Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Heads I win, Tails you lose

If there's one thing I'm not, it's a gambler. I have so many issues wrapped up in money and how it works and whether or not I have any/enough and control over it that the idea of losing large (or even small) sums of money kind of makes me sick to my stomach. But even if money isn't involved, I am just not a risk-taker. I'm not impulsive. I have to think about everything, mull it over in my head, before I make a decision. Most major decisions in my life have involved asking my mom, my friends, my partner about what THEY think before I actually make whatever the decision is. I think I've actually gotten better about that in my adult years, about learning to trust my own instincts and making decisions without second-guessing myself all the time or depending on other people to reassure me that I'm doing the right thing.

Anyhow, the point is that I'm just not a gambler. I went to Las Vegas one time when I was 18 (so not legal to gamble anyhow) and didn't have any desire whatsoever to do anything in the casinos other than get through them as fast as possible. When Dan says "I bet you X that bla bla bla," a little piece of me thinks I should just say "I don't bet" even though usually I take him up on the offer, and X is a jillion dollars or 2 pennies or a tasty beverage, so even if I lose the stakes aren't very high. I went to Monte Carlo when I was in Monaco back in 2000 and I bet the most money I've ever gambled in my life, one French franc, which I put into a slot machine and received nothing in return (except the story to tell later that I'd gambled at Monte Carlo). I love to play games, even competitive ones, but for me it's just not fun if there's money involved (pennies might be OK, but I'd be paralyzed if I was even in a $10 buy-in poker game because I would be terrified to lose money).

I've been wondering today after reading about casinos and games and probability how much of my refusal to gamble relates to being unfamiliar with the process, and how much of it relates to my general fear-of-losing-moneyness, and how unusual I am. Because it seems like a lot of people in general get huge amounts of entertainment out of gambling, whether it be a friendly weekly poker night, sticking coins in a one-armed bandit, or enjoying comped drinks and rooms for losing tons of money at large casinos. Lots of people have described it as an entertainment cost - that they have a certain amount of money they're willing to lose (they view it as already spent) and if they win it back (or go over), it's great, but if not, it's what they were willing to spend to begin with. And I can see how for some people it's entertaining in the same way that going to a show or movie, going out dancing, or playing minigolf could be entertaining, and those all have a set cost as well. There's got to be some sort of rush involved when people actually win money, or else there wouldn't be so many casinos raking in so much dough. I got all excited when the horse I was cheering for at Churchill Downs back in July won the race, even though I hadn't bet on it, but it felt more like how excited I get when some athlete I like wins an Olympic event than anything else (and I guess sports betting is a little different than playing the slots or shooting dice).

There are so many other kinds of betting and gambling, though - there's the stock market (which I have no desire to be a part of, due to the aforementioned "not willing to gamble with my own money" thing), there's futures trading, there's buying a house or a franchise or a company now gambling on there being a payoff later. One might call choosing a college major or a particular career bath to be a gamble, or being willing to open one's life to a relationship with another person, heck - just about anything in life that isn't predetermined is a gamble. Life is totally uncertain - bad things or good things might happen just around the corner, and you never know which those might be. But with so many things in life that ARE uncertain in that way, why is it that people have such a penchant for risking money, gambling, betting, trying to game the system or up the ante? What is it about betting with money that makes things so different from normal competition? And how do I let go of money issues enough to feel comfortable if I ever DO get invited to a $10 buy-in poker game? Because it's going to sound really lame if I say "Um, I'm afraid of losing $10." It's just $10 for a night of entertainment, right?


Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I don't gamble either-not that I have a hard time spending money but $10 buys like 2 really awesome spicy tuna rolls in Little Tokyo.

I think depletion of money, especially when it's something you're not interested in (as in, you get no payoff from gambling it seems), will probably always bother you and I just think it's natural. I get no entertainment from gambling. That said, I don't have the same issues so if I were invited to a $10 poker game I'd probably just mutter "ten dollars flipping wasted" and go for the company, knowing I'm going to lose in 5 minutes.

I guess, if the issue is really gambling for entertainment, you could set aside all the crappy pennies in a jar and just watch them pile up? Or a buck here and there?

I think more important than entertainment gambling is not being averse to taking a little bit of risk to making your money grow. There's investing in bad IPOs and setting up mutual fund account or investing in your 401K. It's killing me that I'm losing hard cold cash every paycheck into the 401K but I know it's going to grow way way more over the long term (and they have plans to account for risk etc.).

Cilicious said...

I've taken many risks in my life, some of them really stupid. However, I've rarely gambled, and only small amounts of money. Once at the dogs, once at the horsetrack, and did not at all care for either experience.
I did once win about 5 bucks in nickels at a slot machine, but this did not do a whole lot for me.
We've been investing our savings for awhile now. With inflation and the wacky stock market, it feels like a bigger risk each day. That's enough for me.