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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Gambling: Is It Still a Guy's Game?

27 April 2005

Once upon a time, gambling was a sport for guys wiseguys, otherwise guys, and occasionally gals who were one of the guys. Back then, gambling meant risking serious dough on every round, money that hurt when it was lost, making bets that paid somewhere from not much less to not much more than 1-to-1. True, there were sporadic wagers on traditional longshots like the props at craps, spots at roulette, and nags at the track the handicappers said were on the way to the glue factory. But these couldn't make anyone rich who didn't already have enough jack to bet big and was therefore already flush. Picture King Farouk at Monte Carlo, or the swells rubbing elbows with James Bond in Casino Royale.

Those who bet chump change, won or lost chump change. Slot jackpots of 100-to-1 or less were the norm. Nobody put throw-away money into a hole in a machine or table because the next pull or deal could but probably wouldn't change his or her life.

Casinos today aren't actually about the kind of gambling guys do. Instead, they're more like continuous fast-paced lottery parlors. Bets are so small and potential payoffs so large as to attract solid citizens who don't question let alone grasp the odds. More, the joints prosper on the sizzle rather than the steak. For instance, the perceived "recognition" by the bosses associated with "free" meals or hotel rooms; guys into gambling know these cost triple in vigorish what they cover in the inflated price of food or accommodations. Or the kitsch give-aways; real guys go to WalMart or Best Buys, not a casino, if they want a George Foreman Grill, Dust Buster vacuum cleaner, or Sunbeam coffee maker.

Fortunately, the punting palaces of the 21st century still offer some opportunities for genuine gambling. This option hasn't been totally eliminated by pulling out craps, blackjack, baccarat, and roulette pits to make extra room for slot machines or for table games more appropriate to carnivals than casinos. But just sliding checks onto the felt doesn't qualify just anybody as a guy. You have to know what you're doing, and do it.

This proficiency, as has been said so often it's banal, involves being at least familiar with the protocol and rules of the game. As critical, and ultimately more complex, is awareness of how to size bets. They're too small if losing a coup won't be nettlesome. They're too large if you sweat the chips on the layout. Guys are clued-in to staying between these extremes.

Guys also appreciate how much bankroll they need for a decent chance of outriding the downswings apt to occur in a normal session. This depends on bet size average and range as well as on the inherent volatility of the game. Precise probability of survival can be calculated, but experience is more the usual good teacher. Absent either, start with an initial buy-in of 25 times the average bet and hold an equal amount for replenishment. Savvy guys realize they're headed for the lockers with less of a poke.

On the upside, gambling like a guy implies knowing what's a respectable profit and being satisfied with it, also consistent with bet size and the characteristics of the game played. Again, math and practice can provide guidance in specific cases. But, lacking other information, begin by targeting a win 10 times your average bet. Your "guyhood" isn't doubted if you've been playing for a while and quit with less, a small loss after a comeback, or (yes, it happens) a wipeout. It's diminished if you reach a reasonable earnings level, stay too long, and give it all back.

A few things more. Guys don't berate other patrons, no matter how poorly they play or what effect their actions seem to have on the flow of the game. They're polite to dealers without obsequiously seeking their respect. After a losing session, they express disappointment without crying about it, and don't pretend not to be bothered. And they ask for comps, understanding they've paid for them through the house's edge on their handle but they're not ends in and of themselves. Sadly, all easier said than done, as the songster, Sumner A Ingmark, remarked in his renowned rhyme:

Oh, ponder all the reasons why,
Though men and women hard do try,
Not everyone can be a guy.

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.