Well, I seem to have got through Friday the 13th without falling on a losing streak. My wife, however, has run into a bit of bad luck. She broke the bank and lost our house.
Most of the times- with games of skill and craft being the exception here- gamblers move around with an arsenal of odds, chances, probabilities, lucky charms, and superstitions under their belt.
Take it from a gambler. It's not an easy confession to put on the table, but most of us actually subscribe to irrational fears and inexplicable constraints of the Salem Witch Trial sort.
Don't bet if a black cat crosses your path on a Tuesday, the 13th and do not- under no circumstances- count your money while the game is still in motion.
And while most of us have read in-depth about the traps of the gambler’s fallacy (from which an awareness has arisen that trying to calculate your odds against both the randomness and the house mathematics of the pokies is a no-win), the credulous among us will still wear some cheeky piece of red underwear to improve on our blackjack play.
Lady Luck Is Fickle
Like an overpowering invisible force, Lady Luck gravitates on the orbits of slot machines, tweaking the human mind into wrongly pursuing patterns of wins- or losses.
In the end, the roulette player believes he can sort out his way to the big win if he bets on red after the ball landed on black no less than 26 times in a row.
This event actually took place in Monte Carlo Casino on an August night in 1913.
The Gambler's Fallacy: Born Out of 26 Black
No more than a random sequence out of a staggering number of other 67 million sequences of 26 reds or blacks, this highly mathematical occurrence seemed strangely symbolic to the gamblers present that night around the roulette table.
Believing the wheel must own some kind of memory or adhere to a poetic rhyme that will eventually break the high streaks of black, punters lost millions of francs betting on red.
No harm done since the world of the West looked pretty good and stable in the year before the great war burned the skies down.
Blame it on the sense of entitlement that has ruined many fortunes over time, but people will deceive themselves into inventing patterns to make chaos more habitable.
Studies show that gamblers are not the only ones to have sacrificed cognition to emotion. Baseball umpires, judges, and lotto players have made decisions based on the gambler's fallacy.
So it is with the hot-hand fallacy, a title exquisitely devised to describe the conceit of thinking that a winning streak must continue, against all odds and probabilities.
Better Bird Poop Than a Chip On Your Shoulder. Or Why Gamblers Choose to Be Superstitious
In 2011, the Study of Public Opinion Research Center released its findings. More than half of the adults in the US subscribe to at least one superstition or good luck ritual.
If a wager turns out to be profitable, the gambler will search for hints in his past games that could have led him to a fortuitous turn of the reels, maybe a horseshoe someone dropped under his chair or that pinch of salt the waitress accidentally spilled over his left shoulder when the shots of tequilas poured in.
On the other hand, a disastrous outcome could be justified by the presence of an opal stone nearby (a particularly calamitous piece of jewelry) or a luckless dealer.
The superstitious gambler will immediately spit three times on the ill-fated slot and, distraught with the recent misfortune, he will dive into a swarm of pigeons for a short shower of “white dielectric substance”. (Minus the scientific jargon, that's pigeon waste in popular parlance)
Either way, better to have bird poop than a chip on your shoulder.
By definition, superstitions work as ancestral beliefs with strong roots in the human psyche that have been passed down through the generations despite the age of enlightenment, the laws of reasoning, and science’s achievements.
Richard Dawkins calls superstitions "those areas of belief that exist without scientific proof, yet manage to hold the nation under their spell".
More than in any other field or endeavor, an epidemic of superstition is hitting the reels, with gamblers proving especially prone to casino dogma due to its inherent elements of randomness and luck.
What superstitions and lucky rituals do casino visitors engage in to ensure a favorable outcome? We've come up with 13 (mind the number) gambling superstitions that bring about the two kinds of luck dominating the casino landscape: the good and the bad. The ugly, for another time.
13 Common Superstitions With More Luck Than Sense
Advise superstitious gamblers that, ultimately and according to the governing rules of reason, they are the ones responsible for their own good fortune, and they will agree. Then, they will list all of the below rituals and the specific circumstances that enforced those beliefs.
You're witnessing self-fulfilling prophecy at its best.
- Wear red clothing- When in Macau, do as the Chinese do. If you ever hit one of those top-notch casinos, you might think gamblers are literally painting the town red. That's because red is considered the luckiest color in China's highly ritualistic culture. Red underwear or lingerie also brings good luck.
- Light up the house- Your house, to be more specific. Turn on all the lights in the house before making your way towards the casino. Another superstition courtesy of Chinese myth-infused society, this one is sure to bring you a streak of good luck... to fit your electricity bill, at least.
- Spill salt over your left shoulder- The move is meant to counteract the bad luck brought forth by the spilling of salt. In ancient times, salt was such a valuable commodity and triggered so many wars over its ownership that to spill it mindlessly was considered a crime against the spirits of the earth. To make amends, one had to throw just a pinch of it over one's left shoulder.
- Bet on your lucky charms- The most common lucky tokens are used as card protectors by gamblers, and may include rabbit's feet, four leaf clovers, mojo bags of the African-American hoodoo tradition, troll dolls for bingo players, teddy bears and childhood blankets for the nostalgics, and an expertly shaken-and-not-stirred Martini for James Bond.
- Bring a lucky partner- Also from the Casino Royale saga, learn this trick a la Bond. Would he have succeeded in beating his nemesis, Le Chiffre, at baccarat if not for his lucky, charming Vesper Lynd?
- Toss a coin in the wishing well- If wishful thinking fails you, you'll always have the wishing wells. Every year, thousands of players sacrifice a penny to the waters around the casinos, and while the move might not earn them good luck, it brings the venue its pocket change (thousands of dollars a year). As always, one man's loss is another casino's gain.
- Try out your beginner's luck- In Chinese culture, the elusive beginner's luck is reserved mostly for women. They have a greater chance than men to win the first time, especially if they're playing during their menstrual cycle.
- Faith can move mountains- Or those slot machine cherries in jackpot position. Walk into a casino and you're bound to hit a scene of a player praying over his Rosary Beads or drawing an invisible cross in the air over the roulette wheel. Slot machine players have a tendency to pray out loud. Or curse, as we'll see next.
- Curse at the roulette- Those double zeros in American roulette bring the worst in people, no doubt. While the origins of cursing at the ball in order to telepathically push it into the wagered number remain elusive, here's a gambling superstition that survives by the pure benefit of the doubt.
- Reuse the fallen dice- Let the dice fall off the table, and the next time you use them, you're a winner. Do not reach for a new pair of dice, that's what this gambling superstition is all about.
- Blow on dice- Another peculiar habit from the world of games of chance, blowing on dice or cards before playing is supposed to activate the lucky gene. Interestingly enough, hot breath used to activate a sticky substance that covered a side of the dice so it would feel right on the wager. But this trick is a relic of the old times when cheating came easier than blind faith.
- Cross your fingers- In the old times, people would ward off witches by entwining their fingers in cross position. Now, by crossing your fingers you can ward off that bad luck levitating on a broom around your favorite slot machines.
- Don't stare luck in the eye- Looking away from the table as you toss the dice or turning your back to the slot machines as the reels fall into jackpot alignment is considered to bring good luck.
When you're out of luck, blame the odds
Computer science researchers call it counterfactual regret minimization. They use it for AI machines, but the mechanism is essentially a human trait. We learn by trial and error, and so we gamble as well.
If we think a particular move, object or person carries an unlucky connotation, then we will immediately discard it as a providential N/A. Never Again.
13 Unlucky Things to Do in a Casino
- Wearing opal jewelry- The semi-precious stone only got the scars of bad luck because of Sir Walter Scott's prodigious imagination. In his novel ‘Anne of Geierstein’, the character Lady Hermione happens to die in the same instant a drop of water accidentally falls on her opal jewelry. On account of the stone changing color, she is wrongly accused of being a demon. Since Sir Walter Scott was a highly influential figure, the scene made quite a dent in the stone's reputation, bringing its market value down to 50% at the time.
- Crossing your legs during a poker game- It was once wrongly believed the posture was harmful to one's health- the damages included varicose veins, raised blood pressure, and nerve damage- so people changed it to the man spread, sitting on the chair with their knees wide apart. Nowadays, studies have shown that sitting cross-legged for short periods of time- however unprincely it may be- will not pop open your veins. Although on a different basis, poker players agree that the pose is not the luckiest one in the books.
- Walk in a gambling venue using the main entrance - The designers of the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas were not paying attention to Asian gambling superstitions when they shaped the main entrance of the casino like a lion's awe-inspiring, canine-teethed mouth. As their clientele became more reluctant to enter a casino that had proven ignorant and offensive of their superstitious beliefs, the MGM Grand Casino decided to drop the beastly design and rebuild the entrance in 1997.
- Counting money during the game- Courtesy of Kenny Rogers and his words “You never count your money when you're sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing's done”, country music fans everywhere has turned the lyrics into the creed of the superstitious gambler.
- Whistling while playing- In a universal show of displeasure, soccer fans whistle when they don't like what they see in a game. Whistling is generally associated with bad luck, especially if you do it indoors.
- Touching another player- Another Chinese gambling superstition, physical contact (especially touching the arm of another player) is frowned upon as a harbinger of bad luck. After all, you don't rub shoulders with your opponent, do you now?
- Betting on 13- We're not going down that spiral of irrational beliefs. You know the drill by now. 13 is bad luck. As long as we've hit the numbered chapter, know that Chinese invest 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 with good luck and 4 with bad luck.
- Choosing a polished table for your game- Nowhere does life's capriciousness manifest itself better than on a polished table. Or so runs the saying.
- Handling $50 bills- The notoriety of Nevada mafia stems from its sheer ruthlessness, but one blood-curdling detail that made the rounds of popular culture was the mobsters' modus operandi. They would stick 50 dollar bills into the pockets of their victims. It goes without saying, no one wants to feel like a dead man when playing in a casino.
- Playing in the presence of a dog- Shoo all canines from the gambling table. Dogs are believed to bring bad luck, so even if you're playing online craps, make sure your dog will not wag its tail while the game is running.
- Lucky number Slevin- Slevin, because you never say seven out loud when playing craps. You will ruin the game for the whole table if you do.
- Not seeing a hunchback- Long gone are the days of medieval Notre Dame mania when people would stone down a hunchback. Nowadays, when you see one thank your lucky stars and make a dash for a game of baccarat.
- Interrupting the sacred flow in blackjack- There is a widespread belief in blackjack that joining a game mid-shoe will alter the odds of the other players. Some casinos do not allow for a new player to join until the next shuffle, but that's not on account of superstition.
There's a lot of speculative meat to chew on for decades of casino games to come, and players might very well be the last people on earth to drop the hoodoos, myths, and old wives tales that make the melting pot of their gambling superstitions and accept the purely random and unfortunately harmful turns of Fortune's Wheel at face value. But that would imply their bet simply hangs in the air, a random number operating loss or gain, no will, and no providence.