Penny Pinching: 4

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I’ve never stepped foot in a casino, never had a cheeky flutter at Ladbrokes, and as for the lottery, well unless we’re talking about having chips and Chinese gravy from Wok n’ Roll (will you get stomach cramps, won’t you?) then no, I haven’t done that either. Working with formulae, statistics and probabilities all day means that, the way I see it, it’s pretty likely that these people are better at their job than I am at making what is in effect an uninformed, emotional and hasty guess. However, this column is charged with both making and saving you money, so in the name of thorough journalism, this week I broke my twenty-one-year gambling embargo.

After a delightful dinner at Noodle Nation (even a ‘money-saving expert’ has to splash out sometimes), I saw the opportunity to observe others at work in their natural environment – Ladbrokes – in the hope of picking up some tips before I took the plunge. The game of choice, it turns out, is the Roulette, but don’t be fooled; this isn’t the roulette of the movies, with a vast wheel spun by a cool croupier, surrounded by cheering punters. In reality the device in question was a jumped-up ItBox–like machine, resplendent with grubby fingerprints, a coin-in slot and a surly attendant at the main desk, which some-what diminished the charm of the whole experience from the off-set. Again, unlike Hollywood would have us believe, with professional gamblers carefully placing chips in a seemingly random yet meticulously calculated pattern across the betting mat, the only acceptable strategy here seemed to be to pump money into the machine, a pound at a time, with each pound being put solely on red or black. The punter would be obliged to reinvest any winnings, seemingly until bust. That is, unless the total reached the value of a meal in Noodle Nation, satisfying the need to ‘win back the meal’, at which point an unnecessarily loud and conspicuous cash-out would take place. 
To me, the whole spectacle seemed no more than the modern day equivalent of the tuppence arcade machines. For anyone bereft of the joy of experiencing these first hand, these consisted of a glass fronted arcade machine with multiple platforms, all piled high with two pence pieces. Undulating mechanical arms swept backwards and forwards, titillating the user with the suggestion that they might just push a couple of the coppers off their respective ledge and into the collection box below. Children spent hours naively plugging in more and more coins until finally, the threshold would be reached, upon which a depressingly meagre pile of coppers would be toppled into the collection box. These would, of course, be immediately reinvested in trying to win even bigger, until they too were all gone, with no payout. If it all sounds rather irrational, pointless, yet disarmingly entertaining then you’ve got the picture. This similarly applies to roulette machines, as I was to learn.
Pumping in my first pound, I plumped for red, and doubled my money. Despite my attempts to cash-out, I was told in no uncertain terms that reinvestment was the best option. Reluctantly I once again pushed ‘all on red’. Black 21. Fuck it, I thought, and stormed out. Passing the nearby newsagent I popped in for a consolation Coke, where I thought I’d just check how much lottery tickets were, for the article you know… 

I’ve never stepped foot in a casino, never had a cheeky flutter at Ladbrokes, and as for the lottery, well unless we’re talking about having chips and Chinese gravy from Wok n’ Roll (will you get stomach cramps or won’t you?) then no, I haven’t done that either. Working with formulae, statistics and probabilities all day means that, the way I see it, it’s pretty likely that these people are better at their job than I am at making what is in effect an uninformed, emotional and hasty guess.

However, this column is charged with both making and saving you money, so in the name of thorough journalism, this week I broke my twenty-one-year gambling embargo. After a delightful dinner at Noodle Nation (even a ‘money-saving expert’ has to splash out sometimes), I saw the opportunity to observe others at work in their natural environment – Ladbrokes – in the hope of picking up some tips before I took the plunge.

The game of choice, it turns out, is the Roulette, but don’t be fooled; this isn’t the roulette of the movies, with a vast wheel spun by a cool croupier, surrounded by cheering punters. In reality the device in question was a jumped-up ItBox–like machine, resplendent with grubby fingerprints, a coin-in slot and a surly attendant at the main desk, which some-what diminished the charm of the whole experience from the off-set. Again, unlike Hollywood would have us believe, with professional gamblers carefully placing chips in a seemingly random yet meticulously calculated pattern across the betting mat, the only acceptable strategy here seemed to be to pump money into the machine, a pound at a time, with each pound being put solely on red or black. The punter would be obliged to reinvest any winnings, seemingly until bust.That is, unless the total reached the value of a meal in Noodle Nation, satisfying the need to ‘win back the meal’, at which point an unnecessarily loud and conspicuous cash-out would take place. 

To me, the whole spectacle seemed no more than the modern day equivalent of the tuppence arcade machines. For anyone bereft of the joy of experiencing these first hand, these consisted of a glass fronted arcade machine with multiple platforms, all piled high with two pence pieces. Undulating mechanical arms swept backwards and forwards, titillating the user with the suggestion that they might just push a couple of the coppers off their respective ledge and into the collection box below. Children spent hours naively plugging in more and more coins until finally, the threshold would be reached, upon which a depressingly meagre pile of coppers would be toppled into the collection box. These would, of course, be immediately reinvested in trying to win even bigger, until they too were all gone, with no payout.

If it all sounds rather irrational, pointless, yet disarmingly entertaining then you’ve got the picture. This similarly applies to roulette machines, as I was to learn. Pumping in my first pound, I plumped for red, and doubled my money. Despite my attempts to cash-out, I was told in no uncertain terms that reinvestment was the best option. Reluctantly I once again pushed ‘all on red’. Black 21. Fuck it, I thought, and stormed out. Passing the nearby newsagent I popped in for a consolation Coke, where I thought I’d just check how much lottery tickets were, for the article you know… 

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