“Youth is wasted on the young…” Cliché? Wisdom? Jealousy? This famous 20th century quote has been attributed to two distinct Irish wits: George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Who exactly came up with the line remains open to question.
Although its precise origin is unknown, is there any truth in this acerbic adage?
This week, we are putting ageist prejudice to one side and posing a simple question: are younger people better gamblers?
We have collaborated with statisticians, online casinos and sports books to try and get the definitive answer to this question. There will be curve balls and ‘exceptions to the rule’ but is there a trend? Does the advent of grey signal the start of a winning streak? Is the rash impetuousness of youth the perfect modus operandi for the gaming floor?
How Old Are The Young?
The first thing we need to do is define ‘young’. The Oxford dictionary defines young as ‘having lived or existed for only a short time’. The legal age for gambling in most European countries is 18. This makes 18 our ‘youth’ starting point. The United Nations describes youth as ‘the transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence’ and defines persons aged between 15 and 24 as ‘youth’.
In 2010, a survey, conducted by the University of Kent for the Economic and Social Research Council in London, found that the average Briton believed that youth ended at 35, with old age starting at 58. The 23 year gap between the two defined ‘middle age’.
Although the UN thinks youth ends at 24, we are going with the average Briton. For the purpose of our little experiment – youth ends at 35.
Is Gender Relevant?
In the UK, the National Lottery is the single biggest gambling activity nationwide. In 2012, according to the annual Health Survey for England, 68% of men and 61% of women participated in gambling activity. When you remove the National Lottery, the numbers drop to 46% and 40%. The gender split is relatively marginal.
Harvard Medical School Associate, Professor Howard J. Shaffer, has been working with online gaming giant, bwin, to study the behaviour of online sports, casino and poker players. The research, involving nearly 50,000 subjects, reveals that there is very little difference between men and women when it comes to gaming. The data is delivered in real time and not ‘surveyed’. It is a very accurate reflection of true betting behaviour.
Interestingly: women place more bets and win about 15% more than men. The difference does not justify a gender-specific analysis. Therefore, we have decided that gender is not a factor for our report.
Older and Bolder?
In a nutshell: the older you get, the more likely you are to gamble. The most popular activities are the lottery and scratch cards. The chart below is data from the annual Health Survey for England. It shows a slight increase in gambling activity with age. Again, the numbers are not dramatic enough to influence the outcome.
Frequency of play, related to age, doesn’t factor
What’s The Game?
To make our age comparison – and discover the truth about youth – we need to pick gambling activities that require at least an element of skill or wisdom to play. Here are the four winners…
Sports and Track: Are you a form-studying fanatic who has spent a lifetime watching the swish of a horse’s tail? Is the going good? Is the course wet? What jockey was out on the town last night?
Clearly, when it comes to sports betting, knowledge should make a difference and that normally comes with age.
One perfect example of this is Las Vegas casino legend, Frank Rosenthal. Rosenthal was played by Robert De Niro in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film, Casino. The real Rosenthal cut his gambling teeth in Chicago. His father was both a mathematician and race horse owner – the genetics were in place.
Rosenthal famously said: “You don’t determine what team is going to win, but what team offers the best value.” He studied at the race track, was mentored by gambling legends like Hymie the Ace and honed his craft picking winners for the mob.
However: Rosenthal was young. He was only in his 20s and 30s when his precocious talent attracted attention. In his later years, post Las Vegas, he served as a consultant to several offshore online sports books.
Although his reputation was still rock solid, his picks and predictions were only average. The razor sharp analysis of his youth and hunger for every grain of information had deserted him.
Another youthful prodigy is Bob Voulgaris, who couldn’t lose until the bookies unpicked his system in 2004. Voulgaris bet the NBA and got his edge by betting halftime totals. In basketball, the action is often condensed towards the end of the game. The bookie was just splitting the points total 50/50. Voulgaris had an ‘edge’ the bookie had missed and used it to make millions. He was under 30.
Another way of trying to gauge the performance of sports bettors is via websites like tipstertables, betshoot, and soccerpunter. These websites all rank tipsters based on their predictive performance.
- On soccerpunter, out of the top ten tipsters, nine are 35 or under
- Frank Rosenthal was under 35 when he made his name
- Voulgaris cleaned up when he was under 35
Conclusion: When it comes to sports betting, youth wins!
Poker: Poker is another game that appears to demand more than just luck. In 2012, a report in the Journal of Gambling Studies divided 300 participants into ‘expert’ v ‘non-expert’ groups. They then played 60 hands of pre-determined Texas Hold’em.
In the end, there was very little difference between the money accrued by the two groups. The conclusion: poker is basically a game of luck. However, the report completely failed to acknowledge the ‘human element’: pot bullying, intimidation, bluffing and experience. Are these the tactics of the younger or older player?
To work out whether or not youth gets to call old age and steal the pot, we are going to look at the last 10 years of World Series of Poker Main Event winners. How old were they when they won?
At 21 years old, Joe Cada is the youngest player ever to win the coveted Main Event bracelet. It used to be an old man’s game but – these days – younger players dominate. This is an easy hand to call…
Conclusion: When it comes to poker, youth wins!
Blackjack: Let’s be honest: once you know the basics, blackjack is a game of luck. The basics are critical to maximizing your return at the table. If you are holding a 10/5 and the dealer is showing an 8, you always hit. Will age be a factor here?
In the 1990s, a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up a company called Strategic Investments. The business: professional card counting. Under the tutelage of Harvard Business School graduate, Bill Kaplan, a team of high-flying students mastered the art of card counting.
Exactly how much they won remains a mystery. In one weekend players pocketed $400,000. The total won would eventually be in the millions. This was extra-curricular casino activity that covered the college fees.
Card counting is legal but casinos don’t like it. If you can keep track of the number of picture cards in a deck, you can tilt the odds in your favour. It’s incredibly difficult to do but this is exactly what the wise heads of the MIT Blackjack Team achieved, with a mathematical system.
In its time, the team had more than 80 players. Virtually all of them were graduates and post graduates in their 20s and early 30s. These are the players that defied the odds and beat blackjack. Therefore…
Conclusion: When it comes to blackjack, youth wins!
Slots: Age is irrelevant when playing a slot machine – online or offline. Slots have a pre-determined payout ratio. In the long run, you know exactly how much you will win or lose. However, are slots more popular with older players? This could be a factor that plays.
In Las Vegas, slots count for nearly half the total revenue of all the casinos. The perceived wisdom is that slots are the preferred choice for the poor, uneducated, senior citizen but a study from Oregon State University refutes these stereotypes.
In fact: the most common slots players are female homeowners, aged between 55 and 60, with some college education and an annual household income of more than $55,000. The survey also revealed people’s reasons for playing slots.
They fell into four groups:
- Utilitarian – people simply looking for something to do. Not worried about winning, happy to kill time, get out of the house and reduce boredom.
- Excitement – out for a good time and looking for a buzz. They like frequent wins and the thrill of chasing a jackpot.
- Multipurpose – younger, less educated, lower household income. They are attracted by the prospect of winning money and stick to themed – or ‘lucky’ – games.
- Relaxation – educated and wealthy, these players stick to low stake games and enjoy socialising, fun and de-stressing.
There is no skill involved in playing slots and the majority of players are over 35. These games are about recreation and fun. The profit motive is secondary and younger players are not so keen.
Age simply does not factor in the outcome of playing a slot machine. It is luck and nothing else.
Conclusion: When it comes to slots, there is no winner
The score is 3-0 to youth. One category remains inconclusive. In all the other categories the very best players of the game are below the age of 35. The sports tipsters, the WSOP Main Event winners and the players that beat blackjack are all young. This leads us to the final conclusion:
When it comes to gambling, youth wins!