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You Get What You Pay For

by Sal Moriarty

I lost a two-dollar bet 65 years ago and have spent about three million dollars trying to get it back.”

Mickey Rooney

I drink, smoke cigars and swear a lot (I accidentally typed “sweat a lot' and realized I do that, too). Also, I have virtually no patience.

I enjoy most of my vices and, if asked about them, am fairly unapologetic. Frankly, I just don't know how I would navigate this world without a drink or two and a cigar on a quiet, cool night (or a loud, hot night, for that matter). Some folks jog or lift weights. Some paint or invest their waking hours in sports teams. Some garden, some go to church. I sit out at night, drink and smoke, swear and sweat.

All that said, I cannot imagine myself promoting any of my vices (unsure what a commercial promoting swearing and sweating would look like but am confident we'll find out). Of course, there are no liquor companies offering me a boatload of money to promote their wares. So, there's that, but I realize there are consequences for my vices, and I don't want to be responsible for another human being having to deal with those consequences because of my greed.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, America's most revered religious holiday, and vice is front and center (except tobacco for some weird, hypocritical reason). That's always been the case to a degree, but old Miller Lite commercials from the eighties seem quaint by comparison. Back then it was paunchy, over-the-hill ex-athletes (and Rodney Dangerfield) who never made more than a couple hundred thousand dollars a season hawking “tastes great” verse “less filling” in order to pay the mortgage. Now days, gambling seems to be the up-and-comer and it's multi-millionaire ex-athletes and movie stars and stand-up comedians encouraging us to go places the Bible says to avoid.

This is where I could list five or ten headlines underscoring this is a bad thing (America's Gambling Addiction is Metastasizing - The Atlantic); The Rise of Mobile Gambling Is Leaving People Ruined and Unable to Quit – Vice, etc.). Those so interested can do their own research.

Like so many modern problems in America, it has a lot to do with that computer in your back pocket (or, more likely, your hand). Back in the day, if you wanted to take part in legal gambling, you boarded a rollicking flight to Vegas or Atlantic City (the flights back home were rarely as rollicking). More recently, you took an hour drive to Lake Charles. Now, the casino is sitting on the nightstand or the kitchen table. You no longer have to seek out those garish rooms, where the drinks are free, and there are no clocks on the wall to blow your paycheck. The casino can now be found in the glow under the bed sheets.

Gambling has never been fair. That's why the mob loved it. Now, it's less fair than ever.

The gambling sites (you know them all and will likely see your favorite ex-athletes and show biz luminaries encouraging you to visit them during the big game tonight) employ sophisticated AI technologies to ensure the odds are in their favor more than ever. Micro-betting is a thing. This allows you to bet on individual plays within a game. Odds change by the minute. Oh, and they're collecting data on every bettor. Of course.

I have a very libertarian viewpoint on all of this. Generally speaking, I think we should get what we want if we're willing to live with the consequences. I think about this every presidential election, especially. That said, I don't like being a sucker. Not a fan of people with far more resources than myself, playing me for a fool, whether that be in politics or recreation.

My main interest in this topic is generated by curiosity. What would make a wildly successful person, with more money than you and I could spend in five lifetimes, encourage behavior that is so fraught with potential destruction? What kind of people are they?

This year's Super Bowl (grammar check corrected that to upper case) is being played in Las Vegas. Seems appropriate. It made me think of an interaction with an employee recently. He kept disappearing from the work area for five and ten minutes at a time. Now, if you run a business in America, this is nothing new. The employee is usually ducking out to hit Instagram or TikTok (sorry Facebook, you're old news), but this employee was placing bets.

“You know,” I said, after a brief counseling. “The house always wins.”

“That's a good one,” he replied, smiling. “Did you just come up with that?”

As with so much in America these days, you can't make it up.


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