My Existential Moment

My Existential Moment

“Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry” Don McLean, American Pie.

I live in Bermuda, this curious chunk of rock located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is often confused with being in the Caribbean, but it is 916 miles north by northeast of the Bahamas and just basically sits out in the middle of the Atlantic all by itself. It is between the US and the UK in a geographic sense and in a great many other respects, as well.

While Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory and so contains many elements of British law and culture, it is much closer geographically to the US, and this too shapes its life and culture. Our TV stations are basically American, 80% of our tourism is generated from North America, our products and foodstuffs come from the US, and the biggest season for our betting shops is the National Football League. There is also a substantial expat community on the Island, of which the largest sector is from the UK.

There are not a lot of Americans on the Island on work permits, and the majority of my friends outside of the office are UK expats.  They drive on the wrong side of the road, although my UK friends often take exception to this insight. But as a result of the fact that they really do drive on the wrong side of the road, I have chosen not to have a car here, and the most civilized aspect of my life is walking down to a ferry landing each morning and riding to work on the open upper-deck (weather permitting) of a very small ferry. I get to spend 25 minutes with one of the most spectacular views in the world, cruising from Warwick across the harbor to Hamilton in the morning, and the reverse at night. And since I live in a neighborhood that is heavily populated by UK expats, we sit up on the top deck of the ferry every morning working diligently to solve all of the world’s problems. Our latest challenge, of course, was Brexit, which was a huge issue here because of the substantial connection of the Island to the UK.

Given that I am typically the lone American on the “Genius Deck” of the ferry, I am often sought out in discussions concerning Donald Trump, for the UK folks seem to think he is a one-man clown car, and because I am American, it is my obligation to explain him. I normally beg their forgiveness and try to explain that The Donald was not a creation of my doing and I cannot explain him, but at a deep internal level I know my expat friends hold me accountable. Such is the burden of being an American traveling throughout the world these days. But The Donald was recently pushed off of the “Genius Deck” agenda, and it was pushed off by Brexit, and as the lone American, no one seemed to think that I could really contribute to this discussion.

But I could, and I could because I understood betting.

I joined the casino industry in the early 1970s, dealing cards at night while in college. I have basically been in the industry since then, and at one time many years ago as VP of Casino Operations for the Stardust Hotel and Casino, I oversaw the biggest book in Las Vegas. When I say I oversaw, I should note that my book manager was Scotty Schettler, and really nobody ever oversaw Scott. Managing Scott was basically like herding cats, and on a good day he might actually acknowledge my presence. I did think that Scott was quite brilliant however, which was often in conflict with what the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Boyd Group Corporate Office thought, and so most of my job was to stay between Scott and the rest of the world and let him book bets. In serving in this capacity we became friends, and since we were handling a sizeable amount of wagers in our book, I learned the betting business. And it was the betting business that allowed me to enter the Brexit debate, taking place daily on the “Genius Deck” of the ferry.

I am highly suspicious of polls. I think people and entities try and mislead the public with polls, and I think this misleading behavior is driven by a desire to help create an outcome on the part of some people. A close election prediction might work to increase turnout by the losing side if it is close, but not if it is a runaway. I also believe that the press likes to create the impression that things are often quite close, so that people are inclined to consume their news product in more sizeable amounts. I really saw this in the US elections of 2008 where the Intrade platform offered a much more efficient predictive tool than did the polls. This was again reflected in the US election of 2012, where the polls had the race between Obama and Romney being quite close, but the books (and Nate Silver) seemed to know better. And the Scottish Independence Referendum, which was predicted as a close call by the press, was clearly booked as long-shot dog by the betting community, and the reality of that election was that it was basically a walkover with more than 55% of the electors opting against independence.

This long history of the efficiency of betting markets had impressed me, and so when it came to Brexit I did not listen to the polls, nor the pundits, nor my friends on the ferry, but rather I looked to the betting shops, and the betting shops gave every indication that Brexit was dead-meat. Armed with this valuable information, and having granted omnipotent power to the wonder of betting markets, I aggressively inserted myself into the Brexit debate on the “Genius Deck” of the ferry and clearly and convincingly staked out my position. And I believe that I was winning them over, until of course, the people of the UK voted, and it was clear that my whole argument was wrong. That next morning on the ferry was most unpleasant. Not one of my expat friends could resist the temptation to remind me of how wrong I was, and they seemed to do it with some glee and enthusiasm. So there you have it, I am now relegated back to my position of being tortured to explain the latest silliness of The Donald, sitting on the Genius Deck,” and looking at one of the most beautiful views in the world.

It has been a few days now since the election, and I am still struggling with the reality of the outcome. Life is full of lessons, and many of them are painful to learn. I now find myself at an existential crisis, for if one can’t believe in betting markets, what can one believe in?

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Richard Schuetz is the Executive Director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, and was formerly a Commissioner for the California Gambling Control Commission. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Government of Bermuda, the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, or any other entities or individuals within that country. The author is also sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.

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