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Scammers must play by their own set of odds

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  I may be the luckiest guy in America. In the last year, I’ve had 6 different lottery winners randomly pick me to share their winnings. What do suppose the odds are of that happening? There has been a hitch in getting the money, though. The cashiers checks that I have requested have not appeared in my mailbox yet. I’m sure these generous lottery winners are determined to get the money into the hands of those who got randomly selected. 

I must just be the kind of guy that strangers want to trust. That Nigerian Prince seemed to be in a real bind, having all that money and no way to get it into the United States. I feel bad that I may have insulted him by asking too many questions and he stopped emailing me. I know I could have helped him, had he given me just a few more details.

If I’m so lucky, maybe I should be playing the lottery myself, and eliminating the middleman. My sensibilities won’t allow me to spend money on state-sponsored lotteries and gambling games, though. Years ago, I read on the back of a Wisconsin scratch card, in fine print, that 48% of the money played is paid back to the participants, and that the odds of winning $50 was somewhere in the range of 1 in 400. I’m not a whiz at math, but these stats have stuck with me. Those are some bad odds.

In Las Vegas, the average payout on a slot machine is 91%. The longer you play, though, the better your chances of leaving your money with the house. The state of Oregon, by law, must pay out at least 50% of the money played in lottery games.  If you look at the pie chart provided by the Oregon Lottery on their website, it appears that 90% of the money is paid out, leaving only 10% for advertising, administrative costs and funded costs, whatever they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against gambling, but I’m against playing with the odds so overwhelmingly against me. When my buddy says “hold my beer. I betcha I can…”, I’m as much betting to make a few bucks as I am paying to see something very interesting happen in the next few moments. I’ll bet on myself. Who better to bet on? A lot of crazy golf bets have been made, and accepted, over the years. I used to be able to pay for a lot of my expenses by playing pool. I was good, and I was observant enough to gauge my opponents with acumen.

That was then. I have been fairly successful playing poker, although that requires a certain kind of stamina that I don’t have any more. If everyone values the stakes of the game with the same seriousness, then a poker game can be a wonderful challenge, and a great night out with the boys. Players with deep pockets can chase others out of the game because they’re immune to the bluff, a key component of poker itself. As that great philosopher Kenny Rogers once said, “every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

I don’t bet on which animal can run the fastest, ridden or otherwise, and I don’t bet on sporting events. This makes me some kind of Neanderthal in today’s world of gamblers. Fantasy leagues and the ability to bet over/unders, point spreads, and anything else you could imagine, is wringing a lot of the enjoyment out of watching sporting events at both the professional and college levels. It frees me up to do something else on my Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

As often happens, I began my column riffing about one thing, in this case, internet scams, and ended it talking about something quite different, gambling. When the internet scammers are phishing for your dollars, they are the gamblers. When the oddsmakers at the big gambling houses give you a tantalizing low number on the over/under of the next Ducks game, are you really the gambler, or is it the house? You do realize that if they lost very often, they would go out of business. When was the last time you saw a gaming operation fold up shop.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass. Ben Olson photo

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