Last week’s episode of This American Life, a national radio show that broadcasts on WHYY at noon on Sundays, is all about gambling.
I’m not a regular listener, but I tuned in to the podcast because in one of the show’s three segments, host Ira Glass and producer Robyn Semien learn how to count cards. This is a way to tilt the odds in your favor while playing blackjack and, while not technically illegal, is frowned upon by casinos, and you will be asked to move along if they suspect you of doing it.
Card counting is hard to do, apparently. They attempt to do so in an Atlantic City casino. They don’t say which —casinos don’t let journalists report from the floor, so they recorded secretly — just that they played at the lowest limit table at said casino, which was $10 a hand. Glass also reported that he lost $348 in two hours.
It was an interesting segment, as is the final one in the show, but for a different reason. It outlines how one woman lost more than $1 million between different Harrah’s casinos around the country, and the ways in which the casino got her to keep playing even when she wanted to stop. It’s a startling look into problem gambling, and how casinos reward work. The more she lost, the more she was offered — things like a room with a grand piano and a butler (I’ve seen rooms like this at the Borgata), and diamonds for her and her daughter.
It’s a sobering account, and worth listening to whether you gamble or not.