Matthew Yglesias has hit the nail dead on on the implications of McCain’s gambling problem — the conflict of interest, the poor judgment, and certainly the degree to which someone who can bang away thousands a session is divorced from the experience of ordinary folk.
What neither he nor I in this post conveyed was one other aspect of McCain’s game of choice that has to make you wonder about the capacity for judgment for anyone who truly has the craps bug.
Remember — McCain doesn’t just go hit the craps table in passing. This is the kind of gambling he likes, so much so that he would be willing to risk his presidential campaign to get a table hauled up to his (free) room. He’s got a jones, not a casual interest.
And that pits him against the relentless mathematics of craps. A quick look at the odds of craps is enough to give you the overview, but just to make sure that my basic quantitative intuition was backed up by the facts, I sought a quick expert reality check. Here is what the seemingly inexhaustible Brad DeLong told me would serve as synoptic view:
In craps, you lose 1.5% of your bet with each roll. At a ten-chip bet
rolling once a minute, your expected loss is $15.0 a minute–$900/hour, or $3600 for a four-hour evening at the table.
Think on the implications of this rate of expected losses. There is little doubt that over an extended session a persistent player will hit a few happy rolls, with all the hedonic reward of a big win. But the reality over any even moderately long run is steady erosion. Drip, drip, drip — a few bucks here, a few bucks next roll, maybe a pop, then another twenty down the tubes and so on.
Last summer, Time reported that McCain’s “goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial” — which is a very good thing, for to see the tables as a earning proposition would reveal an even greater degree of financial ignorance than has been on display recently. Instead, say these sources, “He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.”
The thrill of winning? He’s playing for that momentary glow that comes only against the background of that 1.5 % toll, grinding away over the hours, until, unless something very fishy is going on over weeks and months, McCain like every other craps fool, walks away with lighter pockets than those with which he began.
Is your model of a president a man who values momentary thrills more than long term consequences? Mine isn’t.