Friday, 9 September 2011

Life's a gamble

I don’t ever gamble. Well, not in casinos or lotteries. That’s mainly because I’m pretty good at maths. I know that the chances of winning in either of these situations are seriously low and I know that, on average, gamblers spend more money than they win. Yes, I know we’ve all heard of people who’ve won a fortune but that’s only after hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of other less fortunate people have lost. It’s the loser’s money that the winners win. And there’s still enough left over to make healthy profit for the organisers.

Frankly I’d rather keep my money and play safe rather than throw it into a big hole marked “gambling”.

Gambling is about the unrealistic management of risk. What you and I need to spend more time doing is realistically managing the risk we face. The best example I know is insurance. Insurance is an unbelievably useful thing. I know from personal experience. I bought a second-hand car from a major dealership a year ago. It was only a few years old but because it was fairly new they offered me an extended warranty for just over P3,000. My initial reaction was to say no, but I gave it a moment’s thought and signed on the dotted line. Last month it was diagnosed as needing a new gearbox and the extended warranty is now contributing P12,000 towards the cost. That was a good gamble on my part and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for saving nine grand.

However I’ve been personally accused on several occasions of taking unnecessary risk. Mainly this resulted from me calling the so-called “traditional healers” who advertise in local newspapers as a bunch of lying, cheating, scheming scumbags. Despite some of my more superstitious friends and readers who believe there might be something in their miraculous claims, I genuinely, truly believe that these people are liars. They know they have no paranormal skills, they know they can’t cure the disorders they claim to control and they are perfectly aware that they are criminals. I am convinced that they are consciously abusing the public. They are a very low form of life and they deserve to be condemned.

However, even though I’ve had some threats from these scumbags, including promises of instant death, lightning strikes and eternal damnation, I’m prepared to take a chance and run those risk. None of these things has happened yet and I think it’s a fairly safe gamble they won’t ever.

Unfortunately not everyone has my confidence in mathematics.

We had an email recently from a reader who wanted to complain about a competition being run by one of the cellphone providers. He had some valid questions about how the competition was run and how the winners were selected which we’ll pass on to the provider running the competition but there was a line in his email that amused me. He finished the email by saying:
“I have so far spent close to P500 in the last 3 weeks and not won. I am now beginning to suspect the process.”
Where should I begin? Do I really need to say that when you enter a lottery, unless you buy every single available ticket, there’s no guarantee that you’ll win? Do I need to say that just wanting to win isn’t enough? Do I need to say that gambling just isn’t fair, that some times (in fact almost every time) you lose?

Unfortunately it’s only when you learn the mathematics of lotteries that you realise that they’re simply not worth your time any money. Ask yourself this every time you see a competition. Are they being generous or being selfish?

Personally I think that the ignorance, or perhaps I should be polite and say “naivete”, that leads people to throw their money into lotteries and casinos is exactly the same that leads people into pyramid schemes. Anyone with a basic knowledge of maths will know that a business model that offers income in proportion to the number of people you recruit, and the numbers they in turn recruit and so on, is destined to fail. We understand exponential growth and understand that it can’t be sustained in a limited population. We understand that pyramid schemes, all pyramid schemes, without exception, are destined to fail.

But those without an understanding of maths are at a profound disadvantage. They don’t understand, for instance, that anyone who joins a criminal scheme like TVI Express is going to lose money. That’s just a fact. Just as it’s a fact that they’re criminals. TVI Express has been outlawed in Namibia, Indonesia and the US State of Georgia. They’ve been investigated by authorities in a host of other countries and without exception these authorities have ended up warning consumers to steer way clear of them. A matter of days ago it was also outlawed in Lesotho. With a little luck it’ll be outlawed here in Botswana as well. Unfortunately until it’s outlawed here people will continue to fall for the lies that TVI Express people tell to recruit people and steal their money.

But do I blame the victims? No, they can be forgiven for naivete. Of course I blame the TVI Express distributors here and the founders abroad. Who are exploiting the mathematically naïve. I also blame a rather unlikely organization. I blame the Ministry of Education for not sufficiently educating our kids to protect themselves from scammers like TVI Express. I blame our educators for not equipping students with the skills necessary to protect themselves. I blame our national failure to teach maths in a fun way to more pupils. Not teaching our kids maths is perhaps the greatest gamble we can take.

This week’s stars
  • The staff at the Sedia Hotel in Maun for “welcome with a smile”.

1 comment:

Kasey Chang said...

Lottery has been often described as a tax on the poor (or the ignorant)

Basically, people buy lottery for the DREAM of winning, not the odds. It is very similar with scams... They sell a dream of getting something for little money or effort.

TVI Express and similar scams offer an enticing dream: sufficient money to change one's life, perhaps. And they present themselves as "new and different" so people don't think about its core as a scam, or when they do think about it, they can rationalize it away as "hard work".

That makes it a fraud on several levels of misrepresentation.