It’s not play money!

Jan 16, 2006 12:46 AM

Let’s face it. When was the last time you figured you could have bought a throw rug or a deluxe toaster oven with that Ben Franklin you just fed into the machine? Does anyone who gambles really have a mind that works that way?

You may remember a few weeks ago where I talked about playing in front of my family of virgin gamblers from back East, and as I was firing a few thousand into a hungry machine, the moans and groans and comments such as "What I could buy with THAT!" were flying. And well they should ... for non-gamblers.

But the reality is that we play, and in order to play we have to feed the machines. There’s no such thing as a free meal EXCEPT for the machines. To put it into a more appropriate term since I play for a living as a business, one must have the necessary cash to invest in order to have the chance to turn a profit.

I admit, when I first started out playing video poker in 1990, the thought of pouring money into a machine was repugnant. Each quarter I parted with was somehow attached to a possible purchase in my mind, and it made the experience all the more uncomfortable. But it’s not unusual for anyone to react that way on his or her first trip to play the machines.

But that was then and this is now. Isn’t it amazing how we tend to adapt to whatever we’re interested in doing in order to continue to justify it! In the case of video poker — and especially when one chooses to play higher denominations — feeding the bill feeders almost requires that you remain oblivious to what you’re really doing.

Think about it. If you sit down at a $5 machine and expect to be there for a while, putting in ten $100 bills is almost nothing in the real scheme of things. And then we do it again when we lose! So how’s that sound to the single mom in Arkansas who has trouble making ends meet with two jobs? Not very smart, but then again, no one who isn’t prepared to gamble should be doing anything of the sort anyway.

Even after all these years of going to casinos in Nevada, I still go through the cycle of feelings when doing what I do to prepare for play. My first stop is always the most challenging part of my play strategy: Going into the bank to withdraw thousands of dollars from my gaming account. Yes, there’s always that slight feeling of guilt to go along with the tiny uneasiness about the whole thing. And why not? I’m withdrawing cash, and it could be used for just about anything else on this earth.

But then I get into my car and drive to Nevada, and that’s when the cash in my bag starts to turn into something less and less meaningful as the miles pass by. After checking into my hotel and upon arriving at the first machine I’ll play, only then is when the transformation is complete. All that ”˜cash’ is now something entirely different than it was at the bank. It has successfully become ”˜units of play’ and it will remain that way until the drive home.

And the most interesting part? I’ll never use it to buy anything or spend it on any service or personal requirement while in town. In my mind, it’s just no good for anything but the machines! Another part of the mystique of Las Vegas perhaps?

So why talk about the value or meaning of paper money while on a gambling trip? Well, over the past three years it seems to have been one of the major hang-ups players who are looking for advice from me have. I may get 15 minutes into talking to them, and then all of a sudden it happens: "But Rob, even though I can afford to lose the money if that’s the way it turns out, I can’t help thinking about that new, gadget-filled washer/dryer combo my wife’s been asking me to look at getting her as I’m firing the hundies into the feeder!"

What’s the theme now? Simple: NEVER gamble with scared money. If you lose, it only makes matters worse; and if you win then you’re saddled with feelings of guilt, shame and emptiness to go along with the elation of having some extra cash to deal with.

One major point: Do the wrong thing today, and even though you may have been lucky enough to have it turn out right, it’ll always come around to bite you some day down the road. Bad habits are hard to shake.

In reality, I’m hoping this column today will get you to think a little more when going to the bank, the machines, and while going home. If you think it’s really cash your pouring into your favorite machine, stop right there. Why do you think they’re doing away with ”˜tokens’ these days? Ticket-in/ticket-out is nice, but casinos aren’t obligated to have them.

Handing over cash to a floor person for some tokens is like making a purchase, and many players don’t like to make ”˜purchases’ while gambling. It makes them think a little more about what they’re doing. Shoving twenties or hundred dollar bills into a feeder just ”˜feels’ different, and they know that. You should too.