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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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House Edge Matters, but Your Betting Strategy Matters More

24 July 2002

Casino gamblers can do something about house advantage. Mainly, trim it here or there by judiciously choosing games, making bets, and exercising decision options. However, except by card counting at blackjack or identifying the odd poker machine with over 100 percent return, both easier said than done, players can't nullify the edge. But, is it as momentous as the math mavens maintain?

To the casinos, edge is fundamental. Millions of dollars in wagers multiplied by fractions of percentage points earn big bucks for the bosses. But, how critical is it to solid citizens who make several hundred bets at the tables or a few thousand at the slots during typical sessions or casino visits?

Edge matters to individuals, although less so than aspects of gambling wholly under their control. Sophisticated players know how to shop for and minimize house advantage. But they also know how to size their bets and bankrolls, and - where opportunities arise - to balance the odds of winning a round against the amount of the payoff. These ingredients, much more than edge, determine what's really crucial to the majority of bettors: how much bankroll they'll need to outride a normal cold streak, and how much profit they can expect when luck is running strong.

To compare the influence of such factors with that of edge on session prospects, assume a $300 stash and contrast $30 on one spot with $1 on each of 30 spots at double- and single-zero roulette. Similar reasoning holds for other games, but roulette works well to explain the idea. This, because edge is 5.26 percent at double-zero and 2.70 percent at single-zero tables, owing to different odds for the same payoffs. The bottom line of edge is that after 100 $30 bets, double-zero players are worth a theoretical 100 x $30 x 0.0526 = $157.80 to the casino while single-zero patrons are rated at 100 x $30 x 0.0270 = $81.

If $157.80 seems like a lot more than $81, note that it's just theoretical. With $30 on one spot, a hit pays $1,050 in either case. Chances of winning are 2.6 and 2.7 percent at double- and single-zero games, respectively. Could you distinguish 2.6 from 2.7 percent? Further, in both instances, no hits in 100 lose $3,000, one loses $1,920, two lose $840, three win $240, four win $1,320, etc. The $157.80 and $81 get buried in these figures.

Most players are intent on getting ample action on stakes that seemed sensible when removed from the cookie jar. At double-zero roulette, betting $30 on one spot from a $300 bankroll, surviving 100 spins is a 12.4 percent possibility; with $1 on each of 30 spots, the probability is 76 percent. The respective chances for single-zero games are 12.9 and 90 percent. Choice of betting strategy is the overwhelming factor - from 12.4 to 76 percent with 5.26 percent edge, 12.9 to 90 percent with 2.70 percent edge. Edge, alone, accounts for changes only from 12.4 to 12.9 with 30 $1 bets and from 76 to 90 percent with one $30 bet.

Also heading many folks' agendas is the chance of reaching some profit goal as opposed to going bust. Say you'll go for double or nothing on a $300 stake. At a double-zero table, $30 straight-up, success is a 49.2 percent shot; with $1 on each of 30 spots, it's 1.2 percent. The respective single-zero figures are 49.6 and 8 percent. Choice of betting strategy again dominates - from 49.2 to 1.2 percent in one instance, 49.6 to 8 percent in the other. Edge matters, but not as much. The effect is from 49.6 to 49.2 percent with one $30 wager and 1.2 to 8 percent with 30 $1 bets.

Players can influence edge to a limited extent by picking their casinos, games, bets, and decisions. Still, even under the best circumstances, improvements achieved by shaving this parameter tend to be small. Where it really matters to most players - in the action during and money in their fanny packs after sessions, casino visits, or frequent gambling jaunts - edge has less impact than elements over which players can exert considerable control. The odds-return tradeoff is but one of many. It's as the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, cogitated in his contemplative canto:

The unexpected sometimes abruptly intercedes,
Yet man disposes his own fate.
A dollar short, a day too late,
Are less the fault of others' than self-inflicted deeds.

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.