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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Are You Crazy Enough to Win Big, Sane Enough to Keep It?

14 November 1994

asionally, casino gamblers strike it rich. Not merely mucho dinero. Large multiples of their starting stakes and base bets.

At the machines, probability prevails. Odds against giant jackpots are in the millions, but sooner or later the internal computer generates the random digits that align the stars or bars and whistle Dixie. There's also the luck of who and when.

At the tables, too, probability and luck are elements. But multiplying bankrolls by factors of ten, a hundred, or more adds another facet of gambling. Amassing big bucks requires aggressive play, escalating bets to recoup losses and compound profits.

Here are two extreme but telling examples of big table wins. You can parlay $10 into almost half a million on a single number at roulette by winning and letting it ride for two more successive hits. You can also toss a dollar on 12 at craps, then parlay it up to almost $30,000 by letting it ride through two more successive throws.

Odds against a number winning plunk, plunk, plunk at double-zero roulette are 54,871-to-1. On a table operating 'round the clock with a spin per minute, laws of probability say that any number can be expected to hit three times running about once every six weeks. Odds against three 12s in a row at craps are 46,655-to-1. On a 24-hour table with a throw a minute, 12-12-12 can be expected sooner than once every five weeks. And most casinos would waive their upper limits for two-time winners wanting to try for three.

The odds in these examples beat those of equivalent wins on progressive slots. So, why do solid citizens go for the gold at the machines yet not for more favorable table plays like these? The answer lies in bet sizes and stages.

Slot bets are uniform, assuming maximum number of coins per drop, and payoffs depend on the chance that winning combinations will occur. Slot players who lurch ahead and risk their profits on more shots at a big score, or who fall behind and try to recover, take the same step every time. It's easy in theory, though not in practice, to stop before a profit dribbles down to a loss.

At the tables, payoffs on specific wagers are uniform so increasing returns are achieved by "pressing" bets. It's how to win big, but it risks giving everything back and "tapping out" at full tilt. One way to think of it is "you have to play crazy."

Think about Megabucks machines. You've been betting $3 a pop, starting with $100. The credit meter is up to $250. Folks might say it's dumb to continue, especially if you eventually lost it all, but not crazy.

Next, picture the roulette parlay. On the first hit, $10 grows to $360. Do you quit, lock up some profit and bet the rest, or let the money ride? Almost everybody would consider it crazy to let it ride, but say you do and hit again. Now your $10 has become $12,960. Everyone would agree it's lunacy to go for broke a third time, even if you win.

Let me tell you about a chat I had recently with a casino manager. He was describing two blackjack players. One worked $2000 up to above $40,000 and went home minus the original $2000. The second built $100 into over $30,000, then lost it and $100 more. I said everyone would drop a little from peaks like that because they wouldn't quit until a few losses signaled the streak was over, but it was stupid to give it all back. "Not stupid," he replied. "You have to play crazy to win like that at blackjack. And if you're crazy enough to win it, you're crazy enough to lose it, too."

It brought to mind the poignant poesy of Sumner A Ingmark, the table bettors' troubadour:

I have a rule, I never guess,
I keep my bets the same unless,
I'm up or down, and then I press.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.