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by Frank Kneeland

Frank Kneeland was the manager of the largest progressive video poker team in Las Vegas, and has authored a book about his adventures entitled, "The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives". You can get the book as well as some extra info about Kneeland on his website Also, there you'll find a show archive from his radio show on pro-gambling that he co-hosted with Bob Dancer for six months.

It would be perhaps the cruelest curse to be forced to remember all the times in one's life when one has had amnesia. ~FK 2011

Note: Part 1 in this series appeared in the October issue of BJI.

Tabula Rasa: From Latin meaning a smoothed or erased tablet.

1: The mind in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions.

2: Something existing in its original pristine state.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Would you consider your child, failing all their classes, to be doing well in school based only on their results from a single test?
  2. Would you lobby to have inmates on death row released because they had not killed or raped anyone today?
  3. Does one measure the calories in a bowl of ice cream by those contained in a single bite?
  4. Could a person declare a ten-year happy marriage a sham based on a single fight?
  5. Should you declare a ten-year unhappy marriage fixed, based solely on a single day without strife?

These are clear situations where we, as humans, are forced to take things in context and not dispel the past or dismiss the future. Here the penalties for shortsightedness are obvious. Where we seem to lose all grip with reality is when, instead of a penalty for illogical thought, there is a bonus.

Now ask yourself this question. If you stepped into a casino and hit a jackpot on your first play of that day, would you declare that you were "winning" the amount of the jackpot, regardless of your prior results in days gone by? The answer for most people is emphatically, "Yes!". They would feel they are winning. They would tell people they are winning. Furthermore, they would make decisions as though they are winning ... even if the reality was that they were now simply down a bit less overall for their lives. Yesterday is forgotten since each new day is written on a nice fresh tabula rasa, delivered each day right to your brain.

Many players, who regard such events as winning, have lost thousands of dollars over their life; however, all that is forgotten. Only today’s results are counted, as though some magical Tabula Rasa Fairy (hereafter known as the TRF) had visited them in the night and given them a clean slate upon which to record today's results. The real question is why do players do this (i.e., ignore past results).

Why in nearly all other areas of life, the past counts, but not when you want to claim a casino win? The answer is within the question. Because we "want to claim a casino win" ... and unlike our silly obvious examples above that could result in our children sharing the streets with convicted pedophiles, the penalty for discarding the past (losses) is not so obvious. It is a happy fantasy with seemingly no penalty. However, is there really no penalty, or is that also a happy fantasy? We'll try to address that question in this and next month’s articles.

Catching the TRF (I think her name is Cogtrickery) is no simple task, as she seems to visit people at different times for different reasons. She silently sprinkles her droplets from the river Lethe, undoing all that her sister Mnemosyne would hope to accomplish. To add to this confusion, you have the issue of perception being reality in matters of the heart. In our above example (declaring a marriage to be happy), one might well wish to forget the past and think only of the future, and since the primary (perhaps only) criterion for whether or not a marriage is "happy" is the happiness of the people in it, no one would fault you. In situations where there is a physical component, such as the calories in ice cream, one cannot afford to judge it by spoonfuls. If someone intends to eat a gallon of ice cream, he or she would quickly end up overweight and wonder why ... because they only ate one bite at a time.

I believe gambling falls into this latter category of activity, with a physical component (money/time) and cannot be judged on purely emotional grounds for this reason. Therefore, visits from the TRF may increase your potential for enjoyment of the activity, but at a serious and often hidden cost. Even if you engage in only bite sized bouts of gambling, they add up to a full and potentially unwholesome meal all too fast. Logically, one should not be able to transmute a negative activity into a positive one merely by doing it slowly. The net effect is the same. However, thanks to our gossamer-winged TRF and her regular erasure of the unwelcome past, we manage quite easily to forget this.

The Same! But Different?

To help visualize this issue, let's ponder some results, identical in all but the time spans over which they occurred. Consider this chart:

In all four examples, the net result is the same. Obviously, the time span is of some concern since most people have annual incomes that would quickly dissipate at the rate of $3,000 per minute but would be less affected by a loss of $3,000 per year. That is not the issue here since rate of loss is only a matter of proportion and severity. The issue is how these essentially identical results are perceived differently, due only in small part to the mere passage of time. To convict the guilty party, we must ascertain opportunity and motive. Time gives us opportunity, now let's see if we can deduce motive.

In our first example of the blackjack player playing $1000 a hand, if asked how he was doing, it is an almost certainty that he would accurately state that he was losing $3,000. It is a near absolute certainty that he would also object to being questioned in the middle of play and request silence so he could get back to what he was doing without further distractions. The TRF needs time to work her magic, so for now, our mythical BJ player is safe from her spell.

For persons keeping daily records during a five-day trip, TRF immunity is not so complete or certain. The large majority of tourists that visit Las Vegas do indeed compartmentalize their trip play into a single reckoning. If asked, it is likely, but not certain, that they would answer correctly. They might also add that they had a winning day during their trip, or any number of other confabulations that make "the trip" more pleasant in their minds and stories about it more affable. Minus $10,000 on day one, followed by four days of winning a thousand might well be recounted as four wins and only one loss. According to my results from an informal study, how they ultimately spin the tale will have less to do with their results, and more to do with their perceptions of time and how they divide their days. If twelve midnight is their demarcation for days, then the results would be as above. My study concluded that most begin and end their mental days after "sleeping the night" with no consensus on duration, time of occurrence, or how to reconcile naps if they were longer than "sleep." Most said that naps don't count, but could not provide reasons. Others considered their gambling day to end exactly 24 hours from inception. Another stated that their day ended when they brushed their teeth. There seems to be no consensus.

What I would like to draw your attention to is that even over a time span of less than a week, things like daily ablutions and sleep schedules are having some influence on gambling records. Out of the 32 responders to my informal study, only three discounted subjective aspects of their daily schedule in their personal definition of "today," and their mental accounting of gambling results reflected this. How having pearly white teeth could alter gambling records confounds me, but for some it did.

In our third example that occurs over a year, it is almost a forgone conclusion that after their fifth trip they would proclaim a "win" to any questioners and even believe it themselves, right up until tax time.

I guess the real question here is, "Why would stating that on their last trip they won a thousand dollars be disingenuous?" If you are absolutely positively sure I'm wrong on this one, allow me to confuse you next month when we finish this article.

See ya then.

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