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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Can a $50 bill ruin your day?

22 November 2013

Dear Mark: Do you know why $50 bills are unlucky in a casino? My husband will never accept them from a cashier, but can’t explain why except to say that they are jinxed. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Jackie H.

The fifty-dollar bill ($50) is a denomination of United States currency that has the 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant featured on the obverse, with the U.S. Capitol on the reverse. Hardly anything here draws on superstition, that groundless belief in a supernatural agency. Yet, your husband is far from alone. Many gamblers are dead set against accepting them, and many casinos will not even hand them out.

It is unclear where the bill’s unlucky reputation comes from, but legend has it that mobsters used to tuck $50 bills in the jacket pockets of victims they buried in the desert. Bugsy Siegel had three on him when he was snuffed out by the mob.

When I worked at the Cal Neva at Lake Tahoe, the long-time casino cage manager named Mae, who was even there when Frank Sinatra owned the joint, told me that the $50 bill was seen by Asian gamblers as god-awful unlucky. At the Cal Neva, we could take them in, but we didn’t dole them out.

Tell your husband, Jackie, that within the casino walls, the only way you can bring luck onto oneself is through smart wagering. Hence, my motto; “the smarter you play, the luckier you’ll be.”

Dear Mark: I have seen many baccarat players filling out the scorecard for every bet placed. Does that really matter for increasing the winning odds? Vince W.

Sit down at almost any baccarat table, Vince, and you will find pencils and scorecards provided for the players to track the outcome of each hand. What they are doing is analyzing their card for trends as winning hands switch back and forth between the Player and Banker. Personally, I believe they are wasting their time. Assuming, as you should, that the shoe and dealer are legit, the next hand is an independent, random event.

Nevertheless, jotting B-P-B-B-P-P-P-B’s on a Baccarat scorecard, even if there is no advantage to doing so, does add some excitement to the game of Baccarat. The strategy that I would recommend is that since the house edge for the Bank hand is slightly lower than for the Player hand (1.17 percent vs. 1.36 percent), just keep betting on the banker and pass on the scorecards.

Now, Vince, please allow me to contradict myself. Sure, I advocated betting the Banker hand and dismiss scorecards, figuring the numbers support the Banker bet as the statistically better wager, even if the difference between the Player and Banker hand is ever so slight. The problem playing this way is that the game action becomes monotonous. Who wants to sit down at a Baccarat table and bet the same wager (B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B) all night long? You’re trading the fun of gambling for a minuscule statistical gain. There is that “fun factor” to guessing that I don’t want to overlook here.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science.” - Henry David Thoreau
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.