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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Bankroll to bankrupt in three minutes

28 May 1999

Dear Mark,
Since I don't gamble very often and chances of losing eight in a row are very remote, don't you think it's logical to double my wager every time I lose? Albert M.


I see your logic, if you call it logic, but it isn't. What you are describing is called the Martingale System, a historic name for doubling up after every loss. In essence, you the gambler double your previous bet (after a loss) to recoup that loss plus win back your initial wager. It is probably-no, IT IS-the worst money management system you can use. You would think, logically, this form of betting is foolproof because you have to win sooner or later. The problem is, you don't have an inexhaustible bankroll, and our friends who own the casinos will limit the maximum size of your wager. Also, ask any gambler you know if six or eight losses in a row is not unusual. I'm experiencing it now with a computer program that picks the pros in football.

But Albert, I really want you to think this through. Here's you. You bet $2 and lose, then $4 to recoup your losses. Then $8, $16, $32, $64, $128, $256, $512. Ka-ching, Kaa-ching, you invested $1,020 just to get your measly two bucks back. Oops, but you were playing on a game that had a table limit of $200. A string of six defeats and the casino automatically protects itself plus sets your loss limit at $252. Wiped out, Albert, in less than three minutes.

The Martingale system is not logical, it's downright lethal. It's so obvious, Albert. No more, please.

Dear Mark,
What is a hardway number on a crap game and is it a good bet? Steve. R.
A hardway wager is a 4-6-8-10, but only paired up as a 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 combination. For example; if you have a hard six wager, a pair of 3-3s would have to roll for you to win. Not a 2-4 or 5-1 dice roll. Is it a good bet? No! House advantage on a hardway 6 or 8 is 9.1 percent. A hardway 4 or 10 has an 11.1 percent casino edge. Readers of Deal Me In only make wagers that have a house advantage of two percent or less. Steve, say adios to this wager.

Dear Mark,
On my last two trips to Las Vegas I have found slots ($1 machines at the Stratosphere) advertising a return of 98%. I didn't seem to get a decent return on them. Shouldn't the casino, in such a regulated business like gambling, at least pay back the percentage they advertise? Dottie C.

When a casino advertises that its slot machines return 98 percent, it means the machine is pre-programmed "over the long run" to return 98¢ of every dollar played. Don't come to expect that for each dollar inserted you will automatically get 98¢ dribbling back into the tray. The operative phrase here is "over the long run." A "long run" could mean weeks, months, and even years on any given machine.
But let's assume the machine you were playing was paying off 98¢ for each and every dollar bet. Using a liberal definition of the word "good" machine, we'll allow the casino a measly 2% edge. Well, Dottie, if you were to insert $60 per minute into a 98% payback slot machine (not difficult on a dollar machine at $3 a whack using a credit button), you will lose about $72 an hour. Multiply that by eight hours of play and you will come up $576 short in the purse. Even on those advertised high payback machines, the casino still has a way of grinding away at your gambling capital.

The way you avoid this $576 grind is to behave more conservatively by playing on smaller denomination machines (25¢), for shorter increments of time. Casino operators know all to well that such cautious behavior has negative implications on the casino win for the house. They would much prefer you ante-up silver slugs and play all day.

Oh, by the way, Dottie, all too often players like you believe that the casino is in the gambling business. Wrong! They are in the math business. On pre-programmed slot machines that give the house a certain percentage return, you are the only one doing the gambling here.

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.