Earlier I wrote about how I prepare for a gambling trip. There are a few trip rituals I have, too, which got me thinking about rituals and superstition in Las Vegas. When playing Pai Gow Poker, I always pick up my cards with my right hand and tap them 3 times before looking at them. I’ve seen other players squeeze out one card at a time. I always park on Level 7 at my local airport and avoid parking on Level 4 anywhere. I traditionally get a ‘Welcome to Las Vegas Martini’ once I get to my hotel regardless of the time. I always tip the cocktail server – even for coffee and water (I am a firm believer in Karma).
When it comes to games of chance, why not take every (legal) opportunity to make sure the odds swing in your favor. These quirky practices have created a culture of superstition that reaches all over the globe, from the numerical superstitions of the Far East to the casino capital of the world, Las Vegas.
Some studies show that superstitious beliefs can improve performance in certain situations, even though the behavior and the event are not linked. Research by team of psychologists at the University of Cologne found that belief in a superstition or charm can directly increase a person’s belief in their own abilities. By studying a group of students taking tests, scientists were able to gauge a significant increase in the confidence levels of the students who kept charms. This, in turn, impacted their ability to complete the tasks effectively. In a further experiment, participants were given tasks by an invigilator (exam proctor/supervisor) who told half of the students “I’ll cross my fingers for you”. This half of the students performed much better than the half who were not told the same supportive phrase.
I believe in the power of positive thinking and gauge my mood and mindset before playing poker. If I am not feeling good and motivated to play, I don’t do it. I have skipped tournaments because I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it that morning. I’ve also had nice successes when in the right mindset. I recall playing a daily tournament in Atlantic City many years ago where I almost didn’t enter because I had woken up too late to get breakfast before the start of the tournament and just wasn’t ready to play. I took the time to get breakfast, reassessed how I felt (I felt really good) and managed to enter a few minutes before late entry closed. Within a few hands of sitting down, I was in command of that table. I went on to win that tournament. Maybe it was coincidence. But I believe that my mindset played a big part of that win.
Conversely, if you genuinely believe that playing poker with your legs crossed brings bad fortune, but you do it anyway, you are more likely to lose because subconsciously you expect that result. If you do lose, it reinforces your belief, and the vicious cycle continues. This is exacerbated by selective amnesia, where players only remember events that correspond to their own set of beliefs about the event. They forget everything else that happened that day and only focus on the one aspect that they believe helped them to win, such as which day of the week it was or which pants they were wearing. Some players go without certain items of clothing to help them win. For example, some roulette players to go without wearing socks to improve their chances at the wheel. At some point in time, a roulette player must have had one hell of a winning streak without their socks on, which subsequently led to other players buying into the superstition. Similarly, when a player loses, they try to discover what may have caused the misfortune. If they have experienced several losing sessions with a certain dealer, they may try to use a different table in an effort to improve their fortune.
Number superstitions are also rife in Las Vegas. It is unlucky to say the number seven out loud at a craps table or use $50 bills to pay for chips or gaming debts. Most casino hotels do not have a thirteenth floor due to the bad connotations attached to that number, and some of them (like the Rio) even skip floor numbers starting with the number four, as it sounds like the Chinese word for death. A new player entering a new table, lending money, or rotating your chair while playing are also said to bring misfortune. And don’t even think about whistling or singing as you play.
Even the way you enter the casino can set your game off on the wrong foot. Using a casino s main entrance is said to be a big no-no if you want to hit the jackpot. This superstition might have stemmed from the time that the MGM Grand opened in Las Vegas in 1993. By using its roaring lion logo as the inspiration for the main entrance, many people did not want to enter the casino, as it conjured images of throwing oneself into the jaws of a lion. The entrance was re-designed just five years later (to what you now see) in an attempt to entice superstitious players back in.
Are there any rituals or superstitions you follow when in Las Vegas?