Gambling, The Multiverse, and Making Luck

I used to deal cards at the Turning Stone casino in upstate New York. One of my good childhood friends works there now on my recommendation. Sadly, he seems to be addicted to gambling.

Casino employees, barring technicians, are allowed to play the gaming machines. It's virtually impossible to get around their house edge. Conspirators can more easily exploit card games.

I love the gaming industry for its charm, glamour, and applied statistics. But gambling makes me nauseous. I think about what went into the money I'm losing - my time, creativity, grit. Especially right after a 2 AM to 10 AM shift.

Maybe this mindset is the exception. Unfortunately my friend doesn't have it. From the sounds of a recent, increasingly rare encounter, he's playing the machines after every shift.

"I was up two hundred! I was hitting every bonus. But then my luck went south."

I expressed surprise that he wasn't too exhausted after his shift. He does nights like I used to.

"Well, the machines were hot."

What am I rambling about here? Luck.

A slot machine is just a Linux terminal. The code it executes puts the same odds behind what patterns appear on every bet.

There's nothing 'hot' or 'cold' about that. You'd have to factor in luck.

Aren't we all lucky

One of the books I read this summer was Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. As someone who struggled with AP Physics in high school, I highly recommend it.

Something you realize as you read it is how unlikely it is that we're all here. The human race. And that we can /think/ about how unlikely it is, mention it on the Internet, and almost anyone else on the planet can read that.

Aren't we all lucky? Wasn't it lucky all these events happened and now we're here?

I don't believe in luck, where luck is some quantifiable thing.

As if we could graph out these spikes in luck, over billions of years, that ultimately resulted in Earth and us and the Internet.

The luckier and unluckier universes

Something I do believe in is the multiverse theory. It sounds more outlandish than luck, but there's a better scientific basis.

The idea is that there are infinite variations of our own universe happening concurrently.

So, infinite times over, there's a version of you that's less lucky than the one reading this. Who doesn't have a phone or computer... doesn't have clean water, who's dead.

The implication of that, however, is an infinite amount of luckier versions too. Where you can fly or are made of ice cream or have wheels where your legs are.

Coincidentally this concept gets mentioned in A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking is a proponent. But a better overview would be this Sam Harris podcast if you're interested.

Making luck

Why do we care about luck? What's the root of superstitions? Why call a slot machine 'hot' or 'cold'?

We want good things to happen to us. That's it.

Instead of wasting mental energy over luck, there are some things you can do with a better track record.

These are strongly related:

  • Have an open mind
  • Practice strong mindset

What's an open mind? Trying new things when opportunities arise. Saying "yes" to unfamiliar experiences. If you're honest with yourself, any downside is probably minimal, avoidable, or nonexistent.

(Still, if an acquaintance wants to steal a car with you, don't do it.)

What's a strong mindset? Being optimistic. Practicing mindfulness to ground yourself - instead of worrying about how many minutes are left in your workday, tell yourself "there's no place I'd rather be." Think about how fortunate you are to have the things you do, whether that means an Internet-connected phone or working limbs. Keep a journal of your day.

Read the book Gorilla Mindset. It covers all these as a quick, enjoyable read. The paperback is $10 on Amazon but the audiobook is free with an Audible trial.

Another thing you can do - nurture skills that increase your odds of success. Define success however you'd like. Odds are, binge-watching TV doesn't contribute to you being successful. Binge-anything probably doesn't. But what about going to the gym? Working through HackerRank exercises?

Conclusion

I don't believe in luck. But maybe, like God, luck's existence is just impossible to confirm or deny.

Regardless, there are tried-and-true ways we can improve the odds of good things happening to us.

Keep in mind that hunting around for 'hot' slot machines doesn't seem to be one of them.