No good gambler would ever admit to a fellow player that they follow superstitions or have a lucky charm on them each time they approach a table or machine to try their luck; it would be poor form to admit to crediting an object or act other than skill for any win, however small. It is a fact though, that we inevitably fall into patterns around the ritual of gambling, which bring about some intriguing superstitions shared by gamblers around the world.
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A recent survey by a leading internet company found that 80% of gamblers have a particular ritual, charm or superstition when it comes to their gambling habits. Most common among these are related to food, clothes or repeated gestures, including but not limited to rabbit’s feet, lucky coins, wearing red, a lucky item of clothing, eating a particular dish or enjoying a special cocktail before playing, or tapping the machine, crossing your fingers or indeed always playing with a particular hand (the choice is limited but nonetheless extremely important for superstitious gamblers).
Superstitions are not to be smirked at, and indeed the thought that you have done everything in your power to increase your chances of winning provides a reassuring sense of control over the entire act of gambling, which in itself is an unknown. In most cases luck has just as much to answer for as skill. If you feel confident and in control, you’re more likely to make rational decisions and be calm whilst aiming high. Putting aside the more personal superstitions linked to unique items or acts, here’s a countdown of some of the most popular universal gambling superstitions and how to use them to your advantage.
Blowing on dice
This is a popular sight in casino-themed films and clips, with a slow-motion swooping shot of a dashing lothario or elegant vixen blowing desire-laden air from pouted lips over the dice which are about to be flung across the table. Most people who maintain this tradition no longer do so for reasons that they can explain, other than habit, and the origins of it are hotly debated: it may date back to when craps was played on the mean streets of the big cities, and the blow would be to ensure that the dice were clean and would roll trouble free. One alternative explanation is that cheaters would coat the side they wanted it to land on with a sticky substance which would be activated by a swift blow of air on that side before rolling. Indeed in these cases, blowing really could increase your chances of winning, but now it’s more hot air than anything else.
The number 13
Before you run off and start betting on the number 13, be warned: this superstition is one of misfortune, not a bringer of luck – or at least in most cultures. Most gamblers will try to steer clear of this number whenever they can, be it on the roulette wheel, in sizes of bets or even the date. It is well known that many regular customers will avoid the casino floor on Friday the 13th, but naysayers who don’t buy into the superstition will take advantage of the less-crowded tables and bet high, which compensates for the dip in client numbers. You can’t always avoid the number 13 though: in a typical deck of cards there are 13 values in each suit and the US flag has 13 stripes. In Italy, however, the number is lauded for its good fortune, and the idea of rejecting the number because of superstitions is almost unheard of.
The main entrance
It’s not unusual to see people entering casinos through side entrances, or avoiding a casino altogether if the entrance resembles the mouth of an animal. This is most common in China, where the world’s gambling capital of Macau is to be found, far outstripping Las Vegas in gambling turnover. It therefore beggars belief that one of the US’ major gambling companies, which now has dealings in Macau, unveiled their new Las Vegas casino in the 1990s, boasting a giant lion’s head as the entrance feature. Punters would have to walk through the gaping mouth of the beast to bet on anything, and so Chinese gamblers were greatly put off from setting foot in the building. In order to not do themselves a disservice the company renovated and got rid of the lion, allowing superstitious gamblers to return, free from fear of being brought bad luck upon entering the casino.
Penny for the fountain
There’s something ever so romantic about throwing coins into a fountain and making a secret wish for love, wealth or good health. In Las Vegas, and other gambling super-highways, fountains are set up for the very purpose of appealing to people’s superstitious side, so that before setting out for a night of adrenaline-pumping high-stakes games, visitors can throw a coin or two into the crystal abyss and hope for the best. Of course, fountains also offer pleasant aesthetic highlights, but it can’t have failed to occur to casino owners that encouraging customers to throw money in with the hope of winning would also be a nice little side-earner, with no risk of having to pay out a jackpot!
Man against the machine
Though it’s a common superstition to not change to a new table when playing poker, craps or roulette, it’s just as common to try and stick to the same slot machine but try and trick it into thinking that you’re a new player. The belief is that you’ll be treated to a new, clean set of odds, and the machine won’t realise that you’ve already emptied its coffers, or lost stacks of coins already. This can be done by using fresh slot cards, or cashing in all your winnings and starting again at regular intervals. You may also see many slot players treating the machine in rather too human a way, stroking it, talking to it, or even sometimes kissing or licking it. Like any superstition, this is more for the sake of the believer than any real impact on the game, but if it makes a gambler happier, and it doesn’t break the machine, then it can’t be too much of a bad thing.