THE HOUSE IS NOT A WHO
by Frank Kneeland
Frank Kneeland was the manager of the largest progressive video poker team in Las Vegas back in the 90's, and has authored a book about his adventures entitled, "The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives". The book is part history and part "how to", and should be perfect for out-and-out beginners and veterans alike. You can get the book as well as some extra info about Kneeland on his websitewww.progressivevp.com. You can listen to his new radio show in Las Vegas "Gambling With an Edge" (Bob Dancer co-hosts) at 7PM Thursday nights on KLAV Talk-Radio 1230am, or listen streaming at http://www.klav1230am.com/. Archived shows will be posted at: https://www.progressivevp.com/radio_show.php. Weekly prizes will be given away, so listening live is better.
Editorís Note: Frank takes a break from his series on how to get the edge playing progressive video poker machines with this article on who the "house" (i.e., casino) really is.
If it were not possible to beat the house by entering into a game of chance in which you had the odds in your favor, then indeed it would not be possible for the house to beat you, because that is exactly how they do itóby gambling with the odds in their favor. ~FK 2009
"The House always has the edge." "Casinos weren't built by winners." How many times have we heard statements like these? I would venture to guess quite a few. The logic goes like this: If all the players in a casino were winning, there would be no casinos; therefore, everyone in a casino must lose. This is a logical fallacy (Affirming the consequent) pure and simple. It is true that if all the patrons of a casino won money, the business would be non-viable, but it completely ignores the possibility of exceptions. To operate at a profit the House must make money from its aggregate players, but it need not make money from every single one of them. If, out of 1000 people, 999 were losing a thousand and one was winning a thousand, the House would still net $998,000 profit, more than enough to keep the lights on. Moreover, who is this "House" person anyway? Is it Peter Laurie's character on TV? And why does it/he always have the edge? It it/he infallible?
The House is a casino. A casino is a building, and in that building are people. What kind of people? You know, the people kind; folks with jobs, pets, children, VCR's, collections of high-heeled shoes they rarely wear (men & women), old dusty Barry Manilow records they can no longer play, photo albums they never show to anyone, spoiled food in the refrigerator, etc... Just people. Comments like, "The House always wins" would seem to imply that somehow these people in the gaming industry have managed to side step the natural imperfections with which the rest of us are born. Perhaps people believe in some dark hidden class in a dank cellar, trained by the Illuminati in the ultimate secrets of life, casino personnel have attained faultlessness. If so, we should immediately offer them an increase in salary, replace our all too flawed politicians, and put their infallible skills to work fixing our economy. No, I'm afraid these are just people with no more insight into life's mysteries than those running our government or reading this article. The House is not a who or a what. It's just peopleóand they certainly aren't from Bizarro Whoville where to ere isn't human.
I'm sure you've head the expression, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." I believe the metaphor at work here is, "The grass is greener and the people are clearly smarter on the other side of the wall." Because the general populace is not privy to what happens behind the closed doors of a casino, they assume the worst (or in this case the best). Well, I've been on the other side of that wall a few times and I can confirm the grass is greener; however, the people are smoking it. With what I know of casinos' inner workings, it's not that they mess up that amazes me, it's that they get anything right.
Now for some revelations: To score a position as a marketing director of a major casino you have to really know your stuff. It might interest you to know what that stuff is. Usually, itís a degree in Marketing and Public Relations. How these degrees are supposed to prepare people for creating casino promotions, which logic tells us would require probability math as a prerequisite, is beyond me. Well, beyond them actually. In the more enlightened casinos, marketing directors often enlist the aid of people working in their sports books to help them fine-tune their promotions, convinced their mathematicians clad in statistical armor can fight the good fight. Of course, using statistics in video poker is bringing a knife to a gunfight and their knightly champions usually go down after the first volley. Would it surprise you to know that there is no particular class or degree that teaches video poker math at all? It simply isn't taught. The only thing they have going for them is quantity over quality. Even in a small casino, there are often many people in the decision making chain. Each one has a chance to catch an error, even if the dynamics a chain of command promotes often makes the whole less than the sum of its parts...nobody likes to tell the boss he dropped a decimal place.
This is but one example of the many holes in the collective psyche of casino management and helps to explain why errors are the rule and not the exception. Show me a casino executive who's never made a mistake and I'll show you one who isn't doing his or her job.
I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but the House is not a "who" and it certainly isn't a perfect who. If you believed Hollywood's version, I should probably take the time to mention that cops don't catch every single murderer either, they're glad if they can solve 50% of violent crimes.
~Of course: If youíre not failing regularly, youíre not trying hard enough.
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