I love gambling systems. I enjoy writing about them and debunking them. It’s a subject I never get tired of.
I even enjoy playing according to these systems, even though I know that in the long run, they make no difference. I’ve accepted that I’m a recreational gambler, and I never expect to come home a winner.
My experience is that people who believe in gambling systems ignore reality because they prefer hope. I don’t think that’s a good approach to a gambling hobby at all.
In this post, I’ve outlined an approach to most games that I think is superior to the gambling system suggested for that activity. I’ve tried to include the lamest gambling systems.
The Difference between Gambling Strategies and Gambling Systems
Since gambling systems don’t work, they’re all equally worthless. Please note that there’s a distinction between a “system” and a “strategy.”
A system is a structured way of sizing your bets based on what’s happened on previous bets in a casino game. The idea behind most systems is that they’re going to take advantage of winning streaks or losing streaks. You’re either going to start betting on something because it’s won more often than you’d expect it to or, you’re going to bet against it because it’s time for another outcome to start happening.
Most systems also have rules for when to quit playing a gambling game. These are usually money management related rules—you have to quit a session when you’ve won a specific amount or lost a specific amount.
These systems ignore the basics of probability. You don’t start fresh when you quit and start gambling again.
Think about it this way:
You have a session where you’re going to quit if you’ve won $200, but you’ll also quit if you’ve lost $200.
When you quit that session, you know you’re eventually going to come back for another session. You’re not going to give up gambling forever.
- What length of time between sessions counts as long enough to qualify your next sessions as a new session?
- Suppose you wait 8 hours?
- What if you wait 4 hours instead?
- How about 5 minutes?
There’s no difference. The game’s math doesn’t change regardless of when you start and stop. All gambling games can be considered one long session that lasts your entire your life until you quit playing that game for good.
You also have no way of predicting when a winning streak or a losing streak will begin or end. Every gambling game I know of trades in independent results. What happened on the previous bet has no effect on the probability for the next bet.
For example, you’re betting on black in roulette. There are 18 black numbers on the wheel, and there are 20 numbers which aren’t black. That means there are 38 possible outcomes.
Your probability of getting a black result is 18/38—no matter what happened on the previous spin.
The numbers don’t go away after a roulette spin. Any system which uses what happened on a previous spin of the wheel is doomed to fail because the probability doesn’t change.
Gambling systems have you raise or lower the size of your bets based on what happened previously, but that’s an exercise in futility because the probability doesn’t change from one bet to the next.
That’s how a gambling system works, but what’s a gambling strategy?
A gambling strategy uses real math to predict results and improve your probability.
There’s no strategy for roulette other than to avoid the 5-number bet. That bet gives the house an edge of 7.89% instead of the usual 5.26%, so the appropriate strategy is to get the lowest house edge possible.
There’s one casino game where previous results do affect subsequent results—blackjack. Every time a card is dealt, the composition of the deck changes. This DOES change the probability.
- A standard deck of cards has 4 aces in it. The probability of getting an ace is 4/52, or 1/13. (There are 52 cards total in the deck.)
- If 2 of those aces have already been dealt, you have a new probability – 2/50, or 1/25. That’s significantly different.
- Since some hands pay out better than others—specifically, 2-card hands that total 21—the number of aces in the deck becomes an important factor.
- If a deck has a lot of aces and 10s in it compared to other, lower-ranked cards, you’re more likely to get a blackjack and the corresponding 3 to 2 payout.
If you raise the size of your bets, in that case, you improve the overall odds in your favor.
That’s how counting cards works, and that’s a gambling strategy, not a gambling system.
In poker, you bet and raise with your good hands. You check and fold with your bad hands. That’s also a gambling strategy. (Poker strategy is far more complicated than that, even, but you can see the difference.)
Any Gambling System You Have to Pay for Should Be Avoided
As I pointed out in the beginning of that last section, all gambling systems are equally worthless. None of them improve your odds of winning or making a profit.
Don’t pay for things that are worthless.
One of my favorite examples of a worthless gambling system is a website I found that sells multiple systems for winning the lottery. If you know anything at all about the lottery, you know that the game offers some of the worst odds in gambling.
One way to measure how “good” a gambling game is for the player—mathematically—is by looking at the game’s payback percentage. That’s the average amount you can expect to win back compared to the amount you spend to play.
For example, in a game with a payback percentage of 50%, you would expect (mathematically) to win back only $50 for every $100 you bet, on average, over a long period of time.
Here’s one way a lottery game might be structured so that you could achieve a 50% payback percentage:
- Suppose you decide to launch your own independently financed lottery, and you sell 100 tickets for $1 each. You’ve taken in $100.
- Being a good business, you want to earn a profit, so you offer a prize of $50 to the winner.
- The payback percentage for that game is 50%. If you’re a gambler buying tickets to that game, you’ll eventually go broke if you keep putting money into that game. There’s no way to win.
- You’ll either lose $1 or win $50, but if you play long enough, over time, you’ll lose 50 cents for every $1 you gamble.
How can a gambling system overcome that kind of math?
The simple answer is that it can’t.
One example of a popular lottery system is a wheeling system. This is just a means of picking 4 numbers, say, and using every combination of those numbers to bet on the pick 3.
For example, let’s say you want to use every combination of 1, 2, 3, and 4.
You’d by the following tickets:
The idea is that you’re more likely to win when you buy more tickets. That’s true, by the way.
But you need to think of each of those tickets as being like a negative number, because that’s what it is, mathematically.
No combination of negative numbers, no matter what you do with each of them, add up to a positive number.
You’re just as likely to have an outcome that includes one of the other 6 digits as you might have been before.
The house gets its edge from offering payouts lower than the odds of winning.
You could buy ALL the tickets in a lottery game and guarantee yourself a win. That’s a system that would work. The problem is that the amount of money you’d lose on all the losing tickets would add up to more than you’ve won—by a significant amount, too.
Is it worthwhile to pay money for a gambling strategy?
Sure. You don’t have to spend a fortune on gambling strategies, either. Plenty of books are available for less than $30 that explain legitimate gambling strategies that work.
For that matter, you can find books that explain bogus gambling systems, too. Those fall in the same price range.
What you want to avoid are these gambling systems that are sold on the internet for outrageous prices.
That lottery site I was telling you about?
He’s selling lottery systems for $395.
You’d be better off buying $395 worth of lottery tickets. You’d at least have a chance of making a profit from that.
But if you spend $395 on “Steve Player’s” lottery system, the only person who profits is Steve Player.
What about Roulette Systems?
All roulette systems depend on trying to predict what’s going to happen next based on what’s happened before. You’re then supposed to size your bets accordingly.
One of the most common systems is The Martingale System, and it’s a perfect example of a system that doesn’t work in the long run.
With the Martingale System, you bet on one of the even-money wagers at the roulette table:
All those bets pay off at even money. If you bet $100 on odd, and the number comes up 19, you win $100.
All those bets have a 47.37% probability of winning. They each have 18 possible winning outcomes out of 38 possible total outcomes.
With the Martingale System, you bet on one of those, and if you lose that bet, you double the size of your next bet. This recoups the loss from your previous bet and leaves you with a profit.
- If you bet $100 on odd and lose, you’d bet $200 on odd the next time. If you win that bet, you win back the $100 you lost on the first bet, and you have a $100 profit.
- If you lose the 2nd bet, you double the size of your bet again—this time to $400. That will recoup the $300 you lost on the first 2 bets and net you a $100 profit.
This might seem foolproof. After all, how many bets in a row can you possibly lose playing roulette?
The answer, unfortunately, is simple:
More than you think.
Also, most people don’t realize just how quickly the size of your bets becomes unsustainable. Let’s continue that progression with the $100 initial bet:
After 6 losses in a row, you’re having to bet $6400 just to continue with the system. Most roulette tables have a maximum bet of $500 (at a low stakes table) or $5000 (at a higher stakes table).
If you lose 6 times in a row at this table, you can’t place your next bet, because the casino won’t allow you to.
Also, at this point in the progression, you’ve already lost $6300. You’d have to be a millionaire to stand that kind of action without getting nauseated at how much money you’ve lost.
Of course, you don’t see 6-spin losing streaks all the time, but you’ll see them often enough that they’ll wipe out the small profits you got from the short progressions where you won and then some.
The house edge in roulette is 5.26% regardless.
The Gamblers Fallacy
The Gamblers Fallacy is the belief that previous results have some effect on the probability of subsequent events. It takes 2 forms:
- The belief that something has gotten “hot” and you should bet with the winning streak.
- The belief that something is “overdue” and you should bet against the winning streak.
As I’ve pointed out before in this very post, neither of these is true. The mathematical formula for probability makes it clear how to calculate the probability of an event.
It’s just the number of ways something can happen divided by the total number of possible outcomes.
You would think that it’s unlikely that you’re going to see red come up 7 times in a row on a roulette wheel, but when you bet on red on that 7th spin, you’re not betting on red coming up 7 times in a row. You’re betting on red coming up on that next spin.
To bet on red coming up 7 times in a row, you would have had to bet on red in the beginning.
This also doesn’t mean that you’re going to see red come up again because it’s hot.
It’s still 47.37%, no matter what happened on previous spins.
What Should You Do Instead of Using Lame Gambling Systems?
Actually, I’m not that opposed to you using a lame gambling system if you think it will be fun to try one. I’m only opposed to you paying money for such a system. I’m also opposed to you thinking you’ve found a road to riches.
If you’re looking for an alternative to using a gambling system, though, I suggest sticking with games that actually have legitimate strategies. There aren’t many of them.
Blackjack is one game where you can get an edge over the house. All you have to do is learn how to count cards.
Poker is another great game where you can get an edge over the other players—assuming those players aren’t as good as you are.
Video poker is another gambling game where you might be able to get an edge, but you have to find the right video poker game with the right pay table. Then you have to play that game with near perfect strategy on every hand. That’s almost impossible for the average player.
Sports betting is another gambling activity where you might be able to get an edge, but it’s probably harder than you think. The vig has such a huge effect on your odds of profiting that it can be discouraging.
But it can be done.
Other than that, if you’re a recreational gambler, I suggest this:
- Choose games you think are fun.
- Play them in the way that minimizes their overall house edge and maximizes the amount of fun you have playing them.
Gambling systems are the snake oil of the gambling industry. Differentiating between gambling systems and legitimate gambling strategies isn’t that hard to do, though. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you can probably make that discernment for yourself.
But please—don’t enrich the system-sellers on the internet.
They’re taking advantage of the hopeful and the ignorant, which is morally repugnant.