Gambling expert, Norman Beck, sits down with Jonah for episode 159 to discuss taking a logical approach, public speaking and when to take a bet. Alongside being a magician and public speaker, Norman has been the VP of Claims and Security for SCA for the past 24 years, spending his time working out how individuals may cheat the system.

Norman’s interest in magic started around the age of eight. While he was attending an event with the Boy Scouts, he went on stage with a a magician for the first time in his life. Soon after, his mother gave him the Boy Scouts’ magic book and his interest continued to grow since then. Like most magicians, Norman started out doing children’s birthday parties while he was in highschool. In college, he began to do close up magic at a restaurant. It was at the restaurants that Norman grew his skillset and learned what to do and not to do.

When he left college, Norman spent five years working as a police officer, using magic to connect with the community during their outreach times. After leaving his job, he moved to Arkansas and was briefly married. During his divorce, money became tight and he found himself leaning cold reading to get by. It would be years later that Norman would begin his current job of ensuring gambling games.

Claims and Security

If you’re hosting an event where individuals have the chance to win a sum of money, you’re probably working with Norman. To summarize what he does, Norman is the one flies who flies around the world, giving away money for contests like field goal kicks, publisher clearing house, or televised games shows. His job is to ensure that the games are being run fairly and, when there is a claim, that the claim is legitimate.

Norman found himself taking on the job about twenty four years ago after his friend and Bridge player, Bob Hammon, contacted him asking if he wanted to join his venture. Previously, Norman had turned down the job offer as he thought the concept of insuring games of chance was absurd. However, finding himself trapped in his job as an insurance adjuster, Norman accepted the offer and moved to Texas where’s he lived ever since.

When to Play

When you approach a gamble, wage, or bet, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The first being that, if it didn’t cost you anything to play, there is no downside to playing. The second major thing to keep in mind is, never bet in a casino. The odds are heavily in the house’s favour and the best you can hope for is a short haul.

When determining if you should play a game or make a choice, Norman says it comes down to understanding what you’re getting yourself into. How are you spending your money? What knowledge do you have of the situation? What are the odds like for you, and how can you make them lean further in your favour? When you take a logical approach to a situation, you have a better chance of understanding what the outcome may be.

Public Speaking

A few years ago, Norman was asked to give a presentation about what he does for a living. Not wanting to do it, he quoted them an outrageous price, only for them to accept it. Begrudgingly, he did the speech only to learn that he actually enjoys public speaking more then magic. To him, where magic is away to help people momentarily escape the world, public speaking gives him the chance to help change the world.

When he gives speeches, Norman recounts his time of coping with a brain tumour. Six or seven years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of a baseball after going to the doctor to have his hearing checked. Taking the fact that he could die out of the equation, Norman approached his surgery in a very systematic way. He visited a malpractice doctor to understand if the surgeons were as skilled as it was claimed; he spoke with previous patients who had undergone similar surgeries; he hired a doctor to sit with his family during the operation so that if any questions were asked, the doctor could help them make the right call.

He tells this story when he gives his speech so that his audience can understand that you can do certain things to help when you’re approaching a situation. Norman goes on to say that if you actually want to be like him, you need to accept that you’re not that smart.

Three People Who Shaped His Magic

Over his lifetime, Norman says there have been three conversations that have shaped his view on magic.

Don Alan

When Norman was fourteen, he attended his first magic convention where the headliner was Don. Not knowing who Don was, Norman reserved three seats near the front of the room at the request of veteran magicians. After watching Don perform an hour of close-up, Norman knew that that’s what he wanted to do. So much so, that Norman told Don that he was going to do everything he did.

Don, seeing a sixteen year old standing before him, told Norman to go home, get naked, and stare at himself in his mirror until he accepted that he was not Don Alan, and that if he ever tried to be, the best he could be is second. Don explained that if Norman wanted to be good, he would need to learn who he is.

Jay Marshall

Young and naive, Norman had the opportunity to speak with Jay Marshall at an airport. Not really knowing Jay, Norman asked “How do you know if a trick is good?” In response, Jay told him that “you don’t know if a trick is good. The audience will tell you.” Jay went on to explain that after you did a trick five hundred times for an audience, you’ll be able to see if a trick is good or not. Noram wrote this down in his notebook and has been taking it to heart ever since.

Chuck Smith

If you’re not familiar with Chuck Smith, Norman wants you to know that all the big names have made a trek to visit him. Chuck may not be a fulltime magician, but he is the smartest magician Norman has ever met.

Fifteen years ago, Chuck’s wife, Thelma, was in the hospital for open heart surgery. At the time, she was not in good shape and they weren’t sure if she was going to make it. Being best friends, Norman went to visit Chuck and sat with him in the waiting room; Chuck was only able to see his wife for fifteen minutes every two hours. When Norman was leaving, he asked if Chuck needed anything, who then began to rattle off a list of magic props. While Norman left thinking that it wasn’t the time or place for magic tricks, he happily obliged his friend and brought back the props.

When Norman returned in the morning, he found Chuck smiling from ear to ear. He informed Norman that he no longer had to follow the silly two hour rule and could see his wife whenever he wanted to. It was at this moment that Norman realized that people look at magic a lot of different ways, but at its core, magic is a key. Magic can allow people to unlock doors they would otherwise have no access to.


What do you like about modern magic? What do you hate?

Norman likes Juan Tamariz recent book on the theory of magic: Magic Rainbow

Norman doesn’t like that magicians who don’t have the flight time are selling tricks that just aren’t very good.

Endless Chain

Howard Hamburg

Favourite Part

Jonah liked the idea of stepping back from a situation and using logic to determine the route you should take.

Norman reiterates two ideas:


Norman’s Website

TedX Talk

Penn’s Sunday School

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