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Ever since the beginning of Las Vegas, from the first day dice were rolled and coins were slipped into slot machines, players have been hoping, sometimes even praying, for a lucky streak. Luck is said to be the difference between fortunes won and lost. But what is this mysterious force, luck, and how does one get lucky in Sin City?
Luck has many names. You might call it good fortune (“fortunity” if you want to be fancy about it). It’s supernatural, and it’s considered by many to be a way to achieve a desired outcome. It’s superstition. It’s faith. It can be good and bad. It’s a way of understanding chance events. It’s all that, and more.
Before the word “luck” got its current meaning, the word “speed” was used, and meant “prosperity, profit, abundance.” A perfect fit for Las Vegas, that’s for sure.
Luck, by its nature, is something beyond our control. Or is it?
If you’ve played in casinos, you’ve no doubt had brushes with luck and lucky symbols and lucky rituals. It’s part of the fun.
Every game in a casino has its superstitions and rituals. Craps players hate it when the dice hit someone’s hands. Bad luck. And don’t say “seven” out loud during a hot roll. Really bad luck. Many Asian gamblers consider the number four unlucky, and Las Vegas hotels even avoid having a fourth floor or floors in the 40s. Others think $50 bills are unlucky, so they won’t buy-in with one and refuse to be paid with fifties at the casino cage.
Some players refuse to enter a casino through the main entrance. The MGM Grand hotel famously changed its Strip entrance because Chinese gamblers didn’t like the idea of not only entering through a main entrance, but also entering through the mouth of a lion. Double whammy!
Ever hear the phrase “never count your money while you’re sitting at the table”? Kenny Rogers knew what he was talking about! Bad luck.
So, what about good luck? Does it even exist? Skeptics would say, emphatically, “No, luck doesn’t exist. Luck is a way of categorizing random occurrences, a way of deluding ourselves into thinking we have some control over fate. Oh, and fate doesn’t exist either.” This is why skeptics are rarely invited to parties. What fun is that?
What’s fun is trying to get Lady Luck to smile upon us. We can cross our fingers. We can knock on wood. We can only pick up pennies that are face-up. We can play our lucky numbers at roulette.
People have been trying to get lucky for thousands of years, and every culture has its own lucky charms and symbols.
Everyone knows horseshoes are lucky. (Just make sure if you hang them up to turn the curved side down so the luck doesn’t fall out.) The same goes for wishbones, assuming it breaks your way. Falling stars are said to be lucky. Rubbing Buddha’s belly has its fans, too.
One of the most popular good luck charms is the four-leaf clover. The most leaves ever found on a clover? 56. That should come in handy if you’re ever on a game show.
There’s no shortage of lucky symbols. For the Chinese, tigers, jade, pigs, crickets, bats and bamboo are considered lucky. Acorns are lucky in many cultures. Chimney sweeps are very lucky to those in England. Dragonflies and dreamcatchers are lucky to Native Americans. The scales of fish are lucky to Russians. Ladybugs are lucky to Germans and others.
Lucky charms can be just about anything. Other lucky symbols include alfafa, cinnamon chips, allspice berries, silver dimes, nutmeg and pyrite. The list goes on and on.
So, what works? Nothing. And anything. Because, you see, luck is truly in the eye of the beholder. Luck isn’t about logic. It’s about being human. As humans, we give objects powers. We make connections between unrelated things. (If I break a mirror and have bad luck, breaking the mirror caused my bad luck.) We have bad memories. (We remember when our lucky charm works, but tend to forget when it doesn’t.) We read into things. We think everything happens for a reason.
But here’s the thing. Nevermind all that. Ultimately, if a lucky charm works, it works. If a lucky ritual works, it works. It works because we get to say it does. And if we’re lucky enough, we’ll have winnings to show for it.
Because in a Las Vegas casino, we’ll take all the help, and hope, we can get. Even if we have no idea where on Earth to find a chimney sweep.
Photos: Tyler Schmeling
Models: Laura Damian, Mike Bomgren