the-House feel. But craps, ah! A good craps table breeds a true “we’re all in this together” mentality. People at the table feed on the emotions that rise and fall. In particular, when a good streak is being rolled by a player, the whole table will rally, riding the wave of success. Inhibitions inevitably lower at the table: soon, even the quietest participant is shouting and cheering and high-fiveing. People of different ages, races, and economic standing are chatting and cheering and cursing when the streak ends. For the short time at a craps table there is a true community feeling. Of course the free booze doesn’t hurt that spirit either.

Now I’ll attempt to illustrate a typical craps game. This is base on a typical game the aforementioned gambling boys would be playing late at night in our favorite haunt in Vegas: Casino Royale, a small, nondescript casino-hotel tucked between the screechy Harrahs and the opulent Venetian. We come out ahead there more often than coming out behind, and when we do come out behind, we’ve usually had a great time anyway (in Rob’s words: “Why do we even bother playing anywhere else?”):

First, throw your money down to get chips, or in the prophetic words of the dealer, “like you don’t want it anymore”. He will give you your chips and a “Good luck”, and you get your bet ready for the first roll, or “Come out” roll. You place your chips on the Pass line, as almost everyone else does. On this first roll, several things can happen: One, the shooter (the player rolling the dice) rolls a seven or eleven, in which case the bets on the Pass line win, and the shooter rolls again. Two, the shooter can roll two, three, or twelve, known as craps, and the pass bets are lost, and the shooter shoots again. Three, the shooter rolls anything else. When this happens the number rolled becomes the Point, and the dealer flips a plastic disc called the puck, over from the black or “off” side, to the white or “on” side, and places it on that number on the table.

During the period leading up to a roll there is a flurry of activity: new players getting chips, other players making change, hands moving about the table clearing lost bets and pushing won bets to their owners. You hear occasional shouts of “2 on C and E” or “5 on the Horn”, betraying some of the Byzantine betting that happens during a game. Savvy players use the lingo well, with calls of “press my eight”, or “2 down on a yo!”, or “take my hard bet off on the come out”. All the incantations needed to perform this ritual, and once learned, their mystery is lifted.

Part of the communal atmosphere is maintained by the movement of the dice from player to player as each in turn becomes a shooter. Shooters become the focal point of the game. If you roll in favor of the table, you are rewarded with praise (for essentially random events, see rationalism above). But, amazingly unlike other aspects of life, failure doesn’t bring scorn. If your turn ends quickly due to poor rolls, you are met with a volley of “oh well”s and “too bad”s. If you meet your inevitable unlucky roll at the end of a particularly profitable session for the community, you are given a hero’s salute, in the form of backslaps and thunderous applause. Probably the only “unforgivable” as a shooter is dice hopping off the table repeatedly: no one tolerates this for long, not even the friendly dealers and stickman.

Now back to the game. If the point was made, the nature of the game changes. Seven, once a desired outcome, now becomes your enemy. If the shooter rolls a seven, then, to coin a phrase, “all bets are off”, or the House takes all your bets. What we the players want is the shooter to roll the number of the point, and if he/she does, then the Pass bets (plus any additional bets we placed on it after the point was rolled) are won. Between each roll, even more bets can be made. As the roll approaches, the crowd gets louder, chanting the point number (or other desirable numbers). It reaches the climax as the dice roll. When they settle the mood is either pleased (not the point, but not a seven), despondent (seven) or jubilant (the point). The dealers take care of business, and the crowd either ups their bets, gathers their winnings excitedly, or they sigh dejectedly and ready their bets for the next round.

This is only a sampling of the many, many, many betting opportunities that can occur during the course of a game. There are wrong way bets, yo bets, horn bets, hardway bets, place bets, C and E bets, come bets, don’t come bets, et cetera. And there are subtleties of play that I don’t get, even after considerable time playing the game. But as casino games go, this is personally the most satisfying play experience around.

(more later…)

Comments are closed.