Monday, October 4, 1999

The Rat Pack

By Joann Floyd (TMF Hunzi)

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas with a few friends. It was my first time there. I was amazed at what I saw.

First, I should explain I was a psychology major. I had to spend a couple of semesters training rats to do all sorts of neat tricks. My personal favorites were teaching the rat to hit the lever for a treat and to run a maze.

If you want to teach a rat to hit a lever, you let it explore the cage and hit the lever by accident; when it does, out comes that yummy rat munchie. Now, it doesn't take long for a rat to put two and two together, so it starts hitting the lever more regularly. Then if you want to get the rat to hit the lever more consistently, you begin to vary the reward interval. Make the reward random and the rat will hit the lever over and over -- because it doesn't know when the treat will arrive, but it knows pressing that lever has to pay off sometime.

Fast forward to Vegas. I walked into our hotel and found myself in a casino trying to search for the registration desk. As I walked through the maze-like paths to the desk, what did I see? Levers. Slot machines with random payoffs. Put your money in, pull the lever, get a pay off. Maybe. If not, put your money in, pull the lever, get a pay off. Maybe. You don't know when that magical payoff will happen. It's totally random.

There were a few other things that amused me. The casino my friends were staying in had a moving sidewalk to make it easier to get into the casino, but there wasn't one to get back up the ramp to get out. Hmmmm. Then there was the way you had to walk through the casinos to get to anything else. Want to walk from your hotel elevator to the door? Walk through the casino. Enter from the second story walkway and need to get to the elevators? You have to go down a flight and walk through the casino. Hmmmm.

Want to know what time it is? You had better bring a watch. There were no clocks to be seen. You can't tell from the lighting inside or out either. Hmmmm. Toss in a lot of lights and noise to over-stimulate your brain, put a few flashing buttons on the slot machines, but not on the Cash Out button, and you might just hit the Play Again button by accident. Hmmmm again.

I don't think gambling is very Foolish. The odds are always stacked against you. I don't think there's anything wrong with spending a few bucks and having a little fun, but as I wandered in and out of the various casinos, I saw countless people sitting alone in front of slot machines. Faces blank, cup of coins/chips in hand: putting in the cash, pulling the lever, putting in the cash, and pulling the lever... just like the rats.
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