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Don't believe everything you see on the Internet

29 June 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: How about a comment regarding this photo that surfaced on the Internet regarding the number 19 being hit seven times in a row in Las Vegas? Alastair K.

What Alastair is referring to, was a Las Veags Sun blog with an accompanying photo that had this headline; "Rio roulette wheel reportedly hits seven straight 19s, and, yes, this is really rare."

The photo of the roulette wheel display showing the number 19 hitting seven consecutive spins came via Jeff Romano, a professional poker player, who tweeted it while taking a break during the World Series of Poker.

My first impression was the customary, don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see, together with, yes, being in the biz long enough, I realize at any one session at a roulette table, there can, and most certainly will be, many deviations from the norm. However, with seven times in a row, I was immediately suspicious of this odds-defying streak. Figuring, in my 30-plus years in the gambling business, I saw the same number appear, drum roll please, four consecutive times, once.

This Romano string started with a green zero, followed by 20-20-23-5-20-20, then the run of 19s, followed by 15, and 19 again.

Quick mathematical calculations on my iPhone calculator told me that the odds of hitting the same number on seven consecutive spins are 3 billion to 1. Nah, didn’t happen. Besides, the casino offers plenty of opportunities for the use of one’s rabbit’s foot for gambling events that have never occurred. Take for example a 15-spot in keno. Chances of hitting this swizz are approximately 428 billion to one. Never happened. Or, this diddle they call a “Special Bonus” ticket, where you try to hit 19 out of 20. Try the improbable odds of two quadrillion, 946 trillion, 096 billion, and 780 million to one. Never happened. Three billion to one is a cakewalk compared to those long odds. Still…

Moving down the checklist, I still considered the possibility of a dealer sector shooting, where he or she can deliberately target putting the ball in specific sections of a wheel, creating a biased wheel. And yet, I personally believe pocketing a specific number when the wheel is spinning east, the ball west, with frets impeding a descending bouncing ball as it finds its way to a particular pocket is damn near impossible, even for the most gifted roulette dealer. There are far too many physical variables for a dealer to control to forecast where the ball is going to land. Oh, and those four 20's appearing prior to the run, 20 doesn’t reside next to 19, it’s actually on the opposite side of the wheel.

Besides, dealers are trained, and carefully watched by pit bulls and the eye in the sky to either speed up, or slow down, both the wheel and ball delivery before each spin to avoid this kind of hanky panky, especially in a joint like the Rio.

Had I been a pit supervisor on that shift, on the third 19, I would have walked over and hawked the game. On the fourth 19, I would have called observation and got them involved. The fifth, okay, this just became a "what the hell is going on here moment." The sixth 19, I would have probably gotten a call by someone over my head to temporarily close the game down to verify that the wheel was properly balanced and calibrated. All this, if it happened, but it didn’t.

That "streak" ended up being nothing more than a glitch caused by a number sensor, and not an actual seven-time run on the number 19, with a picture of the numeric display that went viral. Displays have nothing to do with the roulette wheels, and are no reflection on the integrity of the game. The tote board is there for customer convenience only.

Streaks often occur in a casino environment, and as the ball bounces merrily along to its final resting place, it knows nothing about where it is supposed to land. With the millions of trials going on in any casino on any day, the improbable is a possibility, but at odds of three billion to one, probably not in my lifetime.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it." —- Albert Einstein
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.