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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Let us all praise streaking

29 November 2004

Dear Mark,
What's the longest winning streak you have ever witnessed in gambling? Mary Ann G.

A REAL FUN question, Mary Ann, which gets into gear a few lines down, where you'll also read about the longest losing streak I've ever witnessed. A streak is nothing more than a welcome (welcome to one side, that is, unwelcome to the other), momentary flutter in an endless timeline, which will soon be balanced by one or more unwelcome flutters.

As for streaks observed, I once dealt a lady 32 straight winning hands in blackjack. I tried like the dickens to get her to progressively bet more, but she took her $64 (32 x $2) after the run ended and walked away a happy camper, with a yarn and a smile for a lifetime.
I myself once had a horse in the money in 17 consecutive races over two days at Pimlico, offset by not having a horse crossing the line for cash for the next 35 races. See why the gods of chance are always shown grinning?

But the most superlative streak belongs to Kimmy T. from Traverse City, Michigan, who accumulated 47 winning sessions in a row in a casino. Yes, readers, don't let your eyes deceive you, you're reading it right. As an eyewitness at both the Leelanau Sands and the Turtle Creek Casino, I observed or documented Kimmy briefly tossing the odds into a cocked hat. She started her run nine months ago when she, her husband, my wife, my father and I hit the Leelanau Sands for an afternoon of leisurely gambling. (All right, coming clean here, I was there specifically for the $2.99 lunch buffet — a little vacation from my uxorially imposed diet).

Her eventual gambling timeline, 47 consecutive visits to the casino and coming out a winner each time, is still within the breeding grounds for unusual fluctuations, where — briefly — results seem to defy the dictates of probability. The casino's built-in advantage on the games she played didn't hold during her brief gaming stints. She made her gambling timeline as short as possible, always beginning with a bankroll of $80, walking away with as little as a $20 profit in 10 minutes, or as much as $1,150 in a two-hour period.

Kimmy's games of choice were but three: Double zero roulette, where the house edge is 5.26% on all the wagers she made; Three Card Poker with a simple basic strategy she learned from this column, which lowered the house edge on the "ante" wager to about 2.1% and the "Pair Plus" bet slightly higher at 2.3%; and, dare I say it, $1 SLOTS. The casino advantage on one-armed bandits in Michigan is, the envelope please, UNKNOWN.

Though many state gaming regulatory or tax agencies publicize casino slot returns for their respected jurisdictions, Michigan casinos are not required by law to release information on their slot machine payback percentages. All the Michigan casino must do is meet the same standards for machines as in New Jersey or Nevada. In New Jersey, the minimum return is 83%, Nevada it's 75%. Thus, Michigan casinos must return at least 75% to comply with the law.

Yet, the casino edge for slot machines, and for that matter for all casino games is based on long-term trials. Casinos are open 24 hours a day, greeting with a big smile those millions of handle pulls. With thousands of hopefuls playing Kimmy's games of choice, slots, double zero roulette, and three-card poker at any given moment, and with a mathematical advantage to the casino in every one of them, the casino doesn't lose, unless a godsend anomaly occurs, as it did for her.

Have faith, Mary Ann, in the casino's advantage being quite real, but predicated on the operation of the "law of averages" over a long period. By exposing your money for an extended period, you veer unavoidably closer to the ultimate built-in loss that the casino's statistician has prepared for you. Brevity of a gambling session is, for that reason, the secret weapon Kimmy employed.

Unfortunately, most players lengthen their bankroll's exposure and give the casino a correspondingly greater opportunity to eat it, whereas Kimmy, shortened her playing time to as little as 10 minutes, giving her a chance to exploit any favorable deviations from the law of big numbers that may occur.

Her hit-and-run method won't guarantee you will be a winner or ever have a run of luck such as Kimmy had, but magical gambling moments do happen, and your hand-to-hand encounter with destiny could begin today. You too, Mary Ann, could be walking around lucky and not even know it.

Before I shuffle: Incidentally, the streak did end at 47, but as I write this, I just got a call from Kimmy. She's in Vegas and up over $600 on her first day.

Gambling quote of the week: "Emotion is the greatest killer to any gambler, and if you wear your heart on your sleeve when you wager, those bookmakers will knock it off like a bad limb." —Amarillo Slim

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.