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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Even at even-steven, the house still has an edge

15 August 2014

Dear Mark: I got into a card-cutting game with a friend with no distinct advantage to either side. We alternated going first. As the cutting of the cards ensued, we both concluded that with all 50/50 propositions, no one has the upper hand. Are we correct in this belief? We have no bet riding on this, just an inquiry. Jay M.

You would think, Jay, that the obvious answer is no. On a 50/50 proposition bet, neither of you has an edge. By going head-to-head cutting cards, each of you is just as likely to end up breaking even, or somewhere close to that based on random chance.

Now let’s mosey on over to the imaginary ABC Casino and hypothesize that they, too are offering the same card-cutting game without their accustomed mathematical built-in house edge. Will the casino over time make money against the player?

Actually, Jay, a distinct advantage now swings in the casino’s favor simply because they have a whole lot more ka-ching than you do. In the gambling business, it is referred to as “gambler’s ruin.” In essence, it is how long will it take you — with your meager bankroll — to lose it all to a casino, which has an infinite wad of cash. You come to the casino with X amount of dollars, and the casino retains a vault full of gold suitable for a Scrooge McDuck swimathon. Even if you were to have a short-term winning streak, when the house has a never-ending stake, they can, and will, outlast you.

Starting at $1 a cut, you do have some decent, but not unlimited, staying power against the house. When you extend your “time on device” (gamblese for the game) or get away from that buck wager, say to $25 a pop, it won’t be long before the casino has all your money. A few losses in a row and you could be tapped out, eyeing the free popcorn machine. Do you know of anyone ever busting the casino?

As the saying goes, Jay, “never bring a knife to a gun fight.” Well, the casino always has a six-shooter holstered, and your penknife isn’t going to get it done.

Dear Mark: When you don’t play the full amount on a Megabucks machine, how much are you giving up to the casino? Rob D.

Megabucks is a dollar slot machine where three coins ($3.00) must be inserted in order to win the progressive jackpot. The jackpot begins at $10,000,000 and is reset after a jackpot is hit.

A wide-area progressive slot machine like Megabucks has paid out some mega jackpots, but the long-term paybacks are typically the lowest in the casino. With “sketchy” odds of 30 million to one against you hitting the progressive, your chances of hitting a life-altering score are near nil.

That said, the long-term payback does drop significantly when you don't play the maximum coin amount, and thus, your long-term payback is approximately 82 percent, which makes it one of the worst bets in the casino.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Almost all gamesters learn to control their faces. The Hand blabs secrets shamelessly.” – Stephan Zweig, Four-and-Twenty Hours in a Woman's Life (1926)
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.