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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: The games they play to change your winning ways

15 August 2008

Dear Mark: I play roulette when I feel lucky, which is hardly ever. However, I noticed that at one local casino where I play, if you watch real close, they change balls every time they spin the wheel. I also noticed they are different sized balls. Is this common practice, and do all the casinos do this? I have in the past seen them change the balls, but usually when they have a dealer change. What gives? Bob M.

Any time the house is taking a beating, superstitious pit bosses do try various things to "change" your winning ways. Reversing the rotation of the wheel and/or swapping different weighted balls are a couple of things they erroneously believe will more efficiently separate you from your hard-earned money. Nah!

When I dealt roulette, before each spin, I was trained to either speed up or slow down both the wheel and ball delivery to avoid wheel clocking, and yes, occasionally I switched balls, particularly if I flicked the ball too fast and it came off the game, but rarely would a spooked pit bull ask me to exchange balls, even when we were getting clobbered.

Most rational pit bosses know that no amount of ball changing on a random non-biased wheel has anything to do with the outcome of the next spin. Each spin is an independent event, and over the long run, you can plan on your losses being 5.26%.

Apparently, Bob, where you play, superstition trumps mathematics.

Dear Mark: Is it possible for casino IT gurus to change odds remotely from the back room to cheat unsuspecting players? Inquiring minds want to know! Diane U.

Is it possible that some geek in the bowels of a casino basement in Singapore can tinker with your payouts? Sure. With networked machines, satellite transmission, and computer programming, absolutely anything is possible. But is it happening? Capital D -- definitely not, and here's why.

Casinos reap their profits by paying winning slot machine players less than the true odds on their bets. Let me say that again: EVERY slot machine offered to the player is already mathematically fixed in the casino's favor. Since every coin inserted into their one-armed bandits is operating on this principle, why, Diane, should they ever bother to fleece you further?

What's more, most casinos are publicly traded companies on the NYSE, and believe me, Diane, they are not in the least bit interested in exposing their gaming licenses to loss through any inkling of cheating.

There is no more regulated business in America than gaming, with plenty of rules and regulations that would close a casino down for defrauding, or appearing to defraud, the public.

Dear Mark: The casino where I play allows players to draw to split aces. How big of an edge am I getting with this rule change? John M.

Unlike when you split any other pair, when you split aces, normally you are only allowed to draw one card to each ace. Some casinos, like the one where you play, allow you to draw additional cards to each split ace. This player-favorable rule decreases the house's edge by 0.14%.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The good news is that in every deck of 52 cards there are 2,598,960 possible poker hands. The bad news is that you are going to be dealt only one of them." --Anthony Holden

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.