Gambling for a Good Grade

Can you call creating a casino night on campus real-life learning? You bet! Brooks School's AP Statistics class is hosting virtual cards, dice and slot-style games on Zoom to put their mathematical skills to the test this Friday night.

Each of the seven students designed their own game of chance to investigate and test probability models, odds and expected value. During the hour of gambling in the online casino — with virtual currency — on February 12, each student will operate their game in a Breakout Room simultaneously so that guests can move from room to room trying out each one. Every participant will start with $100 in virtual currency for the "Brooks Casino," which requires wagers from $5 to $30. A player's balance at the end of the hour will determine their chances of winning a real-life prize, contributed by the school's student activities group.

"Designing, analyzing and modifying a game of chance to meet certain outcomes for the casino synthesizes a large swath of the 'probability' unit of the AP Statistics curriculum," said Mathematics Teacher Tote Smith, who devised the casino night as a performance assessment taking the place of a traditional paper and pencil test. "And although the project has had several large deliverables — analytical presentations, an oral presentation to a casino operator and now the operation of a one-hour casino itself — I hope the ownership they feel for their game is an incentive to make sure their analyses are correct and meaningful."

In addition to the games students spent about four weeks designing, each statistician-in-training created a spreadsheet modeling all of their game's possible outcomes (along with the value and probability of each) and estimated the profit the casino could expect from their game being played for an hour — based on theory and on simulation. They then presented their games and findings to Smith (who assumed the role of the faux casino's Gaming Commissioner) along with ideas about how to market their creations.

"Everything that went into this project had to do with the underlying statistics we learned, from selecting the price to play to understanding and shifting the casino advantage," said Abbey Charlamb '21, who names this as her favorite school project so far "because of how readily it is connected to the real world and we can see our work come alive ... and in a unique and intriguing way."

The project became even more real two weeks ago when the class got to meet an actual casino operator and talk shop. Guy Renzi, vice president of gaming operations at Oneida Nation Enterprises' Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, Zoomed into class and discussed their work, as well as his own experiences.

All in all, Smith considers Brooks Casino "one of the most authentic projects I've seen the students take all the way to fruition," he said. "It's rare that we actually get to see whether theory will hold in such a short timespan."

Mario Yang '21 said, personally, he enjoyed it because he "fell in love with the process of creating an addictive game." With his pinball/Pachinko style game, Mario's Skyfall Adventure, Yang tried to "create a game with a big enough jackpot to incentivize people to play, but also make the other prizes reasonable so that players won't be overly discouraged when they play several games without winning the jackpot."

Classmate Charlamb, for her part, found the "constant editing of our games to allow the players to have the best experience possible while still ensuring a casino win" challenging, she said, but relished the opportunity to get creative. "We can make our games completely our own and edit them as we go," she explained. "I love designing posters and the marketing aspect, as well."

One thing working on the project did not accomplish, however, was tempting the teens into gambling with real money. "I have obviously never gambled before but this project, and our meeting with Mr. Renzi, has showed me how unlikely it is that someone will make money from gambling," said Isabel Murphy '21.

"This project has made us recognize the player mindset and what drives players to keep playing even after losing," added Charlamb. "We tried making our games as enticing and almost addicting as possible so that they enjoyed themselves and we would 'make money' in the end. ...I definitely understand how the casino makes money now, and I will be wary about this in my future."

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