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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Pros and Cons of the Three Ways to Hit It Big

7 February 1994

To make a bundle in a casino, you've got to hit a jumbo jackpot, win a tournament, or catch a hot streak at a high stakes table game. Each approach has strong and weak points. Weigh them then pick one, or go for a more modest return on the money you risk.

Slot Machines

The thought of winning $3 million or more for a $3 bet at a Megabucks machine has an undeniable appeal. Even $10,000 for five quarters on progressive video poker has a powerful attraction.

The good news is that progressive slots offer huge payouts. And, you can limit risk by playing with a small stake because you're as apt to hit your first bet as your thousandth. Play more for more chances to win, but the probability is the same every time.

The bad news is the small odds of a major score. On 25-cent nothing-wild jacks-or-better progressive draw poker, a royal flush in diamonds might win that $10,000. The probability of an expert player getting this hand is only one in 160,000. The odds of hitting the Megabucks jackpot are secret, but I'd guess they're no better than one in fifty million. To make matters worse, most players trying for the biggie won't be satisfied with mid-range wins; they'll recycle those coins 'till nothing's left.

Tournaments

Slot and table tournaments differ from regular casino action in that big payouts aren't related to specific wins or losses in the actual games. Players generally go for broke because a fair profit on a buy-in won't usually beat opponents whose hunches happen to hit, and may not cover the tournament entry fee. Further odds aren't dominated by probabilities associated with the games, but by the total of entry fees and buy-ins, numbers of entrants and awards, and amounts of the various prizes.

On the plus side, when skill isn't a factor, odds are reasonable. If 500 players compete, one will win the grand prize and 499 won't so the odds are one in 499. In video poker or blackjack, where expertise helps, the odds for good players are even better because some entrants won't have more than a faint prayer of surviving the first round. Moreover, losses are limited to the entry fee and pre-set buy-in.

On the minus side, the dues can be high. A slot contest with 200 entrants and a $25,000 top prize might take $250 to enter and $250 to play each of two rounds. My friend, Pete L, lowers the risk by forming partnerships. For this hypothetical tournament, 10 people might pay $75 for a one in 199 shot at $2,500 each.

High stakes action

Players have the best chance to win at games where the casino has the least edge. This means blackjack, baccarat, or craps.

What's nice is that you don't have to beat enormous odds to get ahead. Understanding of probabilities, money to ride out normal downswings, and sense to know when to quit are often enough.

What's nasty is that low-edge bets in these games pay 2 to 1 or less, so you have to risk a lot to win big. This usually means raising bets after a few wins and hoping the hot streak will last, and also increasing them after a few losses and hoping the hits come due to bring you back. When it works, $100 can easily escalate to $1,000 or $5,000. When it doesn't, $5000 can go fast.

It's your money

You can gamble for excitement and a chance for a small profit. Or you can aim for the moon. If you're out for big bucks, you'll probably blow your whole stake trying. So, in deciding, ponder the words of Sumner A Ingmark, the casinos' own poet laureate:

Try to earn a small return, the earning's not too tough;
Be more bold and go for gold, that's when the going's rough.

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.