Blackjack, Cycling and the Power of the One Percent

By Mariko Gordon
February 18, 2014

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Mariko Gordon Power of the One Percent
Power of the One Percent

Mixing work with family vacations can be tricky business, but the odds were with me this time.Needing to go to Las Vegas for the user conference of one of our companies (an event where customers learn about new products and industry trends), I decided to take a chance and drag my mother along.

Not because I needed chaperoning, mind you, but rather because her 85-year-old brother, Tingy (don’t ask, I have no idea how he got that nickname), his wife Lil and a bunch of my cousins live there. So it seemed like a good opportunity to combine business and pleasure.

The arrival of my research colleagues Neal and Daniel meant it was time to switch into work mode, leaving mom to explore Las Vegas’ other delights (like the mob museum) while we hit the conference.

At one point, my mom reminisced about watching craps games in her misspent youth, a revelation which gave me the bright idea of upping the ante further and drafting Daniel to be our casino tour guide and the evening’s entertainment. This was his penance for opening his mouth and telling me he likes to play craps and blackjack. Besides, I was of no use – the only parts of a casino that really interest me are the financials and the spa, neither of which are suitable for spectating.

I bankrolled Daniel with a hundred big bucks and we bellied up to a blackjack table. To his credit, he wanted to quit while he was ahead, but we were having too much fun being voyeurs and made him stay long enough to lose. That part was predictable.

What was not expected, though, was how much the “blackjack ceremony” reminded my mother and me of a Japanese tea ceremony: slow, choreographed gestures made by both guests and host.

Every dealer we had made the same gestures in the same way, from the way they caressed the felt before dealing, to the way they used a card to scoop up the spent cards, to the way they snapped each card as they flipped it over. Even the reverence with which they removed a deck from its holder felt oddly familiar.

The same motions done in the same sequence at the same pace can put us humans in a trance. This, of course, is no accident. In a casino, every action has been carefully studied and chosen because it makes more money for the house. Not to mention that if a business is going to pick someone’s pocket legally over time, it needs to ennoble the process with enough ceremony so as to make the victim feel honored to pay the price.

Make no mistake – nothing (except the obvious) is left to chance in a casino. No other industry better uses the scientific method to marry data with psychology in refining the art of separating people from their money.

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