As has been the case for many others I have spoken with, my own gambling story begins at a young age (10). Family vacations with my father would involve trips to the Ruidoso Downs race track, where I was given $20 for the day to bet on horses. Later, he would teach me how to play poker, and by the time I was a teenager I was playing occasionally, and later regularly, with a group of his colleagues. By the time I was in college, I became involved in a high-stakes pot-limit game, and won enough money over time to move out of the house and get my own apartment while I was in school. There were two men in that game that I (and others) won money from fairly consistently, and looking back I now realize that it was not just because (as I thought) they were “bad” player, but because they were compulsive (pathological) gamblers who would stay in the game until the last card on almost every hand.
When I finished my graduate degree in 1991, I received a job offer from the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas to supervise archaeological work out at the infamous Yucca Mountain Project. I was thrilled to get a job in archaeology, and was excited about the prospects of moving to Las Vegas. For many years after moving to Las Vegas I continued to play live poker. While I never considered myself a professional player, I did well enough to win a little money over the long run, and saw it as an entertaining pastime. I didn’t understand the appeal of the video poker machines…it seemed like a complete waste of time to play a machine, where you had no control over the outcome. Occasionally, I would put $20 into a machine, but never won anything substantial until I hit my first royal flush for $1,000 in the mid-1990s. It was a few years later that I hit a 2nd one, and then very soon after, a third. “Aha! This is why people play the machines!” I thought. Gradually, I played less and less live poker and more and more video poker until soon I was playing video poker almost exclusively. It didn’t seem to matter that intellectually I knew I was never going to beat a computer chip. Read more →