Thursday, June 30, 2011

Too much pair of dice

Too much pair of dice

By Bobby Neal Winters

Custer walked across the parking lot toward the tall building.  The sun was setting and the lights on the side of the building were beginning to be more visible in the darkness.  The colored lights, red, blue, and green, alternately flashed and shot up the side of the building.

Unknown to Custer, one hovering above his right shoulder and one above his left, were entities. 

 Those of a certain bent might call them spirits, others might refer to one as an angel and the other as a devil, and those of a more secular stripe might refer to them as manifestations of Custer’s bicameral mind.  We will call them Poindexter and Jezebel and refer to them as entities, allowing the reader to interpret things as the reader might wish.

The closer the trio approached the tall building, the more Poindexter became concerned.

“That sure is an expensive building,” he said.  “I wonder how they can afford that.”

Jezebel, for her part, was delighted.  She had a natural aura about her and it pulsed in harmony with the lights of the building.

“Just like you to think about money,” she said dismissively.  “They’ve designed everything so that it will be more fun!” With that she shot off into the distance, circling around a couple of pretty girls who were much too immodestly attired in Poindexter’s opinion.  She then shot up, circled the neon sign on the front of the building that read “Casino”  twice, and shot back down to her position above Custer’s shoulder.

Though Poindexter as an entity surely had no need of glasses, those who had seen flashes of him often remembered him as having horned-rimmed glasses.  Has they had such a flash now, they would’ve seen him with those glasses slid down toward the end of his nose.

“You know,” he said with as much seriousness as he could muster, and he was capable of mustering seriousness by the truckload, “if you lose the first and last letters of casino what you have left spells ‘a sin.’ Maybe you ought to think about that.”

Jezebel, who’d only also been seen in flashes, would’ve subconsciously reminded Custer of a twenty-year-old version of his Grandma Vidalia.  This might have bothered Custer a great deal had he been paying attention during his college psychology class, but he wasn’t because he was distract by a real twenty-year-old girl who subconsciously reminded him of his Grandma Vidalia.
In any case, Jezebel simultaneously shook her head and rolled her eyes upward.

“Whatever!” she said, making that last syllable last about ten seconds.

Unaware in any real sense of either of the entities around him, Custer flowed along with the growing stream of humanity around him until they left the growing darkness of the outside world and enter into the interior of the casino with its artificial stars dazzling him with their brilliance.

Once inside, Jezebel flitted around with delight.  She buzzed past all of the slot machines with their whirling numbers, flew under dice as they themselves rolled along the tables, and orbited around the roulette wheels as they turned.

Poindexter, in stark constrast, grew more and more stern. As Jezebel hovered above a waitress who was exposing altogether too much cleavage both above and below and drew more of Custer’s attention, Poindexter prepared for one last stand: he would use pure mathematical reason.

Poindexter reached into Custer’s mind and stimulated a memory of one of Custer’s math class.  This wasn’t too difficult because Custer’s math professor looked much like the way people remembered Poindexter looking.

Hovering above Custer’s right shoulder, Poindexter said the words, but in Custer’s head he remembered his professor saying them.

“The first thing you must know,” the words came out dead and dull, “is that a casino is in the business to  make money, not to be fair.  Whatever the game, the casino will always have an edge.”
Custer was dazzled by the spectacle about him, but never the less he echoed the words.

“Have and edge.”

“The games are arranged so that the house will win, on the average, just a little more than half of the time. Let us denote this edge by the Greek letter epsilon.”

Jezebel’s attention had settled upon Poindexter’s efforts.

“Epsilon,” she laughed. “You think that you are going to convince him with an epsilon.”
Poindexter looked daggers at her but continued.

“Epsilon must be chosen carefully,” he said.  “If the edge is too much, then the gambler’s will not get enough positive feedback from winning, but if it is set too small the casino will not make enough money to pay it’s expenses.”
“Expenses,” Custer mouthed subconsciously.

“The casino,” Poindexter continued his lecture, “is able to take advantage of the Central Limit Theorem.  With a large enough number of gamblers, the casino can assure itself a profit even if it has allowed itself only a small edge.

“For the sake of argument, assume that a casino has 1000 patrons during the course of a day and that each of these patrons gambles $20, stopping when they have gambled with it all, not necessarily lost it, just gambled with it.”

“Just gambled with it,” muttered Custer. His eyes were fixed upon another patron of the casino who was wearing cowboy boots and hat and cutt-off jeans he imagined as just one thread away from being a skirt.

Poindexter husbanded his strength and Jezebel circled the young lady’s halter-top.

“Also assume each gambler gambles at least 30 times and that the edge, epsilon, is equal to 0.05, that is to say, five percent.”

“Epsilon,” Jezebel rolled her eyes again.

“At the end of the day,” Poindexter/professor was triumphant, “the casino will have won $2000 dollars give or take $15.  At the same time the average gambler will have lost $2, which isn’t much, but, what is more, 290 of those 1000 gamblers will come out ahead.  Some of them might come out way ahead, and you can be sure that they will be put in the spotlight.”

Poindexter could see that Custer was thinking on his own now and listened to Custer’s subconscious.

“Only lost $2.  In the spotlight.”  

Custer smiled.  This was bad, Poindexter thought.

“But don’t you see?” Poindexter was panicking. “If you gamble long enough, you will inevitably lose yourself.  And you in particular won’t be able to gamble with discipline.  You will just gamble your money until it is all gone, and even if you do win, you will just gamble until that’s gone!”

“Gamble ‘til it’s gone!” This time Custer shouted.

This caught the attention of a waitress in a very tight t-shirt who gave him a complimentary drink.  Custer then walked over to a roulette table, plopped a twenty down.

“Red!” he shouted.

Jezebel, who was all aglow, flittered over to Poindexter’s side.

“Buy you a drink?” she asked.

“Make it a double,” he said.

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