Monday, May 12, 2014

How Much Does Grandma Love Gambling?

This weekend, my cousin had her First Communion party, giving me the opportunity to see a bunch of relatives and drink a case of beer in honor of an eight-year-old. My grandmother attended the party and one of my aunts informed her that I've been making fun of her on my blog. The particular insult in question appeared in How Blank's Gambling Draft post, in which I wrote this:

My grandmother is absolutely ADDICTED to scratch-offs. Sure, she also loves slot machines like all old cooters do, but scratching like a fiend is the highlight of her day. Fortunately for her, she experiences the highlight of the day about five times per day because that's how often she goes out to buy a new round of scratch-offs. 

By the time my aunt pulled this post up on her phone to show Grandma, the old lady had already scratched at least 20 tickets that day. And we're not just talking about $1 and $2 tickets. Those are too small-time for her. Grandma had bought several $20 tickets in the morning, and most of us gave her a few such tickets for Mother's Day. My uncle, meanwhile, didn't buy her scratch-offs, but his gift was her favorite. He framed this photo, from her $2,500 trip to the casino on Easter:

Despite her obvious propensity for gambling, Grandma seemed genuinely insulted after reading my post. My mom joked that Grandma was going to shun me just as she recently shunned my cousin Mary. A few months back, Mary joked that Grandma was "rich." Since then, none of Grandma's Social Security money has found its way to Mary's address. We figured that my Internet insult would earn me at least six months of Grandma's cold shoulder.

Fortunately, I'm pretty sure Grandma doesn't understand that the Internet is also called the "Worldwide Web" because of its widespread availability.* The computer is a pretty abstract idea for Grandma. After reading my post, she said, "Let me just type into my machine, 'Dear Grandson, I don't appreciate you insulting me like this...'" I can just picture her trying to punch that message into a rotary phone and expecting it to pop up on my computer. That would indeed be sweet revenge for her.

*I guess she wouldn't have too much to worry about, though; there aren't exactly millions of people reading these posts. 

Anyways, this story provides me with an impetus to share some of Grandma's biggest gambling fallacies. Every once in a while, you see a story about an MIT guy beating the lotteryGrandma is a very smart lady, but she's decidedly not an MIT guy. She does have some pretty interesting beliefs about betting, though. Here are a few:

Grandma's Biggest Gambling Fallacies

One Vendor Is "Unlucky"
I have a feeling that Grandma just likes particular store owners, but she also swears that she never wins on the scratch-offs she purchases at certain places. For example, Grandma says that the Shell gas station in Riverdale is lucky, while the Hallmark across the street is "terrible." For a grown adult to think that ... I don't even know where to begin.

"Unlucky" Individuals and Families
Grandma sends fewer scratch-offs to my family than to other relatives because we "never win." Every year on my birthday, I lose pretty badly, so I can almost see where she's coming from. But upon further thought ... WE ALL HAVE THE SAME ODDS.

Certain Types of Tickets and Slot Machines Are "Luckier"
It's clear that most of these fallacies follow the same pattern. That is, Grandma believes that outside factors play some sort of role in an event that's governed by the laws of probability. I sometimes go to the casino and jokingly claim that I'm looking for a "hot" table or dealer, but I also understand that most of my decisions won't change my luck in games of chance. Well, watching Grandma search for a lucky slot machine is truly an amazing experience. She'll jockey with other people, push buttons in different ways, and meander around in search of her Holy Grail. If she wins, she'll tell you all about her strategy. If she loses, she'll cue up ridiculous excuses like "That machine stunk!"

I "Won" $80
Grandma often brags about how much she won, or how much other people have won on scratch-offs she gave to them. So let's just say she "won" $80. Great, but she probably spent $40 to buy those tickets. Now her profit is down to $40. Oh, and she spent $40 yesterday and only "won" $10. Now she's down to just $10 of profit. Let's be generous and say that she'll "win" $30 more on $40 worth of tickets tomorrow. That's still a $10 net loss, bringing her back to even. And that's being generous. So does Grandma ever really "win"? You tell me.

The First Number
Grandma thinks that after scratching the first number on a ticket, she knows whether she'll win or not.

"Faking Out" the Slot Machine
After hitting a few times on a certain machine, Grandma sometimes cashes out then refills the machine with a new 20-dollar bill. We think she does this in order to "fake out" the computer, which might think another person has begun to play. Another theory about this behavior: Grandma wants to "fake out" the rest of us, with winning tickets as proof of her incredible success.

Certain Numbers Are "Unlucky"
Many of us have lucky numbers, but Grandma takes it to another level. When she's scratching off a ticket, she often professes to "hate the higher numbers." I might be wrong about this, but I think higher numbers win just as often as lower numbers. Again, I might be wrong. Grandma also hates the number 21, even though that's her birthday.

I'm sure I missed some of the other fallacies that Grandma believes, but the ones above should give you an idea of her fanaticism about gambling. If only she actually understood the concept of luck.

So instead of buying Grandma scratch-offs for Mother's Day next year, I'm proposing that everyone in my family chip in to enroll her in an Introduction to Statistics class. That is, as long as there's a casino nearby.

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  1. OK - I am reading this aloud to grandma now and she is telling me that "it doesn't pay to buy the cheap ones - you have a lot more winners when you spend big."
    She also added that "Kerry better give you a little more housework to do because this blog post obviously took too much of your time."

  2. One more thing - "She didn't even give you back all of her Mother's Day winnings. She had loads of winnings besides those. She is great at picking winners. " You better be careful or you will be a loser.

    1. Yup, the "I 'Won' 80 Dollars" Fallacy. She fools herself into thinking she's a frequent winner.

      Also, did her husband ever do a single lick of housework????