Occasionally (once a year, maybe), I’ll go to a casino, and throw away a bunch of money at blackjack or craps in exchange for the enticing illusion that the piles of money under the dealer’s fingertips could be mine if only my luck would hold. On any given visit, I’ll burn up two or three hundred dollars before I get disgusted, and acknowledge the cold reality I’ve known all along – you can’t win.
Oh, you might be ahead for a short time, but that’s the tease; the fantasy. You believe it can go on forever, when clearly it can’t. There are odds built into every casino game that guarantee the casino a winning edge. There’s no doubt that if you play long enough, eventually, you’ll lose.
This past November, New Jersey made it legal for the Atlantic City casinos to offer online gaming in an effort to enhance the struggling casinos’ bottom line. Although, so far, the revenue has fallen short of expectations, New Jersey casinos generated an estimated $8 million from online gambling in the first six weeks of the program. And it’s expected to grow from there.
The problem I have with this new extension of New Jersey’s gambling industry is the advertising. In one TV ad, a cool-looking young guy saunters through an ornate casino, singing a jingle set to the tune of “Luck Be A Lady Tonight.” Dressed in a slick, dark Rat-Pack suit, he confidently croons, “I’m playing blackjack online. I’m playing roulette online. Feeling like a mogul hittin’ jackpots on my mobile. I’m playing Caesar’s online!”
Attractive, young women in the casino gaze seductively at him as he strolls by, and the ad ends with him on a red couch cozying up to his very own smokin’ hot brunette in a miniskirt. They’re in front of a blazing fireplace, with a PC opened on her lap, presumably to the Caesar’s online gaming site.
Come on. Feeling like a mogul? Last time I checked, “mogul” was defined (on dictionary.com) as,”an important, powerful, or influential person.” You know – like Donald Trump. Does anyone dream that The Donald sits around playing slot machines, whether online, on a brunette’s lap, or otherwise?
I recall another TV ad for New Jersey online gaming that shows a man with a laptop sitting by himself on a couch in his home. He clicks onto an online gaming site, and suddenly he’s no longer alone, but rather surrounded by all the accoutrements of a bustling casino: a buxom waitress in a bustier with a tray of drinks, a maitre’d offering up a plate overflowing with a juicy steak, a dealer offering up a card with a wink and a smile, a crowd of friends cheering behind him, and slapping his back.
But the reality is that when you’re gambling online, you’re alone. You’re watching cards appear on the screen, and anxiously monitoring your corresponding bank of money, hoping to make the number go up. It’s just you, your dwindling bank account, the lonely clicking of your mouse, and those inexorable odds.
There are an estimated 350,000 compulsive gamblers in New Jersey alone. By now, everyone knows that gambling is as addictive, and potentially as destructive, as tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Yet while advertising for booze and cigarettes is closely regulated, and requires warnings about the serious health hazards of using those products, gaming seemingly gets a free pass. The ads for online gaming are filled with misleading images of happy people winning money and frolicking in an imaginary casino as they rack up jackpots online. Without any hint that losing is at least a possibility (indeed, a mathematical certainty), isn’t that false advertising?
It’s ironic that the Caesar’s ad, relentlessly upbeat, uses the tune from “Luck Be A Lady,” a song in which Sky Masterson, a hard-core gambler, pleads with lady luck not to desert him, and laments her “very un-ladylike way of running out.” Similarly, there should be a prominent disclaimer at the end of every casino gaming ad that goes something like this: “WARNING – The results shown are not typical.
Most people who engage in casino gambling will lose money.”
It’s a pretty low standard – let’s hold the casinos to the same standard of honesty as the Broadway show tune whose lyrics they’d like us to ignore.