Source: The Courier-Mail, 11 July, 1998, p.WEEKEND 4

A tax on stupidity

[from page 1] 
The people who try to help 
compulsive gamblers believe 
the pokies are the most addic- 
tive, partly because there are 
so many of them, casinos are 
harder to get to and people 
have built up a resistance to 
TABs over the years. 
Allan Suares, of Relation 
ships Australia, which runs 
the Break Even counselling 
service for compulsive gam 
blers, said the pokies were the 
most accessible to the most 
people and their instan- 
taneous gratification helped 
to ``hook" punters, particu- 
larly if they happened to get a 
big win early on. 
"I've noticed some people 
get hooked within a couple of 
weeks," he said. "They 
couldn't tear themselves 
away from the gambling ven- 
ue and gave up their jobs. 
They had some early winning 
and then started using credit 
cards and got really hooked 
within the space of two 
 Heavy gamblers also are 
often superstitious and read 
significance into random 
events, persuading them 
selves that something other 
than a machine determined 
their luck. So when five peo- 
ple collected more than 
$125,000 from Jupiter's Casino 
in less than two days this year 
-the pokies paid out $31,154 
to a local man, $25,000 to a 
Japanese tourist and $11,326 
to a local woman and keno 
paid out $10,000 to a local 
woman and $50,000 to a Bris- 
bane man-you can bet that 
compulsive gamblers read it 
as a "sign" for good or for bad. 
Suares said the extent of 
compulsive gambling was 
hard to ascertain but prob- 
ably 2 percent of gamblers 
had a problem. And although 
the extreme cases of compul- 
sive gambling were tragic, 
leading to the loss of houses 
and life savings and some 
time to fraud charges, a lot of 
the effort needed to be 
directed towards borderline 
cases, where the chances of 
rehabilitation were signifi 
cantly better. 
The poker machines that 
cause most of the problems 
mentioned by Suares use ran- 
dom number generators to 
produce the set percentage 
payout. The machines have 
no memory, so if one has paid 
out regularly all night-or the 
reverse-it has no bearing on 
its performance. 
The first poker machine, 
the Liberty Bell, invented in 
the 1890s by San Francisco 
mechanic Charles Fey, had 
three spinning reels, each 
with 10 symbols, including one 
belt Three bells (a 1 in 1000 
chance) paid the jackpot. 
The software in electronic 
machines works similarly 
and, in effect, the machines 
pick at random from the 
available symbols on each 
'reel" on each go. The size of 
the bet, or whether the player 
is winning or not, has no bear- 
ing on the selection. 
Details of the program that 
runs the machines are hard to 
come by but one suggestion is 
that each machine selects a 
random number between, 
say, 1 and 1,000,000 on each 
play and the machine con 
tains a code that determines 
the result based on the num- 
ber drawn. If the chip is set to 
pay a jackpot about once in 
every 50,000 plays, a block of 20 
numbers will be set aside and 
the machine will pay a jackpot 
if the random number selec- 
ted falls within this range. 
The best odds you'll ever get 
on a poker machine are on a 
"double-up", where you're 
invited to stake a win on, for 
instance, a black or a red card. 
This is a straight even 
money bet, says a casino 
official, who points out that 
there is always a limit to the 
number of times a player can 
double up. "Someone might 
have won $5000 for 20¢ and we 
have to protect ourselves by 
limiting our exposure. The 
normal return is built in, the 
double-ups aren't." 
There will be streaks in any 
form of repeat gambling, 
when winnings go up and 
down like a yo-yo. The greater 
the house advantage, the 
more time the yo-yo will 
spend at the bottom of the 
string but with these games 
even a tiny percentage will 
grind away at punters' win 
In Australia, roulette tables 
have 37 numbers - 0 to 36. 
Punters can bet on 0 but most 
other bets lose when 0 comes 
up. The house pays 35-1 on 
number bets and even money 
on colour bets, giving it an 
edge of about 2.5 percent. 
Casinos often install 
"clocks" that show the last 20 
or so numbers at the wheel. 
Numbers, of course, have no 
memory and, unless the wheel 
is defective or rigged, past 
winning numbers bear no re- 
lation to future winning num- 
bers. The house knows this 
only too well. If knowing the 
record of winning numbers 
gave punters a real edge, 
would the house be keen to 
publicise them? 
About the only solid advan- 
tage any casino player has 
over the house comes from 
"counting" in blackjack. Ca- 
sinos declare that counting is 
cheating and will eject any 
players they find using the 
technique. If there were any 
advantage in recording past 
roulette wins, players who did 
so would also be ejected. 
The games with the really 
big prizes, such as lotto, keno 
and art unions, tend to work 
differently, with huge odds 
against the punter. The odds 
against winning anything in 
lotto are 210-1. The odds 
against winning top prize in 
lotto are 8,145,060-1, in pools 
2,760,681-1, Super66 1,000,000-1 
and in keno the odds against 
picking 10 out of 10 numbers 
are 8,911,702-1. 
Payouts in lotto, pools and 
Super66 vary depending on 
the number of tickets sold in 
each game but the keno pay 
out is $2 million-less than a 
quarter of the odds against. 
With second dividends, the 
odds against are 678,755-1 in 
lotto, 461,114-1 in pools and 
555,556-1 in Super66. The pay 
out for picking nine out of 
nine numbers in keno is 
$140,000 but the odds against 
doing so are 1,380,636-1. 
The odds against winning 
art unions vary between 
organisations and between 
games, because the number 
of tickets sold varies. The 
prize must be worth at least 
20 percept of the value of the 
tickets printed but usually 
only about 90 percent of tick 
ets are sold. 
Some charity art unions 
chafe at the restrictions 
placed on them by the State 
Government - restrictions 
the Government ignores 
when it comes to its own 
operations. For instance, 
major art unions may not give 
cash prizes and must budget 
for a total estimated profit of 
30 percent. One charity, Boys 
Town, has got around this by 
registering itself interstate, 
which is why it can offer a 
$1 million prize. 
So what's the best bet? 
When it comes to big prizes, 
the best bets are to be had 
with the art unions but com 
pare the payout with the odds. 
The odds against in current 
and recent raffles range from 
about 10,000-1 for the multiple 
sclerosis art union, with a 
payout value of 3500-1, up to 
about 600,000-1 in the RSL art 
union, with a payout value of 
240,000-1. The bigger the prize, 
the bigger the odds against. 
You've got to be in it to win 
it but cynical mathematicians 
will say the difference be 
tween a 10 million-to-one 
chance and a 10 million-to 
none chance is so small that 
you might as well not enter. 
If you want the best chance 
for your buck, don't pay the 
"tax on stupidity": give the 
lotteries a miss and go for the 
art unions. Even if you don't 
win, the profits go to the char- 
ity of your choice.

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