Do Statheads Tend To Be Betting Men?
September 07, 2009, 03:59 PM
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When I was a freshman in college, a high school friend whose dad was one of the top bookies in LA gave me a free subscription to his dad's football betting newsletter, the Gold Sheet, which I see has now been in business for 50 years, so it's time-tested. It's modus operandi is to barter inside information on injuries and the like, so these guys aren't just selling their opinions.

Each week, I'd look through the Gold Sheet's predictions for college football games looking for ones I disagreed with. I'd pick one to five games per week where I thought the Gold Sheet was wrong on its point spread prediction. I believe my cumulative record for the year was 19-7 against the Gold Sheet's point spread predictions (not against the Las Vegas line, by the way).

I recount that because that's the last time I took an active interest in gambling. And, keep in mind, that I didn't actually bet any money. I just kept track to see how I would do if I had bet against the Gold Sheet's line.

Since then, despite being a classic stathead, I can recall buying two one dollar lottery tickets (when the jackpot was over $100,000,000, because it's fun to think about what you'd do with, what, $2.5 million per year pretax for 20 years — in contrast, when the jackpot's only $1,000,000 it's depressing to think about what you'd with an extra $30k per year, because you quickly realize that you really need an extra $30k per year just to stay afloat, so why spend a buck to be reminded of that?).

In other words, I'm not at all interested in gambling. Learning probability just taught the lesson that the odds are rigged against you, so why play?

On the other hand, the late stathead journalist Dan Seligman, who probably was about as similar to me in general turn of mind as anybody, was a devoted gambler. (Here's his 1997 article about his weekly poker game, straight out of a Billy Wilder movie, that had been a fixture in Manhattan business and journalism circles since 1954.)

So, here's the question: does being a stathead tend to make you more or less likely to be a gambler?