The lure and allure of gambling
by Karl Allan Barlaan and Christian Cardiente
On any given day, the average gambler makes choices representing a multiplicity of odds and possibilities. Rarely however will these choices include quitting regardless of how much or how many times a bettor has lost a wager.
While the nation is riveted to the string of exposés about the illegal numbers game, jueteng, there remains a dearth of information on why gambling —illegal or state-sanctioned, in obscure far-flung barangays or posh tourism destinations—permeates Philippine society with the resilience of a national pastime, and for some, an addiction.
On Sept. 22, in a privilege speech, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago came out with her own list of jueteng operators and protectors. Alongside the exposé was the recommendation for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to be compelled to include a disclaimer in their advertisements: “In gambling devices based on the playing of numbers, the odds against the individual player are extremely great.”
In her presentation of the pros and cons of what she called the morality of gambling, Santiago cited the gambler’s mantra: “if gambling results are random, so is life itself.”
But what really are the statistics behind the randomness of our most popular games and how do they compare to the randomness of real life?
The numbers behind numbers games
For the PCSO’s 6/42 lotto, the odds of hitting the jackpot (getting all six numbers from a choice of 42) are 1 in more than 5 million (5,245,786)—equivalent to being hit by a lightning twice in a lifetime, assuming the first does not end it.
The MegaLotto 6/45 has odds of 1 in 8 million (8,145,060) or about the same probability as dying from a shark attack anywhere in the world.
For the 6/49 SuperLotto, the odds of getting the grand prize are 1 in almost 14 million (13,983,816), just a little less than the probability of two golfers in a group of four making a hole-in-one on the exact same hole.
For the 6/55 Grand Lotto, these are 1 in close to 30 million (29,989,675)— odds greater than the possibility of one being canonized into sainthood, which stands at 1 in 20 million.
For jueteng, getting the correct two-number combination while choosing from 37 numbers, has odds of 1 in 1,369 (assuming an honest draw). The payout stands to the operators’ advantage. He pays anywhere from a high of P900 in areas where the state-sanctioned Small Town Lottery (STL) operates, to a low of P400 where it does not.
STL, which presents a menu of 40 numbers has odds of 1 in 1,560, and pays P800 for every peso wagered - inferior and designed to fail in comparison to its underground counterpart, according to Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.
An industry on the rise
Despite these odds, the gambling industry is unperturbed in its steady ascent, both on the legal and illegal fronts.
In 2009, in spite of the global financial crisis where even the gambling Mecca, Las Vegas, experienced an eight percent rise in unemployment (from 3.8 percent to 12.3 percent) when numerous commercial and gaming establishments closed shop, the Pagcor reported P29.78 billion in unaudited total annual income.
As the entertainment and gaming industries in Asia and the Americas struggled, that of the Philippines continued to flourish. Pagcor’s figures were the highest ever in Philippine history.
But even this did not eat into the expanding market for illegal gambling. According to newly-appointed Philippine National Police Chief Director General Raul Bacalzo, jueteng continues to gain ground in 2010 as a P37-billion industry.
Dean Macomber, international gaming guru and tycoon, estimates the Philippine gambling industry to be worth at least P100 billion, outside of “illegal activities,” which he surmises is worth another P50 billion.
The Social Weather Station, in its most recent survey on gambling done in 2005, estimated that 53 percent of the Filipino adult population or 26.5 million of the projected 50.4 million for the period regularly engaged in one or more forms of gambling, legal or otherwise.
The gambler’s psyche
For self-confessed gambler “Colonel,” as he is called on the craps tables and gambling circuit, the figures for illegal and state-sanctioned gambling no longer astound.
“Ganun talaga, pare (That’s how it is, buddy),” he says. “Lalaruin mo kung ano kaya mo (You’ll play what you can play).”
“Colonel,” a retired police officer once assigned in North Luzon, admits to having been a recipient of the jueteng payola. The payoff is huge according to him; exactly how much, he refused to say.
“Magkano lang ba kita ng pulis? Eto retirado (ako), pero tignan mo kung sino mga kalaro ko (How much does a police officer get in wages, anyway? I’m retired but look at who I’m playing with),” as he enumerated names of other high-rollers.
At any given time, “Colonel” would have no less than P20 thousand wagered on the craps table. He loses or wins six digits in a matter of minutes and claims that he once lost more than a million in just an hour. He admits he has gotten into trouble on a few occasions because of gambling. “Nakapagsanla na rin ako ng kung anu-ano. Minsan nababawi, dito rin. Minsan, hindi. E ganun talaga e. (I’ve pawned things before. Sometimes I get them back, from my winnings here. Sometimes I don’t. That’s how it is),” he narrates.
“Si attorney nga, 6 na kotse na naisanla, di na nabawi ... Isinusuka na ng mga anak (“Attorney” has had 6 cars pawned, which he never got back. His children are repulsed by him),” he tells the story of his gambling buddy, whose first name he admitted he did not really know.
According to him, such is how things are. One gets to be familiar with faces and titles (colonel, attorney, doc), even nationalities (koreano, ‘kano, hapon) but no effort is exerted to know one’s “gambling buddies” on a personal level.
“(Pare-parehong) mga sugapa, siyempre nagkakahiyaan na (we’re all ashamed of the fact that we’re addicted to gambling), “he confessed.
The Colonel’s confessions along with the Pagcor’s record-setting figures break the stereotype that gambling is an escape only for the impoverished.
The lure and allure of gambling
For John Hudson Go who specializes in clinical psychology and Jose Antonio Clemente, a social psychologist, both faculty members at the University of the Philippines—Department of Psychology, “habitual gambling cuts across sectors and social status.”
“Rich, poor, white, brown, black, young, old—anyone can gamble,” said Clemente. “There are too many forms of gambling that it is almost impossible for one not to find a game that is suited to one’s interests, motivations, and budget.”
Other factors include accessibility and availability, which explains “why there is also a high prevalence of online gambling addiction. It has become so convenient to gamble,” adds Clemente.
It is this potent combination of money-making possibilities while engaging in a leisure activity that lures players from all walks of life—rich or poor—to various games of fortune, jueteng, STL, craps, baccarat, pai gow, or pontoon.
The same formula, according to Clemente, is used in jueteng operations where one does not have to leave the comforts of home to place a bet “plus, lotto outlets, bingo places, casinos are everywhere which have made it easier to gamble ... accessibility, availability, and convenience are crucial (in reinforcing a person’s) propensity to gamble.”
Insiders agree that casinos are designed to mimic and even surpass the comforts of home: everything—from the absence of wall clocks and windows, to the entertainment, the freebies, the alcohol, the soft lights, and the labyrinth-like layout—is designed to “hem in” its players.
“A casino is a cacophony of wonderful and alluring stimulation: bells ringing, siren-like lights flashing, change clanging, slot wheels whirring, digital sounds beeping—it’s all captivating... It’s non-verbal communication saying, “Win! Win! Win!” It gives the impression that everyone is indeed winning when, in reality, most are losing,” an internet blog says.
(A very senior official of Pagcor with whom we have been communicating at the beginning of this report, refused to comment on this aspect of the article. We however learned through previous releases that Pagcor is “one of the principal supporters of the Philippine Foundation on Compulsive Gambling, Inc., a non-profit organization which helps affected individuals regain normal lives...” The PFCGI could not be reached for comments.)
“The road to perdition”
According to Clemente, whether one starts gambling for leisure or as a way of making money, “like most addictions, a point will be reached when small bets don’t give the same kind of high anymore (and) it becomes problematic when you have to up the stakes to get the same level of excitement as before.”
For Go, this marks the beginning of compulsive gambling—“when a person’s desire to gamble overrules previously conscientious limits to the gambling behavior. People who gamble compulsively may or may not acknowledge the root cause of their addiction, be it addiction to the thrill of winning, or obsession with getting back the resources they (have) lost.”
According to the clinical psychologist, one may be called a compulsive gambler when “gambling takes over the person’s life (causing) significant loss and handicap not only to the person but to his or her family as well”—conditions not alien to both “Colonel” and “Attorney” and several others, whose losses fuel the growth of an emerging gaming industry.
And while discussions ensue as to whether jueteng—yet another possible growth driver—should be legalized or not, discussions on prospective economic gains continue to take precedence over potential social costs.
Meanwhile, players, bettors, and gamblers—all 26 million of them—will just have to echo the colonel’s favorite expression: “Ganun talaga eh (that’s how it is), regardless of how much the odds are stacked perilously against their favor.
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