LADY LUCK by Jean Scott

I could give you all the mathematical evidence, accumulated over hundreds of years, that luck can be measured only in the past tense. I could quote chapter and verse from all the probability texts proving that you donít know youíve been on a "streak" (good or bad) until after itís over. I could wax mystical, gazing into a crystal ball, and tell you that luck is nothing more than a hope, mere wishful thinking, if you try to project it into the future. I could preach till Iím blue in the face about the danger of trusting in luck when youíre gambling.

Most respectable gambling writers disparage the very idea of luck. Any and all games you can name, according to the rigorous mathematically based wisdom, follow the immutable laws of probability. The edge, over the long run, is always accurate, right down to the fiftieth decimal point. They talk about computer simulations of billions of hands; strategies basic, intermediate, and advanced; and perfect play. They shake their heads and roll their eyes and wag their fingers at the lambs that believe in luckóall the way to the slaughter.

Even my husband Brad, who is very quick with math but likes to believe that the video poker gods smile on him when heís generous to panhandlers on the way to the casino, has a saying, "Luck comes and goes, but you can always depend on skill."

Of course, itís all true. You simply canít argue with conclusions drawn from high-speed computers that simulate a million years worth of play at any given game. In fact, as I wrote in The Frugal Gambler, playing only mathematically positive machines, strictly by the rules of optimal strategy, is the only real comfort when youíre losing. You know that first of all, youíre not doing anything wrong. And second of all, the percentages will eventually bear out in your favor. As I inscribe in every personally autographed book, "The more you study, the Ďluckierí youíll be."

That doesnít prevent the vast majority of sheep from taking comfort in the much more convenient, and much less strenuous, concept of luck. And thatís not necessarily a bad thing; I feel luck does have a place in the casino and Iíve tried, in this column, to come up with some of the benefits that appealing to that capricious beautyóLady Luckómight bring you.

Some players like to ask casino personnel to point out a "loose" machine. Some change people might even believe, for one reason or another (or because they subscribe to the same myths as the players), that the machine they point you to is luckyótranslated, about to hit. If you win, why, the change person was right! And maybe thatís your lucky change person, until you play on a machine he or she points out and you lose. If the machine isnít so lucky, the change person was wrong! Itís her fault. That absolves you from the guilt of picking the wrong machine.

Some people don special clothes in which to gamble. Maybe you wore a particular shirt the last time you had a big win. If you feel lucky in that shirt, whatís the harm? I have a pair of gold tennis shoes I wear when I play in home poker games. I certainly donít believe my shoes are responsible for wins and losses. But it sometimes psyches out the other players when I tell them that my golden shoes make me unbeatable.

I occasionally see people pushing the single credit button two or three or five times, rather than hitting the max-coin button once, efficiently. Pure superstition, of course, but itís actually a good idea if youíre playing a machine with a high house edge. Anything that slows down your play will cut down on your losses and the less you lose, the "luckier" for you. The same is true of pulling a slot handle instead of pushing the spin button.

Changing machines is a popular ploy. I was once playing on a riverboat at a bank of machines that had three on one side and three on the other. A player sat down on my side and told me, "None of the machines on the other side are hitting. Maybe this side will be luckier for me." I had an image of the three machines on the other side getting together after the boat closed the night before: "Weíre tired of spitting out all those coins. Tomorrow, letís not let anyone win."

Iíve seen players try the "hot" and "cold" strategies. Cold coins, kept in the freezer at home, "startle" a machine into giving up a jackpot. Coins warmed in the sun make a machine "hot." Iíve seen people get up and walk around their machine to "disturb the aura," rub the machine to "massage" out a jackpot, peck on the glass to "wake up" the wild cards, even kiss the machine (I advise against this for reasons of hygiene). A friend of mine uses one of the funniest techniques Iíve ever come across. She "punishes" naughty machines by putting them in "time out" while she plays an adjoining one.

Iím fascinated by all the rabbitsí feet, four-leaf clovers, trolls, pictures, tigerís teeth, prosperity potions, and assorted talismans that decorate, for example, the tables of any bingo hall. I donít have to wonder why everyone seems to be having a good timeóitís because thereís so much "luck in the air."

And thatís the point. If your good-luck frog on top of a video poker machine or a picture of your grandchildren behind the coin slot makes you feel good, then itís valuable, because thatís one of the goals of gambling. Using "lucky" charms or rituals is harmless as long as you realize theyíre just something to relieve the mental stress when youíre on the losing side of a gambling session. Only when you believe that they can change the odds of a game and depend on them for luck, instead of developing your skills, does it become a harmful thing. Did you ever notice that you donít need them when youíre winning?

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