The Missing Key to Gambling Success

By in Casino & Gaming on
4 Minute Read
The Missing Key to Gambling Success

Most people I know at least dislike math. I know a lot of people who hate it, though, and I also know several people who are anxious and/or fearful about math.

But what if I told you that the missing key to your gambling success is your knowledge of math?

You might not like that, but it’s the truth.

If you really want gambling success, you’ll need to understand at least some basic math principles.

In this post, I explain why math is the missing key to gambling success.

Gambling Is Based on Random Events

To gamble, you must risk something of value. You must also have a possible reward of value.

And the outcome must be uncertain.

If one of those three qualities is missing from the activity, you don’t have a bet at all.

Uncertain outcomes, of course, are best understood through the lens of probability. That’s the branch of mathematics that concerns itself with measuring and predicting likelihoods of random events happening.

Luckily, probability is almost the most basic kind of math you could ask for. Anyone who can do basic arithmetic can handle the concepts behind most probability problems.

A little algebra doesn’t hurt, either.

But mostly, it’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

It helps to understand fractions and percentages well, too.

How Mathematicians Measure Probability

Not only is the word “probability” used to describe this branch of mathematics, it’s also a specific measuring unit – like cups, miles, or ounces.

The difference is that a probability is always a fraction. Probability just defines how likely something is to happen.

To calculate an event’s probability, you divide the number of ways said event can happen by the total number of possible events.

This creates a fraction which can also be expressed as a percentage.

Gambling

Here’s an example:

You’re playing a slot machine. You have 1000 possible combinations of symbols that can come up on the payline. Only 1 of those combinations is the jackpot.

The probability of hitting the jackpot, then, is 1/1000.

That can also be expressed as a percentage: 0.1%

What can you do with that information?

For one thing, you can roughly estimate that every time you make 1000 spins of the slot machine reels, you can expect to win the jackpot once.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s on some kind of cycle, and the jackpot will roll around close to every 1000 spins.

Sometimes a jackpot might not hit for 2000 spins, and other times, it might hit twice in 1000 spins.

Over the short run, your actual results might be remarkably different from the prediction.

But over the long run, your actual results of a random event will start to look like the predicted results.

For example, if you hit the jackpot on your first spin of the reels, it does NOT mean that you have 100% probability of hitting a jackpot on this slot machine.

It also doesn’t mean the probability of hitting the jackpot on the next spin of the reels is anything other than 1/1000.

Random events are usually “independent events.”

Their probabilities don’t change based on previous results – this is an important distinction to understand if you want gambling success, too.

Understand Expected Value

Once you understand probability, you can start comparing the expected value for various bets. Expected value is just the result of multiplying the probability of winning by the amount you stand to win. You then multiply the probability of losing by the amount you stand to win. The difference is the expected value for the bet.

Let’s look at an example from the casino world – roulette:

Let’s say you’re placing a single-number bet. Since you have 38 numbers on a roulette wheel, the probability of winning this bet is 1/38.

And the bet pays off at 35 to 1 odds – for every dollar you bet, if you win, you get $35.

The probability of losing this bet is 37/38, and the amount you lose is the amount you bet.

What’s the expected value of this bet?

Start by multiplying 35 by 1/38. That gives you +35/38.

Then multiply 1 by 37/38. That gives you -37/38.

Add those together and you get -2/38, which is the expected value of that bet. Notice that it’s negative. In the long run, this is the amount you stand to lose on each bet. It’s the “expected value.”

Of course, -2/38 isn’t intuitively easy to understand.

But, as with any fraction, you can reduce it. In this case, it reduces to -1/19.

And savvy gamblers know to convert that into a percentage because it’s easier to understand that way.

-1/19 converted to a percentage is -5.26%.

When it comes to casino games, we call that the house edge.

ALL casino games have a house edge most of the time. This is how casinos stay in business and make a profit – the house edge.

Successful gamblers find a way to beat the house edge or learn to accept it as part of their success.

Defining Success for Yourself as a Gambler

Gamblers’ goals are as distinct as gamblers are.

But, for the most part, gamblers want to win money.

Their approaches might differ, though. Some gamblers want to show a long-term profit. Other gamblers are willing to deal with long-term losses in exchange for the occasional thrill of big wins.

I have a friend named Tom who’s a serious poker player, and he’s definitely in the top 5% of players. (95% of poker players lose money in the long run, by the way.)

His goal is to make money as he plays.

He doesn’t make bets at the craps tables or the roulette tables – ever.

He’s serious.

Gambling Success

And he’s learned which hands to play in which situations to make sure he has a long-term positive expected value.

On the other hand, my friend Patrick wants the thrill of occasional big wins.

He drives to the casino at least once a week – sometimes more – and plays the slot machines. He understands that in the long run he’s going to lose more money than he’s going to win.

He accepts that and enjoys the vagaries of fate.

Last Friday, he called to let me know he’d won $11,000 at the casino.

He never calls to brag about how big his losing sessions are, though, and he only calls me once every couple of months with a tale of a big win.

One can only assume that those other sessions turned out to be losing sessions.

But he’s paying his bills and enjoying his life. He enjoys his gambling hobby. Who am I to say he’s not a success because he’s losing money in the long run?

The Importance of Keeping Records

Every gambler who wants to succeed should keep detailed records of his or her real money gambling sessions and their wins and losses.

Even if you accept that you’re a recreational gambler and will always lose more than you win, you need to know how much you’re losing. You can’t rely on your memory for this. Your memory is fallible. Write stuff down.

If and when you do win a big slot machine jackpot, you can deduct your losses from your other trips to the casino from your winnings for income tax purposes.

This isn’t the main reason you should keep records.

But it’s an important perk.

If you’re a winning gambler, you should also know how much you win per hour at various gambling activities. If you’re only earning an average of $6/hour counting cards in blackjack, how successful are you?

That depends on your definition of success, but clarity is important.

And you can’t have clarity if you’re not keeping detailed records.

Conclusion

The missing key to gambling success for most people is math.
Other missing keys, though, include things like clarity. If you’re not clear about your goals, how do you know whether you’ve achieved them?

This is why it’s so important to keep detailed records of your gambling activities.

And there’s no excuse in today’s internet age for anyone who’s gambling to not have at least a rudimentary understanding of probability as it relates to gambling.

It’s like driving a car without knowing how the steering wheel, the gas pedal, and the brakes work. You might eventually figure out how to get from point A to point B in that situation, but it won’t be pretty.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

View all posts by Michael Stevens
Email the author at: [email protected]