Deep Thoughts On Gambling & The Idiocy Of Slot Machines

Let’s talk about my third-favorite vice

Time To Read: 5 mins | July 21, 2017

I don’t know what I’m eating. This little bruschetta was sitting in the display case at a tapas bar in Barcelona, so I pointed at it, gave a man some money, and put it in my mouth (completely aware what that sounds like). It’s good – some sort of squid, I think – but also a mystery.

In the corner of the room is a video slot machine, and camped in front of it is one of the largest men I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean impressively strong like The Mountain, I mean like if Sam Tarley ate another Sam Tarley. The guy looks like he’s been storing fat for winter since the moment he left the womb.


If chairs had feelings, his would be crying out in anguish, begging for the sweet relief of death.

He’s been banging on the machine’s buttons for at least twenty minutes now. Every time he hits the big red one, a bunch of cartoons quickly scroll by and land in random positions. For completely arbitrary reasons, sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. Then the ticker on top of the machine, which shows the entire bar how much money he’s currently got invested, updates. He’s lost about 100 euros since flopping onto the aggrieved stool.

I love gambling, by the way. If you and I ever go to Vegas, expect me to skip the clubs and instead catch a show, drink at a nice restaurant, then playing table games until sunrise – or until the bank shuts down my credit card. Whichever comes first.

But when I’m losing money, I have to at least understand what’s going on. Most of us can follow blackjack easily enough, but my preferred game is craps (not as difficult as it looks; don’t worry, I’ll teach you) or even sitting in a hold ‘em game. I know I’m statistically likely to lose money at each of these – the first two because of odds, the poker because I’m rubbish – but at least I know what I’m getting myself into.

The beluga playing slots just won a big one. Lights are flashing and the machine’s making all sort of exciting noises. His wallet’s now back above 200 euros, around where he started when I walked into the bar.

I need to know why I’m winning or why I’m losing. I can’t just plug money into a machine, mash a button, and accept that random combinations of colorful pictures means I win odds that were never explained.

Beluga Bill has inched his way over 250 in the past few minutes.


Gambling losses, if you need a way to justify it, are the cost of the night’s entertainment.

I blow $100 over the course of two hours? Well, I had a good time, slammed a few free drinks, and got to laugh at the low cut too-tight dresses of wannabe gold diggers.

He just hit 275.

The lottery is the same way. Statisticians are full of fun ways to tell you how long the odds are of winning, things like, “You’re more likely to be struck by lightning while riding Mechagodzilla, then bowling a perfect game and catching chlamydia on the same day.” But I’m not paying for a realistic chance of winning; I’m paying for the fantasy. For 24 hours, I’m going to get no work done while I instead mentally lay out the gilded volcano fortress I’d build with my winnings. That temporary escape is worth the price of admission.

310. Lots of flashing lights now.

But I need to know the odds and understand the rules of the game. I know when I win and lose at blackjack; I can’t for the life of me tell which spins of this dusty Spanish video slot machine are winners and losers until the guy’s credit counter updates.

Speaking of, he just hit another one. 347 now. He’s paid for my weird little bruschetta fifty times over since I walked in. There’s a small crowd gathering around him now — though given his girth, they can only get so close to the machine.

…you ever here of that itch gamblers sometimes get? Oh — me neither.

*eyeballs machine, discretely starts counting euros in my wallet*


photo: this lantern unfortunately did not denote a gay bar. essaouira, morocco

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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