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Best of Mark Pilarski

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An odds way of looking at things

8 December 2003

Dear Mark, Please pardon this simple question, but could you explain what you meant when you stated in a column being paid "less than true odds." Stan B.

True odds, Stan, is the ratio of the number of times a favorable event will occur as compared to the number of times an unfavorable event will happen. As for "less than true odds," here-tiz in common talk with an example: Suppose you and I flip a coin, a dollar a pop. If you lose, you pay me a buck. If you win, I pay you only 95¢. Sound fair to you, Stan? Even though the odds of winning are a 50-50 proposition, the game becomes inequitable when instead of you getting paid $1 when you win, you're only getting 95¢. Though getting shortchanged a measly nickel doesn't seem like much, it adds up as the number of coin flips increases.

Casinos use this same concept, being paid less then true odds, when you win a bet at most casino games. Note any casino pay table (roulette, many craps bets, video poker, slots, etc.) and you'll see that their every payout is for a a reduced payoff, or "less than true odds."

This difference between true odds and less than true odds is called the house edge, a percentage of each bet you make that the house takes in. The reason you are not paid true odds when you gamble is that you need to make a payment, an entertainment tax if you will, for the casino letting you play in their joint.

Dear Mark, I had a friend who told me he made a few thousand dollars a year just by walking around in casinos and looking for slot machines that had money left in the tray or in credits. Sounds like a way to make some extra cash. Is this legal? Who owns that money anyway? Laurie J.

Whose money is it? T'aint your friend's, 'tiz the casino owners. I've done this question before, and normally I wouldn't repeat it, but just this last week I personally observed two elderly gents trying to get buffet funds by circling the casino floor looking for credits and loose change, so it has earned a repetition.

"Sea gulling," as it's called in gamblese, is illegal. It means purposely circumnavigating the casino floor looking for orphan coins or credits on a slot machine, or even change on the floor.

If your friend continues to make a full-time occupation of cruising the casino on the lookout for easy pickings, he will eventually be caught and asked never to come back, or "permanently 86ed" in casino-ese. Luckily, if your pal Sticky-finger is caught, there is no soundproof room with a glove-vice waiting.

But that doesn't mean there are not those like your friend who seek to make a living scavenging the millions lost each year by gamblers who forget their stored credits (winnings). Of course, I know, Laurie, that you are not a casino conniver looking for an easy score. But a tip to you and other slot-playing patrons: before you walk away from any slot machine, don't forget to press the cash-out button.

Gambling quote of the week: "Some people lose their heads cold sober. Cards, dice pool; it makes no difference. You want to make a living that way, you want to be a winner, you got to keep your head. And you got to remember that there's a loser somewhere in you, whining at you, and you got to learn to cut his water off." — Bert, The Hustler (1959)

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.