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Best of Mark Pilarski

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All or nothing is a bad bet anytime, anywhere

3 May 2004

Dear Mark,
A few weeks ago, I saw a man on live television walk into a casino in Las Vegas, bet his entire life savings, and win $270,000. A few questions if I may. Will there ever be a time when we can make wagers from home while the action is played in a casino elsewhere by someone else? Also, with you formally being in the gaming business, would you have taken the wager? Finally, how sound was the bet? Danny R.

The person you are speaking of was Ashley Revell, who put up his entire net worth of $135,300 on red at the roulette table while a British film crew recorded the event. However, Danny, it was not live as your question suggests, but taped delayed. The reason for the tape delay was because the Wire Act provides criminal penalties to anyone engaging in the business of betting when using a wire communication facility for the transmission of interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers on any sporting event, contest or betting information. I'm sure The Plaza Hotel-Casino in downtown Las Vegas, where the bet was placed, made sure the wager was taped and not broadcast live. So, Danny, the answer to your first question is NO, I cannot foresee even lobbied politicians of unsound mind allowing you to wager from your lazyboy chair on whether Revell wins or loses.

You also inquired if I, as an imaginary casino owner, would have taken Revell's "life savings" wager. Not a chance, Danny. Even with the global exposure that the wager received, I would have nixed the idea of someone betting his or her life savings on one spin. This columnist has recommended countless times that you should only bet what you can afford to lose, not everything you own. Most of the casinos in Las Vegas would probably agree with Yours Truly; of course, the others would have had their limos curbside at the airport awaiting Revell's arrival.

Finally, even though he won $135,300 (not $270,000, see below) when the ball dropped into the seven slot, a red number, I must challenge Revell's wisdom for choosing roulette when risking his total net worth.

There were plenty of wagers in the casino that offer a better deal than double zero roulette, where the house edge is 5.26% on every bet you place on the table, including betting red. Revell broke the most fundamental principle of all of gambling; finding the best bet and conditions. He was not gambling smart when he decided a single spin at a double-zero roulette table is where he'd lay his brazen bet. If Revell was so gung-ho on roulette, he should have at least made that same wager on a single zero roulette wheel where the house edge is a less murderous 2.70%. Better yet, he should have avoided Las Vegas entirely and made the play in Atlantic City, where some casinos have a special rule that allows only one half of the wager to be lost whenever the ball lands on zero or double zero (0, 00). This even-money outside bet is called Surrender. Surrender (or "en prison" in French) is allowed only on even money bets that pay off at 1 to 1 (red/black, odd/even, 1-18/19-36).

In Revell's case of betting red, if 00 or 0 came up, without Surrender, he would have automatically lost his bet. If Surrender were available at the casino where he made the play, half of his wager would remain on Red through the next spin. It's called Surrender because his bet is temporarily held hostage, or "en prison" if you like, awaiting the outcome of the next spin. This Surrender option cuts the house edge on even money bets to 2.63% on the American game, and down to 1.35% on the European, single-zero table.

By the way, Danny, he did not win $270,000 as many news accounts reported. He risked $135,300 and won $135,300.

Gambling quote of the week: "Has there ever been a movie or television sequence when the final bet was modest?" Allen Dowling, The Great American Pastime (1970)

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.