Charles F. Urbanowicz
Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
Butte Hall 317 (916-898-6220)
10 December 1996(1)
I. INTRODUCTION: WHY THE QUESTION?
With thanks to William Shakespeare [1564-1616], and his immortal Hamlet, perhaps I should begin by stating that there really isn't a question! We are all gamblers at heart, although we may not realize it (or verbalize it that way).
The 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke [1729-1797] wrote that "gaming is a principle inherent in human nature" yet there are those who might state that the world can be divided into two types of people: those who gamble and those who do not. Personally, I agree with Burke and state that there is not a question: we all gamble. We all gamble (so to speak) that we will be able to drive safely from this establishment today; we gambled on the fact that we would be able to arrive on time this morning; and we literally gamble every-moment-of-our lives (although we may not call it that or think it that). I shall explain.
The term "gambling" has several definitions (including "to play at any game of chance for stakes" and "to stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance; bet; wager") but I also call to your attention the definition that reads "any matter involving risk or hazardous uncertainty." As someone once remarked: "If you bet on a horse, that's gambling. If you bet you can make three spades, that's entertainment. If you bet cotton will go up three points, that's business. See the difference?" (Blackie Sherwood, Dallas Sportswriter as cited in Mike Orkin, 1991, Can You Win? The Real Odds for Casino Gambling, Sports Betting, and Lotteries, page 1).
Will this planned business venture be a success? How will my competitors react to my proposed expansion and can I counter-attack? Will the stock market go up or down? Will my pension fund or 401(k) still be around when I retire? A few weeks ago, the November 18, 1996 edition of the venerable The Wall Street Journal had a page 1 story: "Taking a Gamble, MCI Plunged Into Mexico As AT&T Hesitated" (and other similar "gambling" stories appear regularly in the WSJ: "Stocks and bonds decline as investors take profits" [The Wall Street Journal, November 22, 1996, page C1], "Tokyo shares fall to foreign profit-taking" [The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 1996, page C14]), or "Gambling Big, Canadian Style" (The Wall Street Journal, November 29, 1996, page B10) dealing with office-building construction in United States markets.
These are all "gambling" situations, as stock market crashes and failed savings-and-loans and bankrupt Orange County offices have demonstrated to unwilling-to-realize individuals and citizens; they were in fact "gambling" or being involved in "any matter involving risk or hazardous uncertainty." Who amongst us would have been willing to "gamble" $2,100 on a somewhat insignificant Redmond-based computer company ten years ago? An investment in Microsoft a decade ago would be worth $250,000 today; and even the professional pundits one year ago did not predict the stock market advances we see today: "Few Wall Street Analysts Said that '96 Would Be This Good" in the San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 1996, page E3. Hindsight is always 20-20 while prediction can be a 50-50 chance (or even worse): After airline deregulation's of the 1970s, some 34 "start-up" airlines began scheduled service between 1978 and 1992 and as of December 1996, only two remain: "They flourished quickly, then succumbed to overexpansion and brutal competition" (Wendy Zellner et al., "The Startups Start To Stall" in Business Week, December 9, 1996, pages 64-66, page 64).
So we are all gamblers and my title, "To Gamble, or not to Gamble: Is There A Question?" is perhaps meaningless, so why ask it? I ask it to point out the hazards of "gambling" when (#1) individuals don't really know what gambling might be; I ask it to (#2) point out that one can possibly "succeed" in gambling when one knows what it is and (#3) I asked it to answer the question and discuss some risk-management ideas in gambling and the gambling industry.
Point #1 has been covered by my beginning definitions and the other points will be covered below; I shall now concentrate on what we might call "gambling" but what the industry euphemistically calls "entertainment" or gaming! Although the industry may call it a "game" I'll stick to calling it "gambling" because that is what it is and the competition is getting tougher!
The competition is multi-faceted, and takes place in just some of the following ways: legal gambling versus (vs. ) non-legal gambling as well as traditional casinos vs. non-traditional (i.e., Native American Indian Casinos and/or "California Card Rooms"). Nevada vs. New Jersey (and the rest of the nation). Northern Nevada vs. Southern Nevada. The "downtown area" of Reno vs. locations a few blocks away. Reno vs. Sparks. The Las Vegas "strip" vs. "downtown" Las Vegas (and the "Fremont Street) experience. Gambling establishments in "traditional" locations in towns vs. expansion into new "residential" neighborhoods. Las Vegas vs. Laughlin, Nevada. Reno vs. Tahoe. Land-based-casino vs. riverboat casinos; table-games vs. machine games. "Old" games (both table and machine) vs. new machines that are being developed. "Players" (or those seeking "entertainment") vs. casino operators. And-so-forth!
Several recent examples come to mind when thinking about "competition" in the gambling arena: "Nevada sports books pummeled in Tyson fight" and when Evander Holyfield defeated the 25-to-1 favorite (Mike Tyson), millions of dollars were lost by casinos throughout the state (Reno Gazette-Journal, November 12, 1996, page 1). Secondly, at the end of November, 1996, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor Authority [RSCVA] had the following statement:
"More tourists are visiting Reno this year than last, but more of them are also visiting Indian casinos and Las Vegas--a potentially significant shift, say market analysts. ... 'The product in Reno is pleasing a lot more people ... but it's disturbing that we have so much competition,' he [Buddy Frank, RSCVA member] said, emphasizing Reno's need to continue improving its product. If it doesn't, he said, 'we could lose (business) far more quickly now than we ever could in the past.' Visits to Indian casinos appear to be rising because more casinos are now located in key Reno feeder markets, like the Pacific Northwest and Northern California." (John Stearns, 1996, "Tourists Like Reno, But Rivals Gain" in the Reno Gazette-Journal, November 21, 1996, page 1E).
II. GAMBLING: BIG AND GETTING BIGGER
"Gambling is now bigger than baseball, more powerful than a platoon of Schwarzeneggers, Spielbergs, Madonnas and Oprahs. More Americans went to casinos than to major league ballparks in 1993. Ninety-two million visits!" (The New York Times Magazine, July 17, 1994)
As an anthropologist by training, I am fairly certain that human involvement in taking risks goes back to the earliest pre-cursors of Homo sapiens as we were foragers and gatherers going around the planet; risk taking also continued when "we" took up agriculture ("will the rains come" or "will the crop fail?") and settled down into relatively permanent settlements. The gambling, however, that we in this room might do will probably take place at "the Lake" or perhaps at a local Native American Indian Casino. This is the type of gambling that I have been studying for many years. (Incidentally, long before Europeans came to the Americas, Native Americans had their own various games of chance that they engaged throughout the continent.)
Risk-taking, therefore, is not new to the Americas and the United States has had a long and lengthy history of "gambling" throughout history. I've played poker in Southern California, and in Reno, as well as Lake Tahoe and in Las Vegas; I've played poker in commercial casinos (both in California and Nevada) as well as Native American Indian Casinos (California and Washington State) and I "follow" things that deal with poker (including its decline in some Nevada locations over the past several years. Numerous Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos no longer have poker tables and my favorite change came in Las Vegas: the poker area in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was transformed into a food court!). Anthony Holden wrote a delightful book in 1990 entitled Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player:
"In retrospect, it seems inevitable that games of chance should have played so large a role in the development of the American character. By the time of the American War of Independence, financed in large part by lotteries, public auctions had been a routine alternative to taxation since Queen Elizabeth I sanctioned England's first raffle in 1566, to finance harbor improvements. In the early seventeenth century it was a lottery that funded the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, North Virginia. ... Risk-taking, by definition, is a fundamental aspect of any pioneer or frontier ethic [STRESS added] (Anthony Holden, 1990, Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player, Viking, pp. 217-218).
Records indicate that various games of chance were always a part of the American heritage and should know that although gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, it was only in 1910 that gambling was declared illegal in Nevada. For twenty-one years, from 1910 to 1931, Americans did without "legal" gambling, but that was all to change since gambling was such a major portion of American life. It is interesting to read, for example, of San Francisco in the 1850s and that "Everybody did so" because:
"Gambling was the amusement--the grand occupation of many classes. Judges and clergymen, physicians and advocates, merchants and clerks, tradesmen, mechanics, laborers, miners and farmers, all adventurers in their kind--every one elbowed his way to the gambling table, and unblushingly threw down his golden or silver stake" (Soulé, Frank et al., 1855, The Annals of San Francisco (NY) [as cited in Jim Hicks, 1978, The Gamblers, Time-Life, page 17).
III. GROWTH: CHANGES IN ATTITUDES+
"The casino entertainment industry has experienced an unprecedented surge in revenue growth in the past five years that outpaces nearly all other industry groups. Since 1990, casino revenues have doubled and now exceed $16.5 billion. The growth is driven by expansion of traditional land-based casino destinations and the continued development of new riverboat and Indian reservation casinos throughout the United States" (P. Satre, 1995, Harrah's Survey of Casino Entertainment, page 4).
In my opinion as an anthropologist, four events contributed to today's development of gambling: (a) State lotteries which began in New Hampshire in 1964; (b) the Holiday Inn Corporation entering gaming in 1978; (c) the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by the U.S. Congress in 1988; (d) and human nature. Indian Nation activities have been called the "new Buffalo" and the small Indian casino is virtually a thing of the past. Gambling ("entertainment" to some) has been transformed from a vice to a major industry. Satre, an executive with a publicly-traded company (Promus) that has 15 casinos in 9 states, wrote in 1993: "Socialization, entertainment and winning are the three major reasons why people game at casinos (page 11)." In my opinion, however, individuals not only go for gambling but we also go to try and win and because we also wish to be "a somebody."
We apparently have evolved into a species which has a relationship between gambling and guests: if it is built, they may come. A poignant statement appeared on January 10, 1994, in Time magazine (page 51): "It is now acceptable for the whole family to come along to Las Vegas that's because the values of America have changed, not those of Las Vegas [STRESS added]." Note, I personally follow the words of Steve Wynn (Chairman of the Las Vegas Mirage Resorts, Inc.): "If you wanna make money in a casino, own one" but there still are problems! Harrah's established itself in New Zealand, yet in 1995 a New Orleans venture by a unit of Harrah's failed and went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
A recent article pointed out that Harrah's Jazz Co., which owned the New Orleans casino (and which closed it one year ago and filed for federal bankruptcy protection), is now negotiation with Louisiana to re-open the casino:
"For two years, Harrah's Entertainment Corp., the casino's primary partner, wants to pay 25 percent of its gambling revenue instead of the $100 million minimum tax required by state law for the permanent casino. Gov. Mike Foster says he will not go along with that, although the Legislature would have to make the final decision" (Anon., "Harrah's Still Hopes to Reopen New Orleans Casino" the Reno Gazette-Journal, November 23, 1996, page 8B).
Nevertheless, gambling on the gaming industry appears to interest stockholders. On March 4, 1996, a survey of 417 companies was published in Fortune (Vol. 133, No. 4: 90-98) and based on "eight attributes of reputation," Fortune had two casino firms among the top twenty "most admired" US companies: Mirage ranked #8 and The Promus Companies ranked #18. Please note that (a) Mirage was not even listed last year, (b) Mirage Resorts was ranked #1 in the category of "Quality of Products of Services" and (c) Coca-Cola (which was ranked #3) last year is now the #1 "admired" company in America!
At the end of the 20th century, some successfully point out (my colleague, Professor Valene Smith in the Department of Anthropology is one of the world-wide experts) that tourism is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world and others argue that gaming industry might well be the fastest-growing aspect of contemporary tourism. You can legally gamble (or be "entertained") in 48 of the 50 states and only Hawai'i and Utah have no legal gambling activities. You can: (a) go to 10 states that have either land-based or riverboat casinos; (b) participate in state lotteries in 36 states and the District of Columbia (including multiple state lotteries); (c) go to numerous local card rooms; (d) or go to 20 states that have some sort of Indian Nation gambling. There are 213 approved tribal ordinances for 208 tribes in 29 states and the nearest location for us is in Oroville), with other Native American locations close-by in Colusa (Wintun Band of Indians, Colusa Bingo & Casino) and Redding (Redding Rancheria, Win-River Casino Bingo).
Native American Indian communities are also in competition with one another, as reports from Connecticut concerning the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (of the famous Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut) indicate or "local" Western units:
"At least one Indian community isn't thrilled with the passage of Arizona's [November 1996] ballot initiative forcing the state to negotiate with additional tribes seeking a gaming compact. Clinton Pattea, president of the Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Community, says he expects that two casinos being planned on the nearby Salt River Pima-Maricopa reservation will have a 'drastic effect' on his own tribe's gaming operations. 'We estimate that it's going to reduce our gross revenues by $20 million to $25 million a year,' Pattea said recently, adding that the Fort McDowell casino grossed more than $200 million last year" (Anon., 1996, "Tribe Expects 10% Cut With Rival Casino" in the Chico Enterprise-Record, November 12, 1996, page 6A).
Although the November 1996 elections saw some setbacks for gambling supporters in various states (voters in Washington voted down slot machines in Native American Casinos, Nebraska voters said no to off-track betting, and Ohio citizens defeated a well-financed proposal that would have allowed eight riverboat casinos), voters in Michigan, on-the-other-hand, approved three casinos in Detroit and voters in Louisiana voted continued approval for their 14 riverboat casinos and the (ill-planned) land-based casino in New Orleans). Louisiana voters, however, in the only national ballot that was called a referendum on gambling did vote to remove video-poker terminals from 35 parishes (or counties) but also voted to keep them in 29 parishes (Dennis Camire, 1996, "Michigan One Bright Spot For Gaming" in Reno Gazette-Journal, November 11, 1996, page 1F (as well as 4F).
The Detroit election was interesting because earlier I had seen this description for the proposed casino:
"Developers in Detroit's Greektown area and a Michigan Indian tribe are borrowing from Egyptian mythology to market the Las Vegas-style gambling casino they want to build in Detroit. The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and its business partners have decided to call the casino the Chippewa Phoenix" (Paige St. John, 1993, "Mixed Cultures Used In Planning Casino" Reno Gazette-Journal, October 18, 1993).
Nevada re-legalized gambling in 1931 and a recent headline in the Reno Gazette-Journal (November 4, 1996) pointed out that it was but "20 years ago, N.J. voters rolled the dice" to legalize gambling in that state, allowing gambling in Atlantic City. After 1978, gambling accelerated and it is a big business, with staggering dollar amounts: on a typical day in the early-1990s, people wagered ~$627,213 every minute of every day on all types of commercial "gambling" in the USA and all of these commercial "gaming" ventures made a profit of ~$56,970 per minute! Once again, you can legally gamble (or be "entertained") in 48 of the 50 states and only Hawai'i and Utah have no legal gambling activities.
The latest available information concerning "gambling win" is as follows (and these are all crude numbers):
"Legalized gambling produced a record $44.4 billion in gross revenues during 1995, a $4.6 billion increase from the previous year, according to Christiansen/Cummings Associates study. But the 11.4 percent growth was down from the 15 percent increase in 1994 and the 14.2 percent in 1993, the study said." (Dennis Camire, 1996, "Voters in 8 States to Decide Gaming Issues" in the Reno Gazette-Journal, October 14, 1996, page 1F).
Gross revenues represents the "win" (or "profit"), mentioned above for the mid-1990s of $56,970 per minute; the latest data indicates that during 1995 the "win" is $84,417 per minute (or an increase of $27,447 per minute from the early 1990s; and at the end of this twenty minute presentation, the entire industry (casinos and sports book and table games and....) made a profit of approximately $1,688,340. Hopefully, you understand why it is big business and corporations (and individuals) are willing to invest what we might term a "small fortune" in refurbishing establishments in order to attract consumers for the "entertainment" of the 1990s!
Again, as of this presentation, legalized gambling occurs in 48 of the 50 states of the United States of America and all of the provinces of Canada (and in many locations around the world). Legalized gambling (#1) generates a great deal of revenue, (#2) has a great deal of visibility, and (#3) is creating some interesting partnerships and relationships: entertainment (read "casino") organizations are affiliating with one an other across the continent. Publicly traded corporations, such as Promus are affiliating themselves with Indian Nation casinos in Arizona (Ak-Chin Indian Community), Alabama (Poarch Band of Creek Indians), Washington State (Upper Skagit Indian Tribe), as well as California (Pala Band of Mission Indians). The Verdi, Nevada, hotel-casino operation (under the name Boomtown) is planning a merger with Hollywood Park, Inc., "a California-based operator of card clubs and horse and dog tracks" (John Stearns, "Boomtown, Hollywood Park unit" in the Reno Gazette-Journal, November 14, 1996, page 4C); Boyd Gaming has expanded in Las Vegas and plans on opening "Sam's Town" in the Reno area; and merger approval has recently been given by the Nevada Gaming Commission for Hilton Hotels Corporation to acquire Bally Entertainment Corporation. Acquisitions and expansions and contractions are taking place as we speak.
The "visibility" (and the competition) for the industry should be obvious to all: from the bombarding messages of the state-lotteries, to the mega-resorts being developed in Nevada (and other regions), there is growth and demand for the consumer dollar. From 1931 until 1978, Nevada was alone. Since then, there has been growth and there is competition. Today, Reno/Sparks/Tahoe and Las Vegas must compete against:
"...Indian casinos in 23 states, riverboats in six, and limited land-based casinos in three. Under these circumstances not only is the business model (and operating margins) of Las Vegas casino operators steadily changing--it will never be the same again." (Sebastian Sinclair, 1996, "Forbes Misses Beat On Entertainment" in International Gaming & Wagering Business, October 1996, page 19).
The "generation of a great deal of revenue" does, however, create some problems when that revenue-generation does not meet expectations. Washoe County, for example, recently had a "loss" in gaming revenues for the month of September 1996, and a page 1 headline in the Reno Gazette-Journal of November 17, 1996, had the following: "6% drop in gaming win raises worry about taxes, decline in public service" (John Stearns, page 1); incidentally, Lake Tahoe had a 7.5% decline in their win over the summer months (page E1). When your public money comes from a variable entertainment industry such as tourism, there can be problems when the revenue does not meet expectations. To give one an idea of community-dependence on "entertainment" revenue, consider the case of the city of Commerce, California, the state's largest casino (a 146,000 square foot cardroom with 223 tables): "The Commerce Club grossed $114 million in its last fiscal year, sending $13.5 million to the City of Commerce--about 40% of the city's operating budget" (Anon., 1996, "Cash-rich and Controversial" in International Gaming & Wagering Business, November 1996, pages 56-57, page 56). There can be problems when the revenue does not meet expectations.
Returning back to Nevada, allow me to translate these percentage points into "real dollars" (courtesy of the Nevada Gaming Control Board): In 1996 (for the fiscal year ending June 30), the gaming "win" in Nevada (the "profit") was $7.5 billion (or $7,500,000,000 which translates out to a Nevada "win" of approximately $14,260 per minute. In 1992, the Nevada win was only $5.7 billion (or approximately $10,837 per minute); however, below you have some of the latest information comparing the July 1-September 30 period for the 1995 and 1996 fiscal years. Nevada, I believe, is in trouble because revenue growth is modestly going down (or is essentially "flat") when one compares the same three months of these two years. In 1995, the "win" for this period was $1.92 billion and in 1996 the win for this period was $1.9 billion (or approximately $14,450/minute, down some $152/minute from approximately $14,602/minute in 1995).
Ken Adams (a Reno-based gaming analyst) and William Eadington (a Professor at the University of Nevada-Reno) are cited as saying that they "believe that steady growth in Indian gaming in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, plus gaming availability in British Columbia are chipping away at Reno's business" (Reno Gazette-Journal of November 17, 1996, page E1). Something needs to be done.
V. TEMPORARY CONCLUSIONS
There are problems when gambling is considered as gaming, as a 1995 series of articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out (condensed in the April 1996 Reader's Digest as "Gambling's Toll in Minnesota: When A State Legalizes Gambling, Everybody Pays"). In addition to numerous tragic details of the effects of "gambling" one reads that "for Minnesota the social costs of gambling are emerging in vivid and tragic detail" (page 105). A similar refrain appeared in The Sacramento Bee of February 4, 1996, where (in a "Special Report" on Gambling in California, one could read: "Counting on economic windfall for community is a sucker's bet, critics say" (page A12).
One should ponder these words, for it is not a game or entertainment, but gambling, and the house always has the advantage!
"Casinos offer games with a variety of house edges. The house edge for roulette is 5.3%. If you make a roulette bet repeatedly [on a "wheel" with 0-0], you will eventually lose at the rate of 5.3 cents per dollar bet. [On a "European" wheel with but a single "0" the house edge is 2.7%.] In craps there are bets with different house edges The house edge for the pass line bet is 1.4%, while the house edge for the Big six bet is 9.1% [and it is 16.7% on a single number]. In Keno the house edge is more than 25%. The picture is bleak in state lotteries, where the state has a 50% edge. The gambler who thinks he [or she] will be a winner in repeated play of these games is like the retailer who sells every item at a loss, hoping to make a profit from the increased volume. A few gambling games, like blackjack, have winning strategies for the player [and, supposeddly, there is a video-poker strategy]. But if your criterion for success is a high hourly income, you may end up a failure even when you play a favorable game. I know a professional poker player who says, 'A good poker player makes $20 hour. A really good poker player makes $30 per hour'" (Mike Orkin, 1991, Can You Win? The Real Odds for Casino Gambling, Sports Betting, and Lotteries, page 4).
I began this brief presentation by citing the words of Edmund Burke [1729-1797], the 18th Century British statesman and political writer. In addition to his "gambling" words cited earlier ("gaming is a principle inherent in human nature"), Burke also stated the following: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
I am not saying that "gambling is evil" (for I argue that we all do it); nor do I state that I am a "good" individual (for I have problems just like the person sitting next to you), but I do state that we are all gamblers and my title, "To Gamble, or not to Gamble: Is There A Question?" was given to (#1) point out the hazards of "gambling" when individuals don't really know what gambling might be; (#2) point out that the "gambling" industry is big and competitive; and to (#3) provide some words about risk-management in the gambling industry. A recent publication by Peter L. Bernstein is entitled Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, and in this he writes the following:
"The essence of risk management lies in maximizing the areas where we have some control over the outcome while minimizing the areas where we have absolutely no control over the outcome and the linkage between effect and cause is hidden from us" (Peter L. Bernstein, 1996, Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, page 197).
"Risk-management" is an on-going endeavor for all of us, from driving here this morning to departing after this breakfast meeting and living our individual lives. In ending, I wish to end with three phrases: the first is mine and the others come from other individuals. Number one is: if you still wish to "gamble" (or take any sort of risks in life or) in any casino, it is best if you "know before you go!" The other two come from "industry" individuals: Thomas Austin Preston (also known as Amarillo Slim) stated it well when he was quoted as saying that some "dudes [are] in the category of guessers, and guessers are losers" (Anthony Holden, 1990, Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player,Viking, page 164); and I also follow the words of Steve Wynn (Chairman of the Las Vegas Mirage Resorts, Inc.): "If you wanna make money in a casino, own one." It is not a game or entertainment, but it is gambling or risk-taking.
# # #
1. © For the December 10, 1996 meeting of the Chico Breakfast Lions Club, Chico, California. This current paper is based on continuing research as well as earlier papers, including lengthier ones for the Northern California Geographical Society meeting of December 8, 1996 (http://www.csuchico.edu/~/curban/public_html/Gaming/geo_of_gaming.html) and one for the Anthropology Forum at CSU, Chico on April 11, 1996. If you have access to "the web" this current paper is available at http://www.csuchico.edu/~/curban/public_html/Gaming/to_gamble.html and the April 11, 1996 paper may be viewed at http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/FApr11-96.html. This current paper, and the earlier ones draw upon yet another paper from 1994: "The Gaming Heritage: A Natural For Some And Problems For Others?" (For the Symposium entitled "Heritage Tourism In The Global Village" at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Cancun, Mexico, April 13-17, 1994.) To return to the beginning of this paper, please click here.
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