"You're not a real gambler, are you?" a friend asked me this past weekend. It was a legitimate question, I thought, but one that would have made more sense had it not been asked in the middle of a blackjack hand being played in the middle of a casino.
As noise from the craps table mixed with the sounds of the slot machines clang, clang, clanging and the lounge act sing, sing, singing to form a soundtrack for the patrons, a cacophony tinged with both hope and despair, of jackpots and losing hands, I thought about it.
It was a good question. One that could apply to anyone.
One definition of the word gamble is "to play games of chance for money or some other stake" and another is "an act or undertaking involving risk of a loss."
As to the first definition, I'm hardly a high-stakes, high-roller type of guy. You won't see me at the no-limit table, and I'll never play enough to warrant being comped a penthouse suite, or much else for that matter.
But going by the second, maybe I qualify. I drive in the fast lane on Interstate 285, have eaten haggis and I drink the breakroom coffee. Talk about risks.
While casino life and regular life differ quite a bit - you don't get to double down on haggis (although you may double over) and the tickets you get on 285 are much less satisfying than the ones spit out by slot machines - there are some similarities, mainly in how you attack each.
The thing you notice at the casino - other than the fact that the tobacco industry shouldn't worry about going out of business - is there are two types of customers. There are the ones (like my friend) who are there to see how much money they can win and others (like me) who are there to see how much money they can keep from losing.
The first group is like wildcatters, willing to absorb some losses for the chance at a major payday. They are sure their form of a gusher, the elusive jackpot, is just a spin away, and there's no reason to go home knowing there is still oil in the field, money to be mined.
The second group is more like a CPA, aware of the numbers and wary of the odds. These folks will take some calculated chances, but not too many, content with trying to push their margin incrementally. They follow a budget, betting more when they have more, and are not afraid to close up shop when the ledger starts to go south.
Ironically, both approaches often produce the same results. Just like in life, where the salesman who goes after the big account and the one who doesn't both often end up without, gambling is mostly a zero sum (or worse) game. The wildcatters get some thrills with their big hits, but often walk out with the same thing (nothing) in their pockets as the CPAs.
When it comes to the gaming industry, there is one group that does not gamble, and that's the casinos. They know they'll get your money one way or another, slowly or quickly, dime by dime or dollar by dollar.
More than anyone, they know one of life's main lessons - that it's always better to be the house than to bet it.
E-mail Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesdays.