Thursday, 10 January 2008

A Particular System Of Objects

Licensed Betting Offices (LBOs) are a post-modernist artifice in which a traditional betting environment has had its modern objects liberated from their original function. This new infrastructure exists within the societal scam that is British bookmaking but the purpose of the modernity of the environment is to optimise the returns to the bookmakers by utilising a range of post-modernist and/or psychological devices.
"Consumption, insofar as it is meaningful, is the systematic act of the manipulation of signs". And, the LBOs offer a perfect environment to test and prove Baudrillard's differential reasoning. Originally, the bookmakers used primitive forms of psychopathic business strategies to maximise their returns from those with a gambling addiction. Proximity to pubs was one such ruse that remains valid to this day; delayed race start times gave the bookies an edge over the "blind" punter; the security door and the frosted glass psychologically defined the bettor as a societal loser, something to be hidden away; the creation of a chaotic environment made any attempt at pseudo-rationality in decision-making virtually impossible.
To my discredit, I once very briefly considered undertaking a consultancy project for one of the leading English bookmakers. The project aim was to maximise the amount of money that the addicts would hand over to the deserving cause of turf accountancy. The scope of the consultancy was pomo-in-extremis - the company wished to create the model interior to most suit their financial targets utilising colour, form, atmosphere, modular components together with excessive control of the informational flow and the preying on the psychological styles and disorders of the gathered group. We will assess these manipulations in turn.
The LBOs offer a major advantage to the bookmakers in comparison with the racecourse, the internet or the telephone. It is a controlled environment. Totally. Nothing has been left to chance. The positioning of the television screens in relation to the seating, the types of material in the seating, the location of standing places, solo locations and group areas, the disinformational matrix of un-data, the colours of the seats and tv backgrounds, the use of glass/daylight and advertising prompts suitably located, the quality of the images, the misuse of clocks and time etc etc. And, once one steps into this environment with its rarefied atmosphere of reality, the CCTV's ensure that the web performs optimally - the modular design style allowing a process of continuous improvement from the perspective of the abusive bookie.
The control of the information flow is a critical aspect of the reality-mix. Taking the un-sport of horseracing as an example, we are able to immediately conclude that the LBOs are the worst location for maximising the potentially valuable information which might be utilised to limit your losses and exposures. In front of an internet screen, you may access scores of firms and achieve preferable prices by referring to one of the numerous betting odds comparison sites. At the racecourse, one may read the tic-tac, monitor the rails and assess the meaning behind the major bookies returning money to the ring - are they offsetting liabilities by hedging or are they taking a proprietary angle? You can pay extra to monitor the body language of the corrupt trainers and jockeys and, in that it matters, assess the fitness of the poor beasts. When the likes of Toby Balding, Barry Hills, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson, to name but a few, had a hot favourite, my staking level would always be augmented by my behavioural assessment of the key protagonists pre-race. The LBOs, in contrast, are a virtual price monopoly. Furthermore, the prices displayed together with their dynamics may not bear any resemblance either to the prices shown at other LBOs owned by the same company or to the prices available in the ring. Value is further reduced by the refusal of the LBOs to accept a decent size of bet together with outrageous overround percentages and, until recently, a highly regressive tax regime. The LBOs also enforce an obligation to buy - they utilise the psychology of need to create optimistic behavioural atmospheres that engender belief rather than disbelief. The LBOs consequently do not allow the option of trading against an occurrence and all professionals understand that contrarian trading is the first step on the road to investment riches. To quote Warren Buffett: "Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful". Or Deleuze: "Sense depends on non-sense".
And this neatly brings us on to the behavioural aspects of the LBOs. We have no desire to spend too much time assessing the behavioural traits of irrationality that underpin the investment marketplace that are the LBOs. The psychological styles/disorders mentioned here are merely some of the most prevalent conditions which the bookmakers choose to address for profit maximisation. Punters are disproportionately influenced by the fear of feeling regret, cognitive dissonance is a factor as we cherish long-held "beliefs", anchoring leads to us being overly influenced by external suggestion (a core focus for LBOs), status quo bias is not actually a complete lack of musical good taste but the behavioural term for the chasing of losses (another key area for the psycho's), punters conceptualise without assessing the holistic overview of the reality being presented to them, gamblers are persistently over-confident due to representativeness heuristic, magical thinking takes the bettor even further from the loci of true reality, hindsight bias is another omnipresent feature which is closely linked to memory bias etc etc. The micro-control of this captive group psychology is a major area of research at all the large betting organisations. The serial conditioning of the group engenders learned helplessness and irrational group think as the voices one trusts plead with us to lose our cash by following the twisted logic of the disinformational talking head.
And all of this corruption is dressed up in the illusion of freedom, the creative use of leisure time on the level playing field offered by the toss of a dice. "Free to be yourself" in fact means " to project one's desires onto produced goods; "Free to enjoy life" means free to regress and to be irrational and thus to adapt to a certain social organisation of our behaviour with regard to products. As a punter, the only manner to treat the environment offered by the LBOs is to partially invert Baudrillard's overview of "the way the rationality of objects comes to grips with the irrationality of needs" to become a cynical realistic: "the way the irrationality of needs of the gambler comes to grips with rationality of the irrationality of objects of the bookmakers".
The LBOs are a post-modern artifice, a subtle but base deception founded on trickery and greed. In the atmosphere of this artifice, identity, truth, reason and meaning are warped into equilibrium states of behavioural difference producing a herd-like response to the detriment of the gambler's assets.
According to Foucault, we have become our own prison guards and have learned to mould our behaviour in accordance with the needs of modern capitalism. This behaviour of self is augmented, in Lacan's words by "how human subjectivity is formed and shaped by institutions... We live in ideology, blinded by an 'imaginary' consciousness that prevents us from gaining access to objective truth". The object of the gambler's desire is a Baudrillardian "exchange based on nothing other than corruption".
And, what is the response of our guardians to this societal corruption? Gamcare and the Gambling Commission together with the government's free market attitude to gambling legislation/advertising/marketing and a refusal to address the corruption of the markets and our realities. That's the response... Despite the deceleration towards not-so-super-casinos, the public have been persuaded by the general consensus of "it matters more when there's money on it" and "what's yours worth?". And, as Lyotard says: "consensus is the ultimate form of totalitarianism". Those of us who choose to confront corruption as a core competency understand that the corruption generally remorphs itself into a new and equally invalid form, setting off the whole cyclical process of detection and readjustment to the new corrupted realities.
According to Lyotard, it is only the most major narratives that may be made narrative impossibilities - these are stories that can no longer be told as they no longer convince eg Auschwitz. It is a pity that gambling corruption is not yet anywhere near the reality of being a narrative impossibility.

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