How ‘short’ is the short term?

September 04, 2007 3:41 AM
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A couple of years ago, I wrote an article that discussed just how long the "long run" is where video poker is concerned. When discussing paybacks, I frequently use the expression in the long run or the long-term payback.

This article dispelled the notion that the long run must mean several lifetimes of playing. Rather it showed how that for many gambling scenarios, the long run might only be several months or a couple of years, depending on the frequency that the player gambles.

Further, it showed that as you approach the long run, the payback tends to approach this theoretical amount too. So, everything that happens before the long run is not meaningless.

The opposite of the long run is, of course, the short run. Some people think that this is all that matters. They don’t care how you do over your lifetime, or even this year. All that matter is how you did today. But why stop there? Why is it that what matters is how you did today? If yesterday doesn’t matter and tomorrow doesn’t matter, then why does how you did two hours ago matter?

Maybe all that matters is how you did the past hour. Maybe all that should matter for the short run is the last hand you played. Or should all that matter be the hand you’re about to play.

This afternoon, I went with my family to a place called Dave and Buster’s. For those not familiar with the place (there is not one in Las Vegas surprisingly enough!), it is basically an arcade for both young and old. They have high-tech video games, skeeball and a variety of those boardwalk style games where you try and win tickets by dropping a token just right into the machine.

Just before we left, my wife played a game where a claw can pick up some candy that you can win. To add to the excitement, you don’t just win the candy the claw picks up. The claw drops it into a waiting area, where it has to push more candy down the chute, and THIS is the candy you win. I guess if you can’t have video poker in the mall, then a game in which you win chocolate is the next best thing.

My wife initially played the game once, at a cost of about 25 cents and came over to me holding a handful of assorted miniature Nestle bars. It seemed like a pretty good lunch to me, so we shared her winnings. We went over to the machine, and played three more times, coming up empty handed.

When I joked that it would be cheaper to go to the drugstore in the mall and just by some candy, my wife remarked how she had won all that chocolate for only 25 cents. I had to remind her that since the initial game, we had played three more times while winning nothing.

What was the short run here? Had my wife won because she won 50 cents worth of chocolate with her first quarter? Or had she lost because she had spent $1 in total for 50 cents worth of chocolate. Or was this simply one of those times she should have stopped after one game and walked away a winner.

Had she gone home at that point and come back the next day, then she would’ve been less likely to lose the next three games? What if she had just left the arcade and gone shopping for an hour. Would that still qualify as a new session? Or does one actually have to go home before a new session starts?

This is the problem with the short run. There is NO definition for it. The short run is whatever you want it to be. When you play video poker, 55% of the hands will result in a loss, about 20% in a push and the rest in a win. So, if at the end of the night, you win only 25% of the hands, but you walk away up money, did you win or lose in the short run?

If you count each hand as the short run, then you lost. If you count your night as the short run, then you won. What if you’re in Las Vegas for a week and that is your short run? Then each night’s results is somewhat meaningless as all you care about is how you did during that week.

How short is the short run? You pick because it just doesn’t matter. Whatever works for you is fine by me. How long is the long run? Now that’s an important question. One which I have answered before and will likely address many times again in the future.