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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: Hey! That looks easy. Let's try it!

25 February 2008

Frequent bettors often know the games, perhaps even the machines or tables, they'll play when they visit a casino. The choice may be objective or subjective; it's sometimes even rational.

Most casino patrons, though, are occasional if not once-in-a-blue-moon dabblers. They don't distinguish one game from another in any but a cursory sense. They're aware the casino has an edge, but figure it's roughly the same no matter where they wager. So they pick and choose by criteria such as whether the game appears obvious enough to play without seeming like a rube to the dealer or the other patrons, they can give it a shot without endangering all their funds during a short cold spell, small bets can return big bucks, and people with an authoritative aura are also at it.

Edge? Volatility? The chance a stake will suffice to provide extended entertainment value if they lose? The probability of earning enough to be satisfied before depleting a bankroll? Huh?

Questions like these imply varying degrees of expertise to ask, let alone answer. Surprisingly few solid citizens who think they're serious gamblers do the math or go to the credible gurus to get the information. The droves of dilettantes rarely bother with such niceties. So the establishments are filled with folks who flock in saying "Hey, that looks easy. Let's try it."

Pretend that your local den of iniquity has introduced La Boule. The promotion claims this easy-to-learn, exciting, fun-filled yet elegant game is featured in most classy continental casinos.

La Boule is real. It resembles roulette. There's a ball that drops into a numbered groove on a wheel and a layout where you put chips in areas corresponding to your bets. La Boule is actually simpler than roulette. The wheel only has numbers 1 through 9, each repeated twice. It also has three colors. Numbers 1, 3, 6, and 8 are red; 2, 4, 7, and 9 are black; 5 is yellow. Bets are on Red, Black, Low (1 through 4), High (6 through 9), Odd, Even, and particular numbers. All pay at 1-to-1 except individual numbers at 7-to-1. Should you try it?

Without an analysis, you might assume that the house's advantage is about the same at La Boule and single-zero roulette given the European elan of each. You'd be wrong. Here's the skinny in pure monetary terms. Make believe you risk $1 per spin on either game for 333 rounds, always on the same proposition, and obtain the statistically-correct distribution of results. For instance, you might bet on one column (covering 12 numbers) at roulette and on Low (covering four numbers) at La Boule. Any other wagers on these games won't change the conclusions of this exercise.

Single-zero roulette has 37 possible results. Since you've covered 12, you win (12/37) x 333 or 108 times. The bet pays 2-to-1 so you collect $216. But you lose $1 the remaining 225 times for a total of $225. Your net loss (edge rears its ugly head) is $225 - $216 or $9 2.7 percent of the $333 gross wager.

La Boule has nine possible outcomes. You've covered four so you win (4/9) x 333 or 148 times, picking up $148. You lose the remaining 185 times for a total of $185. Your net loss is $185 - $148 or (yikes!) $37 11.1 percent of the $333 gross wager.

Single-zero roulette is normally offered at high limits to preferred players (ever wonder why they're preferred?). It gives the bosses over five times the average take per dollar bet than does blackjack following Basic Strategy or craps Line bets with moderate Odds. Double-zero roulette is nearly twice as bad.

Truly erudite bettors avoid roulette. They know the edge is hefty, first-hand or from hearsay. The bosses' bite at La Boule hurts considerably more. But the game gets action in Europe and would have takers in the U.S. were casinos sufficiently shameless to offer it. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware. Or, as that perspicacious punters' poet, Sumner A Ingmark, polemicized:


When gambling looks easy, It might well be sleazy, And when you are finished, You'll feel diminished.
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.