“Hey,” said the guy next to me at the blackjack table, “you know what they call people who hang around casinos?”
“What’s that?” I replied.
“Losers,” he chortled, finishing off his fifth vodka on the rocks.
He was right, of course -- losers in the art of dropping money.
I’m not a big gambler, but I enjoy blackjack now and then. So it was I found myself at a casino in Biloxi, Miss., early on during a road trip Wife Nancy and I are taking.
Everyone knows there’s one vital truth to gambling in a casino: do it long enough, and you’ll lose.
Unlike poker in its many forms -- stud, draw and the current craze, Texas Hold’em -- blackjack requires absolutely no skill, but rather a simple but detailed memorization process of what to do in every conceivable situation, along with the determination to stick to the plan.
You have 15 and the dealer is showing a 6? Stand. You have 15 and the dealer is showing a 7? Hit.
Memorize a few dozen rules like that and you stand a fair shot at winning, at least in the short term.
Poker requires you to have some degree of skill in reading what the other players are holding, in knowing whether they have strong hands or are merely bluffing.
But blackjack, in which the purpose is to get as close as possible to 21 without going over, or busting, is pretty much a rote process.
Rote, but fun nevertheless.
Of all the casino games, blackjack gives the player the best odds, with the house holding an advantage of only 1 percent. Get on a good run and you can win a tidy sum by beating those odds.
Casinos are the ultimate seductresses. They’re really, really good at stroking people’s egos.
They have VIP check-in, VIP elevators, VIP playing tables and, of course, free rooms and suites for big-money gamblers, who are known in the industry as whales.
There’s a reason for that, of course. Casinos don’t give away thousand-dollar-a-night suites because they’re generous. They do it because the players return the money to them many times over at the tables.
But here’s the odd thing: people who get comped, many of them, are proud as punch. They can rarely go three minutes without letting others know they’re in a free room, and they got a complimentary limo ride in from the airport.
Doesn’t seem to dawn on them that they’re saying, in effect, “The casino loves me because I’m dumb enough to lose a lot of money.”
Casinos are pretty darned smart, too, when it comes to getting average-Joe players to bet more than they ever intended to.
The strategy involves liquor. Surprised?
There’s a reason cocktail waitresses -- attractive women in low-cut dresses, of course -- rotate constantly among the tables, plying customers with free drinks.
More alcohol translates to higher bets, and you know what that translates to, don’t you?
So between offering glitzy surroundings, feel-good comps and lots of booze, the casinos have a darned good formula for profits.
For those of us who stay clutched to the low-stakes tables and remain sober, cognizant of the fact we’re really just buying entertainment, there’s a decent chance of winning at blackjack. And therein lies the lure, even if it’s on a once-a-year basis.
But if you ever hear me bragging about my comped suite and limo rides, whack me upside the head with a queen of hearts, for I indeed will have lost my mind -- and my money.