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Ann Coulter: Does anyone believe that the Vegas shooter made his money gambling?

When I saw the headline to her piece, “Media Begging Us for Conspiracy Theories on Las Vegas,” I thought she was setting up to argue that Paddock could only have been a closet jihadi who was funded by ISIS. Not so. Her theory’s more interesting and plausible than that. Not very plausible, maybe, but worth your time to read.

Question: How do you make big bucks playing, of all things, video poker? You’re engaged with a computer that’s been programmed to take in slightly more money than it pays out so that the house ends up in the black in the long run. In the short run, anything is possible; you play for a couple of hours, maybe you come out ahead. But if you play in great volume, as Paddock is alleged to have done, day in and day out, you’re destined to lose money on balance, no? In the long run you’re guaranteed to land in the red.

Aren’t you?

If Paddock wasn’t making money on video poker — and he wasn’t — why would he be cycling millions of dollars through a casino, turning every dollar into, at best, 99 cents?

Maybe Paddock enjoyed video poker. But if the allegedly serious media are going to keep telling us he was making a living doing it, they’re just begging us to say that losing a percent or two on millions of dollars doesn’t make sense as an investment strategy, but it does make sense as a money laundering operation.

And the probable illicit business requiring money to be laundered that leaps out at us in Paddock’s case is illegal gun sales. If true, it would not only explain the arsenal in his hotel room, but also raises the possibility of either an accomplice or different perpetrator altogether.

If this were a movie script, a terrorist would go to Paddock’s room on the pretense of buying guns, kill Paddock, commit the massacre, put his gunshot residue-covered gloves on Paddock’s dead hands and slip out of the room when the coast was clear.

The “terrorist killed Paddock and framed him for murder” scenario, which even Coulter admits has no evidence to support it, seems wacky. You need to believe either that this person completely managed to elude detection and escape in the few minutes between when the shooting ended and when police arrived *or* that the cops know about the terrorist but there’s a massive federal-state cover-up among law enforcement to keep that quiet and somehow no one — not a single source anywhere — has leaked. Contra Coulter, it’s not that odd that Paddock would have been found wearing gloves: He was handling weapons that were firing at a near-automatic rate, so the barrels must have been red hot. (And he wasn’t necessarily “planning to commit suicide,” as Coulter asserts. Police have said there’s evidence that he hoped to escape.) Plus, what sort of terrorist would risk staging an attack spontaneously, on unfamiliar ground like Paddock’s hotel room, rather than buy a gun and launch his attack later, at a time and place of his own choosing? And since when do Islamist terrorists, whom I assume Coulter is imagining here, even try to escape? Usually a jihadi keeps firing until he’s stopped.

Remember too that cops found a note in Paddock’s hotel room apparently calculating the trajectory of shots fired at that elevation onto a crowd below, as well as a sledgehammer which he appears to have used to smash out the windows in the moments before the attack. It would make no sense that either of those things would be in the room if an intruder had surprised him there by killing him and then using the suite as a sniper’s den with Paddock’s arsenal.

I think the possibility of a mystery shooter is bananas — but the point about how Paddock made his money is more interesting. He reportedly earned $5 million in 2015 alone, most of which came from gambling per NBC. If he was playing nothing but video poker and playing it obsessively for extended periods of time, as has been alleged, he had to have lost on balance, didn’t he? One prosaic possibility that occurs to me is that the $5 million is being misunderstood. Maybe Paddock “won” that amount but also had offsetting losses of $5.1 million; the NBC report doesn’t say what his total tax liability was. Another possibility is that Paddock was counting comped services he was receiving at the casinos as de facto income from gambling — rooms, drinks, other benefits, etc. It’s hard to believe even a regular gambler could amass $5 million in comped benefits in a single year as he threw his money away on video poker but the value may have contributed to his “winnings.”

But if he wasn’t earning his money at the machine, how was he earning it? Coulter seems to think he might have been making straw purchases, buying guns legally (his criminal record was clean, remember) and then transferring them illegally to people barred by law from purchasing them. He needed a way to launder that income, so voila, “video poker.” That theory only works, I think, if you allow that Paddock’s obsession with gambling was real: It’s impossible to believe he sat at machines for hours upon hours every day, in full view of other players, pouring money into them just to create a front for his alleged gun business. If there was an illegal business being run on the side here, it seems more likely to me that that business was designed to support his gambling habit than that the gambling habit was manufactured to launder the profits of the business — although it would have been very useful to that end. And even if Coulter’s right that Paddock had a secret racket that hasn’t been uncovered or disclosed yet, we’re still left with the mystery of why he went off and shot up the Jason Aldean concert.

Exit question for gamblers: Is it actually possible to make money playing video poker if you’re playing regularly? Paddock knew what he was doing, mind you:

For years, Paddock and other professionals had figured out how to make the machines pay, tipping their advantage by a few hundredths of a percentage point by identifying the right games and maximizing points while playing…

“He was a math guy,” Eric Paddock said. “He could tell you off the top of his head what the odds were down to a tenth of a percent on whatever machine he was playing. He studied it like it was a PhD thing. It was not silly gambling. It was work.”…

But those familiar with the world of video poker say winning has become much harder as casinos, mostly on the Las Vegas Strip, have added machines that hold a better house advantage.

Pros reportedly study the machines closely enough to know which games have the highest “pay tables.” And if this site is accurate, some machines actually do, or did, pay out slightly more than they took in. By playing in great volume and knowing exactly which machines to play, maybe it is possible that Paddock came out ahead on balance. Or used to, at least, before the casinos tightened up the machines’ payouts.

Update: You’ll need to wade through some math but this piece argues that Paddock’s gambling “earnings” of $5 million in 2015 probably meant a real-world net loss of $400,000. It could be that Paddock was rich enough from his real estate investments that he could afford to drop a few hundred thou a year, especially if he was getting all sorts of high-roller perks from the casinos to keep playing. But it’s a point in favor of Coulter’s argument that the guy wasn’t earning a living at video poker, as many in the media have claimed.

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