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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Should Casinos Publicize the Odds on their Games?

17 November 1997

Every so often, some well-meaning arbiter of the public wealth and weal proposes that casinos carry warning labels publicizing the odds on their games. Sorry, but the idea is irrelevant.

One reason is that, although "odds" are an important aspect of gambling, they're not what gives the casino its advantage over the player. "Edge," the theoretical or average amount the casino expects to earn on every bet, is more to the point.

Imagine two $1 jackpot-only slot machines which hit an average of once every 10,000 spins. Odds against winning are 9,999?to-1. Money Madness has a $9,500 jackpot; on Loot Lunacy, it's $7,500. Money Madness is more favorable. Same odds, higher payout. Technically, Money Madness returns $9,500 per $10,000 bet; it holds $0.05 per dollar - 5 percent edge. Loot Lunacy returns $7,500 per $10,000 bet; it holds $0.25 per dollar - 25 percent edge.

Hypothetical, not trivial. I've often walked between banks of progressive-jackpot video poker machines - all identical except in one respect. Some were in a link with a giant jackpot flashing in everybody's faces, while others showed a lesser reward. Were the monster-money machines mobbed and the cheapies deserted? No!

Here's a second reason why publicizing odds or edge is senseless. Other than in reel-type slots, the figures are available to anyone wanting to investigate. They're inherent in the configuration and rules of the games, not set by some covert payout schedule.

Roulette provides an example. At double-zero tables, the odds against hitting a single number are 37-to-1 and the house has 5.26 percent edge. Single-zero wheels are better, with odds of 36-to-1 and edge of 2.7 percent for the same payouts. There's no secrecy whatever. Likewise in blackjack. Numbers of decks shuffled together, rules like hands on which bets can be doubled, ability to resplit pairs, and options such as surrender all affect odds and edge. This information has been widely published.

In such cases, folks who've informed themselves before risking their money don't need more than a nudge in the right direction. Given a choice of casinos, a few quick phone calls indicate where to find the best games. Within a casino, a walk on the floor shows where to play. Posting the statistics won't help the luck-starved masses who want to think the games are all the same.


A third factor: odds and edge characterizing each bet aside, solid citizens can influence their chances of winning sessions. This involves playing and betting strategies. For instance when and why to stand or hit at blackjack, raise or lower wagers at baccarat, or drop minimum or maximum numbers of coins at the slots; stake needed to withstand normal downswings of various games with different size bets; or loss limits and win goals.

Lastly, probability and statistics aren't the only considerations in gambling. There's also what economists call "utility," the trade-off between the cost of a bet and the size of the prize.

Craps affords an illustration. A player can make equal "place" bets on the four or five. The odds against winning on four are 2-to-1; a $5 bet pays $9 and house edge is 6.67 percent. The odds against winning on five are 1.5-to-1; a $5 bet pays $7 and house edge is 4 percent. Some knowledgeable bettors prefer the four to the five, despite worse odds and edge, for the higher payoff.

Consider this. You know the $0.25 slots at the Grubstake pay back 99 percent - 1 percent house edge - but no jackpot tops $1,000. The quarter machines at the Mother Lode pay back 89 percent - 11 percent house edge - but all jackpots exceed $25,000. Do you go to the Grubstake where you have more chance to win less, or the Mother Lode where you have less chance to win more? Would your decision be the same if you squirrel away $100 for your club's semi-annual casino night, or if you boarded the bus with $50 bankroll twice a week? Don't answer until you've mulled over the meditation of the muse, Sumner A Ingmark:


Do you gamble in search of something to show for it,
Or is betting the means you've chosen to 'go for it?'

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.