Human beings are driven by primitive instincts, most of which evolved in a very different world of limited resources and dangerous predators. When we lose something, we have an urge to “get it back.” I’ve felt it as a professional gambler, in fact, I regularly feel it. It is a painful emotion. Ironically, this instinct probably served our ancestors well in ancient times, when it was necessary to fight for every scrap of food. That impulse to “get it back” might save your life.
Please note that this is pure conjecture from a local Las Vegas resident and professional gambler who was deeply affected but who is privy to no more information about the shooter than is available via web articles.
I’m writing this article mainly because I cannot free my mind from this event and hopefully to educate some of you as to the dangers of compulsive gambling, not the possibility of losing money, but the possibility of mental sickness.
The killer’s gambling
update 11/3/2017: News media is beginning to report heavy losses by the shooter in the two years prior. I suspected as much. Additional info has been posted that shows he gambled much larger than the inferences in this article as well. (See LVRJ)
In articles (like this one from the Washington Post) concerning the life of this mass murderer, his “love” of video poker is a common theme, as if it were a love of theatre or music. I read where he won a $20,000 Royal Flush at a casino in Mesquite. So, a $20,000 Royal Flush means he was playing a $5 video poker game. Let’s assume he wasn’t playing multi-line, though compulsive gamblers often do. $5 video poker is $25 per pull. An experienced player would likely be playing 800 hands per hour, or $20,000 per hour. It seemed he was quite the regular customer, so let’s guess at his weekly play of 20 hours at $400,000 wagered per week.
In checking the video poker on offer at Mesquite’s Eureka Casino (vp4free), the most likely game he was playing was the single line Bonus Poker which offered a 99.66% return. It’s also possible he was playing a multi-line $1 machine and flopped a royal, though that is extremely difficult to do and I haven’t seen it reported in that way. Either way, it would be a similar return. The bottom line is, the Eureka casino does not offer a game that pays the gambler, no matter how smart or “professional” you are.
So I’ll give the guy credit for being a smart gambler and having practiced tirelessly to play the machine properly (a big assumption in itself). Even the best players would not be able to play it perfectly due to exhaustion, distraction, or inebriation so his return was likely about 99.5%.
- $400,000 per week @ 99.5% = ($2,000) loss per week, ($104,000) loss per year
That may not seem so bad for a well-off retired accountant but remember that is best case scenario. The point here is that the reports of him being a professional gambler are at least suspect considering the one game we know he played was impossible to derive a long term revenue from.
Once someone sinks into a gambling problem, playing optimally usually ceases as well, because going back to that primitive urge, it’s extraordinarily hard to “get it back” without playing bigger. To play bigger, he would likely be forced to take odds less than 99.5%.
Gambling is also not so kind as to siphon your money off in such a predictable manner. If it did, no one would ever do it. The 99.5% a gambler would receive will skew by as much as 30%, but probably within 10% each week. In the industry, we call that variance. Weeks in which his return was more like 90% would be as common as a week his return was 108%.
So losing $40,000 in a week playing the machine he hit a $20,000 royal flush on is not only possible, but expected. For a meticulous gambler who expects a certain result, this causes pain.
The extended pain of that instinct to “get it back” leads to Despair.
Eureka’s return not typical
As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, Paddock spread his play around other casinos and received comps as high as $1,000 for a single meal. A 99.5% return is not typical of most video poker, especially on the Las Vegas strip and where it does exist, the game is often harder to play. Mandalay Bay (vp4free), where the shooting occurred, offers only a Triple Double Bonus with perfect play at 99.58%. This is a notoriously hard game to play.
This kind of play can quickly add up. 20 hours per week @ 99% increases his expected yearly loss to over $200,000.
As more information comes out on his gambling, I would assume the time he spent per week was probably more than 20 hours as well, especially after he retired.
It has been reported the shooter received a prescription to Valium, an anti-anxiety drug in June (read this article from the Las Vegas Review Journal). It is possible this was actually a form of despair that gambling addicts experience, and he didn’t need a drug, he needed to stop gambling, probably with help of an organization such as Gamblers Anonymous.
I don’t play Video Poker all that often, because I don’t like losing. I play real poker and mostly online where I have been earning a steady income for over 10 years. Despite my >100% expectation, I still experience that pain.
After extended periods of pain, I experience gambler’s despair, I even lash out, going so far as to hurt myself. Would I ever hurt others? I don’t think so, but I’m sure he didn’t think so either when he first took up “professional” gambling.
I can tell you that Despair causes someone to act irrationally and aggressive and leads to a lasting depression. As a professional gambler, maintaining my state of mind is one of the most challenging aspects of the job.
Perhaps it was merely a matter of variance. With the millions of gambling addicts out there, many of them are too self-centered to recognize they have a problem and ask for help and instead take out their despair on the world around them. It isn’t as uncommon as we would believe (consider this attack in Manila). Combine an extreme case of despair with a total douchebag, an obsession in guns, and an educated brain and a disaster is possible. Is it that simple? Maybe.
The shooter wasn’t broke
We don’t really know that. Debt is easy in this country, especially for someone knowledgeable of the system. We only really know so far that he had the means to buy real estate earlier in his life and firearms recently and the ability to wire $100,000 to his girlfriend in the Philippines. We may know more soon as she has been reported back in the country. (See Reuters)
We know from the statements from his brother that he was a regular gambler before moving to Nevada a year ago. We don’t really know yet what happened in that year after he gained regular exposure to gambling.
That is not as relevant as it may seem, regardless. The despair of gambling isn’t rational. It doesn’t say “it’s ok, you can still have a nice life.” It simply says, “You are no longer the man you were before now that you are a million dollars poorer, GET IT BACK!”
We already know he was sick mentally. I hope the media reports accurately on the role that gambling had in it.