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Selena City

by Miriam English

04 - Tourists

Thanks to Henna I felt pretty good as I settled down on my couch to do a bit of work. A lot of map data had been compiled during the night showing video feeds that had been tampered with... at least the ones that we knew of. It would take time to find all the fake video feeds. Minds smarter at this kind of thing than mine had been trying to discern some kind of pattern, and I didn't hold out much hope that I could help, but you never know...

It looked like a pretty hopeless mess, which undoubtedly was the intention. I couldn't see anything in it, no matter how I organised it.

Only several minutes into my shift, a call came in from David at the call tree, for somebody to deal with a problem gambler. I hated handling these poor bastards, but someone had to do it. I told David I'd take it and left.

This guy was on one of the main casino floors at the poker machines. He'd been putting far too much money in and an alert had been set off when he exceeded a certain fraction of his bank balance. We try to screen out gambling addicts, but it isn't always possible.

I hurried up there through the maze of corridors. The main casino floor was in the older, central part of the City, right on the inner edge of Waratah, only a couple of levels below the surface.

Near my apartment the corridors were wide and had variety and distinctive decorations. The closer I got to the older parts the narrower and more uniform the corridors became, with plain carpet underfoot, subdued lighting overhead, featureless walls, and apartment doors indistinguishable from each other except by the number set into each.

Finally the corridors abruptly widened to a series of foyers with polished stone floors, fountains, high ceilings, and decorative plants, then through large glass doors to the constant noise and crowds of one of the main gambling floors. The light here never changed -- day, night, it was always lit the same.

Virtually one hundred percent of the gamblers in here were tourists. It held very little interest for residents. The glitter wore off quickly.

I signalled the staff here and asked them about their problem gambler.

Terry, the young attendant who'd called it in to security, came over. I liked Terry. Everybody liked Terry. He'd grown up here after being abandoned here by his Earth parents. I grinned and waved to him.

"Hey Adele! The guy is over there on the end machine. He's wearing the green shirt and white hat. See him?"

I did. "What's he like?"

"I asked him to take a rest from gambling when I could see he wasn't just having a bit of fun. He got agitated and refused to leave, so I left him alone and put the call in to you guys to come and handle him."

I thanked Terry and went to go see what was the best way to manage this guy. They're all different.

I approached him. He looked tense and was continuously feeding the machine with tokens. He was definitely not a happy camper. He threw me a suspicious, sideways glance without breaking his rhythm.

"My name is Adele and I'm from security. I'm here because you are about to reach your limit and I need you to come with me." Then I silently sent the shutdown code to his poker machine.

He was horrified. He couldn't take his eyes off the dead machine. "No! Turn it back on! I need my money back." The volume of his voice was increasing. "You can't just take my money and then switch the machine off before I get a chance to get some of it back! I need that money!"

I put on my calmest, most soothing voice. "I can't turn the machine on, but I am here to help you." I lowered my voice conspiratorially, "I can get your money back." I beckoned while looking around with what I hoped was a guilty look and whispered, "Come with me." This usually worked.

He wavered for a moment, then curiosity and desperation took hold and he followed me. I led through the mass of people to a side door. It was locked, but opened at my touch. He paused momentarily at the door, but need won and he came on. When the door closed behind him the noise level from the gambling floor blessedly dropped and we made our way down the narrow, grey corridor. I opened one of the nameless doors and entered. He was becoming uncertain and slowed at the doorway to the small, featureless room. "What's this?"

I took a seat at the table, indicating the other for him, and answered, "This is where I give you the money you lost."

He frowned, uncertain, and beginning to find this unconvincing. "Just like that? No strings?"

"Yes, just like that, but there are definitely strings attached." I adopted a casual pose, leaning back in my seat, indicated the door. "Please, close the door and have a seat. There is no pressure and you don't have to do anything you don't want. I promise you, you'll like this." I made my smile as disarming as possible, to reassure him.

When he was seated I sent a command to the table to display a document on its surface. "This is a contract. If you sign it you will get the money that you lost."

"What are the conditions?" He was very suspicious of course. I'm sure he'd seen lots of movies about crooks who get the goods on people and manoeuver them into devil's bargains.

"Just three." I held up my index finger and spoke softly, reasonably. "One. That you never tell anyone about this conversation or this contract. As far as you're concerned you never lost the money." I watched a frown grow on his face. Good. He was hooked. I raised my middle finger. "Two. You never gamble at Selena City again. You'll still be welcome here, but not to gamble." Not waiting for a reaction, I raised my ring finger. "Three. You hear me out over the next several minutes."

I waited and watched the puzzlement grow.

"I don't want to sign anything till I hear what you're going to say." He thought he'd found the catch.

I smiled with relief. "Good. At the end you're free to sign or not, as you see fit." I put my hands on the table, palms upward to convey openness. "You want to know why a gambling casino would give people's money back." I raised my eyebrows. "Well, it's simple really. We don't like problem gamblers. They're bad for business. Normally we try to screen out such people, but occasionally," I indicated him, "some slip through. It's in your and our interests to fix that."

I paused for a moment to let him digest it, then went on. "Most people come here to do a little gambling and have some fun, though how anybody could ever think gambling was any kind of fun is beyond me. Anyway, there's no shortage of people coming here for some light gambling; we don't need problem gamblers. The City relies on tourism and what's bad for the tourists is bad for the City.

"So... here's the thing I want you to understand: all gambling is rigged. The only guaranteed winner is the house." I watched his face. I hadn't got through to him yet. "It's true. The only way to win is if you gamble for a short time, have a lucky break and quit."

I dug a metal token out of my pants pocket and put it on the table. "If I flip a coin a few times it wouldn't be terribly surprising if I flipped three heads in a row, right? It's not what they call a statistically significant sample. But if I take a larger sample by flipping a thousand times then the ratio will be much closer to 50:50. In fact the longer I flip the coin then the closer it approaches 50:50."

I pressed on. "Now, the gambling machines out there don't have even chances. They have an ideal loss rate of 20%. That is, they operate 60:40 in the favour of the house. It is possible for you to make a win in the first few games, but the longer you gamble the closer you approach the ideal loss rate."

I let that sink in. "You were never going to win. Continued gambling simply guaranteed your loss."

Time to change direction. "Do you have a family?"

"Uh, yes. Janine, she's my wife, and our two kids."

"Do you love them?"

He nodded.

I leaned forward, frowned at him and hissed, "Then what the hell were you thinking? You blew more than you earn in a year! What were you going to tell them? Sorry kids, no luxuries this year because Daddy doesn't understand simple statistics!? Sorry honey, food's gonna be a bit thin for a while too. How could you do this to them!?"

I rested back in my chair again, fixing him with a disapproving stare and waited for him.

He stared at the table with the contract image on it for a while and started to shake his head. "I didn't know. I didn't think..."

This was my chance. I used a stern, but friendly voice, "Now you do know. Do you understand why nobody can win at long-term gambling? Do you see why, if I'd left you at that machine you'd have simply lost everything?"

He nodded and I nodded back to him, said in a softer voice, "Then read the contract, sign it, take your money, don't ever, ever gamble again, and treat your family with more respect."

Dazedly picking up the stylus, he read the short contract and signed it. The image winked off and I got up. "The money's back in your account. You understand that if you tell anybody about our big-heartedness we'll deny it and take the money back." It's odd how nobody ever caught the contradiction there: how could we possibly enforce a contract which we would deny?

Just then I got another call from David. He must have been listening and waiting till he could interrupt. I silently sent him a request to hold for a moment. "Look I just got another call. Please understand that you're blocked from gambling here ever again, though you're welcome to partake of the City's non-gambling pleasures. Just be careful, okay? I have to go. Can you find your way out? Just down the corridor to the end."

He nodded humbly, gratefully. "Thank you."

I smiled. "Don't thank me. Find Terry and thank him. He's the floor assistant who called it in. You were rude to him and he saved your butt." I turned and walked the other way while David told me about a problem they were having in Arrivals.

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