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Should we teach gambling in math classes?

By Murray Bourne, 15 Jul 2006

I have always enjoyed teaching probability. You can have fun getting the students to mess around with dice, cards and lottery results. Some students have no idea what a poker hand even looks like (either they come from a family that never played games with their kids, or the family does not approve of gambling).

So I found myself teaching them about the "mathematical sins" of gambling - that you will never win if you are a player, but a sure winner if you are the organiser of the gambling event.

In Singapore, where there are strong objections to gambling from the Malay and Christian communities, the Toto website has:

Please exit immediately if you are under 18.

But I still felt that my under 18-year-olds should know about gambling, about the odds of not winning and something about the psychology of gambling. I included a section "TOTO Example" about the Singapore game of TOTO.

It was with interest that I came across an article in the Vancouver Sun, "Poker lessons - an education that you could bet on", where the organiser was having some bother (from the authorities) when trying to teach poker.

According to the article, child psychology professor Jeffrey Derevensky of McGill University feels that

already too many kids are gambling and as soon as they're old enough to get credit cards they'll be on the Internet betting away money they don't have.

The following is likely, since governments around the world reap large windfalls from "voluntary taxes", a.k.a. gambling:

Once the kids learn the real odds of ever winning a government lottery, the chances are they'll never buy a ticket -- which might explain the B.C. government's vehemence.

I agree with the writer's conclusion:

Besides, poker's not just a game, it's a lesson in math, probability, risk and reading character. In other words, it's a lesson in life.

So do I gamble? Yep, occasionally and mostly only with peanuts.

See the 14 Comments below.

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