So here’s a theory of the crime for Sunday night’s Massacre at Mandalay Bay. No, that’s over-stating things. What I have is less a theory than a backstory, a way of explaining how this could have happened.
This is all strictly conjecture, but I thought Video Poker might be the problem from the first.
A ‘Local’ in Nevada is someone whose gambling addiction is daily and constant, not simply periodic and episodic.
Are there non-gamblers in Nevada? Plenty, including the world’s third biggest supply of Mormons.
Do (non-Mormon) non-gamblers move to Nevada by choice? Not so much. When people move to Nevada by choice – not in the military, not for a job, but as a freely-chosen relocation – it’s likely they are doing so for Nevada-ish reasons.
At a minimum they may be genial Georges, people who get a kick out of paying better for better service. Georges are lonely, and it is often the case that the people they are essentially paying for companionship are the only semblance of family they have left.
Yes, that is de facto prostitution, but you don’t have to go to Nevada to find it. Every waitress with a cadre of daily regulars is banking on her smile – and making the world richer for it.
Georges gamble, too, of course, but their prize is the companionship, not the gambling. Most of the people who move to Nevada by choice are true Locals – people who were already coming to gamble a lot and who relocated so they might gamble at will.
And the game of games for Locals is Video Poker. It’s the game all the toothless addicts out in the Vegas Valley cadge quarters for, and it’s the game that solitary Georges deploy at any stakes – anywhere – to stave off the boredom of dissipation.
All gambling is negative-expectation: In the long run, your net return-on-investment will always be lower than your initial investment. The ‘hold’ – the negative interest rate, as it were – can be small or large, but this loop, illustrating a 3% hold without all the hoopla
while (MyBankroll * .97);
terminates when MyBankroll equals zero – which it cannot fail eventually to do.
All gambling is negative expectation, so all gamblers must lose in the long run. Reread that sentence as many times as necessary.
Oh, but what about all the generous ‘comps’ you get when you gamble? You pay for them. Casinos will comp you to around 30% of your anticipated losses. Repeat those last three words as many times as necessary. They know you’re going to lose. Why can’t you figure it out?
No, the casino has such confidence in your skills as a loser that it’s willing to pay you a commission of thirty cents on the dollar for every greenback you flush into its gold-plated toilets.
Kinda sick, huh? They’re not just in the business of feeding your vice – bad enough – they’re actually betting on it – with money they won from you! They’re betting they can make you even more foolish with your money, and, accordingly, the ‘gifts’ they ‘comp’ you with are all devised to induce you to extend and rejoice in your losing streak.
The waitress in the diner sells you her pretty smile for an extra buck on the tip – and she may not even have a strategic motive behind that smile. The casino sells and sells and sells you “the incomparable luxury of carefree spending” – and you think they’re showing you their love for you.
And Video Poker is the perfect game for Locals. All video games are addictive – ask your kid, if you can get his attention – and Video Poker augments hand play with mental play. It’s a skill game, and, because of that, the machine’s net hold can be lower than that on an ordinary slot machine: Most people will play poorly, losing more than they would with merely random results, so skilled players can net more.
That’s Local-bait just by itself: Being a Local means being one-up on the Tourists and Georges – being in on the real score.
Wanna make things worse? Some Video Poker machines are set for a positive expected value: Played perfectly and infinitely, the machine will pay $1.02 for every dollar you put into it. If that sounds like an opportunity to you, please revisit the two words in bold as many times as you need to.
Meanwhile, the swings on all Video Poker machines are huge. Even on a 102% Deuces Wild multi-line machine (they exist), it might take hundreds of bets into the red to get back into the black – for a little while.
Are your pockets that deep? Almost no one’s are. And almost no one can play perfectly for hours on end. And the machine you’re playing on is almost certainly neg-EV, anyway. If you don’t know how to read the fine print on the pay table, you have no idea what the hold is. If you put in twenty bucks and pulled out ten, you’re today’s big Video Poker winner: You stopped before you were all the way broke.
There are reports that Stephen Paddock’s life was rich in casino visits, and other reports that his pet affliction was Video Poker. Those may prove to be erroneous. In any case, I’ve seen nothing that authoritatively describes the man’s style of play. For all I know, he came to Las Vegas for the magic shows.
But pile these elements together and see what comes out:
Take a lonely old George with no family to speak of. Turn him into a Local. Get him addicted to Video Poker, like so many of the other Locals. And then comp him richly for all the riches he’s leaving behind – in exchange for what he thinks is your love and friendship.
What happens when a guy like that wakes up to the con? Why would he? How about when the money starts to run out? Not so much love, lately, but maybe some new mortgage debt?
What happens when a man throws everything he has into what he sees as being his family – and then that family betrays him?
Happens all the time. The headline reads, “Man kills wife, kids, self.” Now scale the same kind of story up by millions of dollars, over the years. Scale it up to the thirty-second floor.
Vice mechanics are always prepared to blame their clients: “So what if he OD’d? I didn’t stick the needle in his arm, did I?” Listen for a version of that argument in the coming days from Mandalay Bay’s corporate flacks: “Please be addicted responsibly.”
Here’s the question we should be asking: How much has MGM/Grand, Mandalay’s ownership, comped Stephen Paddock over the years?
Even more horrifying: Were the rooms from which he slaughtered five dozen innocents, injuring hundreds more – were those rooms comped to him by the casino?
And you thought the shooting was ugly…
This may not be what really happened, but it’s a backstory that explains the awful crime as what it undoubtedly is:
A colossally poor choice made by a man who had habituated and amplified his poor choices over the course of years.
PS on October 5: The Backstory Game is winning big so far: High-stakes high-C obsessive video poker, the illusion of profitability, camped room. It still reads like Ci vengeance to me.
As discussed below in the comments, Mandalay’s liability is huge: Comping is due diligence, piercing the hotelier’s claimed veil of ignorance: I cannot claim that I do not know my explicitly-invited guest. Failing to vet Paddock – or even to know what he was up to – is grossly indifferent negligence. My bet is that the corridors at Sunrise Hospital are jammed with check-writing lawyers.