Gambling is taking a risk of losing something of value on an unpredictable outcome. When you gamble at either an online or land based casino both you and the casino take a risk in losing something of value. The risk is greater for you because the casino only offers games that provide a statistical advantage to the casino.
However, much statutory and some case law has been devoted to ensuring that casinos and players don’t cheat each other by subtly altering the conditions of gambling games without each other’s knowledge and permission. You can, though, change the terms of the game. The casino often provides a way for you to do this.
But should you take the offer?
There are two things you need to understand before you can start improving your chances of winning when you gamble. First, you can change the outcome of a gambling game. Second, you will almost always confuse yourself if you try to do the math. These two most common of gambling mistakes help the casinos earn tens of billions of dollars every year.
How You Change the Outcome in a Gambling Game
Many casino gambling games allow and even encourage players to change the stakes, the odds, and even the percentage chances of winning. Here are a few examples of how you can change the outcome of a gambling game (almost always for the worst).
Say you are playing a slot machine game and you win a prize on a spin. A special “Gamble” button lights up. You are now prompted to play a secondary game, maybe betting on the outcome of a virtual coin toss, using the prize you just won as the stake in your new bet. This is an exciting feature. It also means you are risking the loss of what you just won on a game with a better “edge” for the casino.
Most slot games have a theoretical return to player above 75%. Games developed after 2010 usually have better than a 90% theoretical return. The RTP is an estimate of how much money would be retained by a hypothetical player who spun the reels continually for a period of several years. It’s not a realistic estimate of how much money you will win, lose, or hold on to. It’s a statistical measurement used to gauge how friendly the game is to the gambler.
In a coin toss the theoretical return to player is 50% or 1 in 2. So let’s assume you just gambled $5 on a spin in the basic slot game and that you won $10. You have doubled your money. Now the “Gamble” light activates and you are invited to take your $10 and bet it on the outcome of a coin toss. And suppose the “Gamble” feature allows you to wager on the outcome of two concurrent coin tosses. Now you have a choice: bet on 1 coin toss for a chance to double your $10 to $20 or bet on 2 concurrent coin tosses for a chance to quadruple your money.
Your chances of winning the double concurrent coin toss are 25% or 1 in 4.
You would have a better chance to keep your $10 prize and just spin again on the basic game. By taking the “Gamble” challenge you improve the casino’s chances of winning your next bet. It’s like paying $5 for a quarter of pie at one restaurant and then paying another $10 for an eighth of a pie at a different restaurant. Are you really getting a better piece of pie at the second restaurant?
In the game of blackjack if the dealer offers you insurance most experts tell you not to take it. Why? Because you are betting that you will lose your basic wager. The chances of being correct (that the dealer has a blackjack) on your insurance bet are worse than the chances that you can beat the dealer’s hand (your original wager).
The bottom line here is that casinos will sometimes offer you ways to change your stakes and your chances of winning to their own benefit. If you want to win at gambling, don’t take the deal behind door number 2. Stick to your original game and be consistent. Let someone else win the goat.
How to Confuse Yourself at Any Gambling Game
There is a certain idea among gambling experts that comparing the “house edge” in various gambling games helps you to make informed choices. The edge is a theoretical return to the casino, the complementary percentage for the theoretical return to player. In other words, in every form of gambling, there is only a 100% allocation of money. Gambling does not generate new wealth; all gambling does is pool wealth between the bettors and redistribute that wealth between the bettors (and sometimes also a middle man).
In the 1-on-1 game of blackjack there are only 2 bettors in your game: you and the casino. The casino is willing to pay up to the full amount of your bet if you win. It’s an even money match up, and that is really what makes blackjack so profitable for a casino. They risk less per round than they do with, say, roulette or a slot game. But if you have been reading blackjack tutorials you should know by now that the house edge is lower in blackjack than in other games, and therefore you have the best chance of winning in blackjack.
In fact, the dealer has a better chance of coming out ahead because at a busy table the dealer is playing multiple hands at once by the most conservative of rules. In other words, the casino is taking less risk per round in blackjack than the players while at the same time multiplying its chances of winning.
Players make mistakes when playing blackjack. Blackjack dealers don’t have to make hard decisions. In fact, by always going last the dealer often doesn’t have to make any choices at all. The players make most of the decisions in blackjack. And yet blackjack remains profitable for the casinos. The casinos are profiting from player mistakes.
Players make several types of gambling mistakes. One of the most common mistakes is to confuse the probability of winning with the theoretical return to player. The probability of winning is limited to the next round of play. The theoretical return to player is an estimate of what all the players of a game will collectively receive over the life of a specific game (or an arbitrarily large number of rounds in the game).
The rule of thumb is that the more rounds played for a given game the more the actual results of that game will average out close to the theoretical return to player (or the house edge).
But what are the chances of your drawing a natural blackjack on the next deal? What are the chances that the dealer will not win against you on the next deal? These are probabilities that can be computed on the basis of how many cards are left in the shoe, less the cards that have already been played. Those probabilities change as more cards are played but they rarely if ever line up with the theoretical return to player.
The mistake players make is assuming that the house only has a 2.5% chance of winning the next round. The dealer’s chance of winning that next hand can be as high as 100% and as low as 0%. The house edge is always irrelevant with respect to any individual round played on any gambling game from keno to slots to blackjack to baccarat.
When you gamble, it’s nice to know how much money the house is expected to retain over the next 30 days but that won’t help you predict how much you win or lose in any of the next 10 rounds of play.
Expert gamblers like to calculate probabilities but probabilities do not predict the next round’s outcome. The roulette wheel always has a 1 in 37 or 1 in 38 chance of landing on any given number. The chance that the ball will land on number “7” 100 times in a row remains 1 in 37 or 1 in 38. That never changes (allowing for truly random spins, although the laws of physics mandate that the spins won’t be completely random).
On the other hand, what is the expected probability of a random spin of the roulette wheel producing “7” 100 times in a row? This is where you multiply your individual spin probability (1/3x) by itself the number of times in a row (100 in this case). The expected probability of the wheel hitting “7” 100 times in a row is 1.51296e-157 (a very, very small number). But that low probability has no bearing on the probability of the next spin.
This is the dichotomy of probability theory, where you are dealing with large sequences of independent events. The expected probability does not mean you cannot or will not see the unlikely outcome. In this hypothetical example, we are simply computing how many possible outcomes there are and assuming the chances of producing the same result 100 times in a row are equivalent to a certain percentage of those possible outcomes.
Unfortunately (even semi-) random events have a way of defying the probabilities. But if someone offers you 100-to-1 odds that a roulette wheel will land on “7” 100 times in a row, verify their ability to pay and take the wager. They lose as soon as a different result turns up before the 100TH spin.
The bottom line here is simple: don’t try to do the math like an expert. Random chance will always eventually prove the experts wrong.
What You Must Do to Improve Your Chances of Winning
Here are a few basic rules for improving your chances of winning when you gamble.
Stop second-guessing yourself.
Every casino game offers you a fair chance of winning. The games, when played fairly and legally, pay prizes that correspond to the expected probabilities of given outcomes, although casinos will hold back a little bit extra in most games to ensure they make some money. Hence, in roulette, the most you can win is 36-to-1 instead of 37-to-1 or 38-to-1.
The odds are always stacked against you. But random chance favors the fool, as the old saying goes. You just cannot guarantee you are the fool upon whom random chance showers its favors.
Take the least possible risk.
In a hypothetical game where you win 100 rounds out of 100 rounds, you will kick yourself if you only wager $5 on each round for the chance to win $5 instead of wagering $100 on each round for the chance to win $10,000 on each round.
In reality, positive thinking doesn’t work when you gamble. The more you assume you could win the more you are likely to lose when you do lose.
Risking less does mean you win less per round but that’s okay.
Manage your money so that you play as many rounds as possible.
You are more likely to win back $100 in wagers if you divide them into twenty $5 wagers than if you divide them into five $20 wagers.
Instead of playing numbers games (which is second guessing yourself) or assuming you will win a certain number of times (which is taking more than the least possible risk) you should assume you are going to lose more rounds than you win. When you play slots or even a modest keno game (like a 5-pick) you can still come out ahead when you play more rounds with small wagers than fewer rounds with large wagers.
But how does playing conservatively work in blackjack, when the average prize is an even money bet? If you lose only 49% of the rounds in blackjack you lose. Okay, smart guy, you know you need to double down a few times. Instead of playing numbers games and assuming you can lose X number of hands and double down on Y hands, just accept that once in a while you’ll have to double down to improve your chances in blackjack.
When should you double down? The experts agree that if the dealer is showing a 5 or 6 and you have an ace and anything less than a 7.
You don’t need to double a lot as long as you can double enough to come out ahead.
Don’t try to win big.
That’s the real fun in gambling, though, isn’t it? You want to win the jackpot, hit the long odds, and outwit the dealer at every hand.
Going for the big win is the worst possible way to gamble. You may not be playing all-or-nothing but you are playing too much.
Still, you can adjust the amount of your wagers upward if you are doing well. Just keep them proportionate to your bankroll.
Use a consistent percentage ceiling in your wager to bankroll ratio.
Although it is prudent to limit your initial wagers to 5% of your original bankroll, at some point you may double or triple your money. Does it make sense to continue playing by the original 5% measure?
Most gamblers will feel confident enough to increase their wagers. But while it’s usually good advice to ignore all betting systems when you gamble (because each has its flaws), you can set a limit of “5% of your current bankroll down to half”, meaning you gamble with $5 bets until you lose half the money you came in with.
If you double your money then you can double your wagers as long as you don’t go above 5%.
Five percent is not a magic number. You can set the percentage at 1%, 5%, 15%, or even 20%. You should be consistent about not going above your percentage. You still have the flexibility of making larger wagers if you roll up your money.
Divide Your Bankroll At Certain Split Points.
This technique works best in land-based casinos, especially when you can put your money into tickets that are easy to carry around. A split point is a multiple of your bankroll. Say you begin gambling with $200 and you roll that up to $400 at the craps table. Now take half your money and put $200 of it into a ticket.
You can continue playing craps with the remaining $200 or you can try another game. When you roll up your second $200 to $400 again you split the money into another ticket plus money to play with.
After you have 3 or 4 tickets you can rotate them. Never play a ticket all the way down. Leave at least a few dollars on it so you can leave the casino with some money (and a little dignity).
When you gamble online it makes some sense to shift money from the game balance back to your main account. As long as you have money in your game account you should be good. It helps you to stay focused on conservative betting if you take money out of the game when you get ahead of your original bankroll.
Play with Casino Bonus Money Whenever Possible
Land-based casinos may not offer you signup bonuses but many online casinos do. Play conservatively with the casino bonus money to increase your chances of fulfilling your wagering requirement with just the bonus money. While that won’t always happen the longer you can delay putting your own money into the game the better the chances you’ll start winning.
You can try this strategy with the “no deposit” welcome bonuses some casinos offer but they do limit how much credit they extend to you. You have more bonus money to work with when you accept a deposit match bonus.
Stick to the Basic Game.
Whether you play slots, craps, roulette, or blackjack the less complicated you make your game the less likely you’ll place dumb bets.
The casino is counting you to make dumb bets. You should count on the casino to be less than generous with its odds on the best most likely to pay off.
There are few progressive wagers that are worth the money. The more you throw into a round the harder it will be to recover from a loss.
In craps bet on Pass or Don’t Pass and play the odds but keep it simple.
In blackjack bide your time and don’t split every time you get a pair of cards of the same value. Should you really split two 5 cards when you’re showing 10 on the table? Should you split two tens? Two nines? You have three options: play the basic game, double down, or split. On some tables you may be able to surrender if you don’t like the dealer’s cards but look at the strength of your cards first and your options for splitting second.
Assume the free games are more generous than the paid games.
When you have a chance to “try before you buy” at an online casino the free game just may be slightly more generous than the paid version. There are several reasons why this might happen. If you can check the theoretical return to player for a free game and the paid version, look for differences.
Does the free game run on a different server? The different server may be using a different random number generator, a different random seed number, or a different estimated percentage for the theoretical return to player. Variations in all these things can affect the randomness of the outcome of the game.
Play low variance games.
Sad to say, but the less volatility there is in the prize to wager ratio of a game the more likely it will pay you prizes. Volatility is an important measure for a casino because it needs to know how much cash to keep on hand. But you need to know how long you may have to play a game before you win a nice prize. That is where the variance comes into play.
Think of variance as “how much any random outcome of a game varies from the average expected outcome”. There is a relationship between variance and volatility (in fact, some gambling writers use these terms interchangeably). The casino cares more about the volatility and the player cares more about the variance.
How do you judge variance? It comes down to how long you can play the game with your initial bankroll. A low variance game has a tendency to take less of your money.
Hence, as noted above, you can affect the variance of the game in a limited way by playing conservatively and ignoring the extra bets the house offers.
Think of gambling as an endurance race between the bettors. Whoever can go more rounds wins the most money, unless random chance steps in and hands a big win to the individual gambler. Then gambling is more about who has the most self-discipline. The casino is playing a numbers game and just has to be there with enough cash on hand to keep the games going. The player has to have the wisdom and the self-discipline to walk away with the cash.
Harvard Medical School published a trove of data about online gamblers that was collected from 2005 to 2007 by an online casino (Bwin). Researchers who studied the data concluded that about 11% of gamblers were likely to win and that winners were more likely to play less frequently. Subsequently, researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut compared that analysis to their own analysis of data from a Native American casino’s database. The second study found that about 13.5% of the land-based gamblers were winners.
The good news for most gamblers is that fewer than 5% of them contribute about 50% of the casino’s net revenue, and about 10% contribute 80% of the casino’s revenue, so most gamblers are not big losers. That means approximately 80% of gamblers share the burden of about 20% of the casino’s net revenue between themselves. Given that most people cannot lose enough money (for lack of wealth) to drop into the lower 10% (the Big Losers) changing how one gambles increases an individual’s chances of moving into the upper 10%.
Gamblers with little wealth to lose should still learn to make better choices. You cannot guarantee you will win but you can always cut your losses short or take fewer risks. Gambling is more fun when it is just entertainment. If your losses amount to no more than what you would spend on other types of entertainment such as concerts and travel, then have fun.
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