Some Free Gambling Advice
At dinner with a lovely couple, a sweet husband and wife of obvious intelligence and clarity of mind, the topic turned to Vegas. One of their favorite pastimes, they remarked, was going to Las Vegas for quick one or two-day trips during which they assiduously avoided the showrooms, much-lauded restaurants, and anything else that might take them away from the true object of their affection, the casino.
People who know I’ve written several books about gambling seem particularly keen to share their best tale of risk-and-reward, and most of them involve unlikely success. Almost everyone seems to know a “system” for beating one game or another, and if they don’t employ it personally, they know someone who does, with astonishing results. This couple was no different. They entertained the dinner table with a detailed narrative about how they had won $500 at keno.
“I thought you said you had read my books,” I commented, puzzled.
“Oh, yes, I did,” the lady replied. “And I know what you said about keno.”
“That it’s possibly the worst bet in the casino?” I reminded her.
“Right. But we noticed something about the numbers!” she reported. Then the lady revealed to the rest of us that her husband and she noticed that “groups” of numbers recurred for several draws in a row before migrating to another part of the keno board, where they recurred again — until they moved once more in their peripatetic pursuit of randomness.
I politely explained that the pattern she had discerned was illusory, the kind of ersatz revelation that eventually leaves the discoverer broke.
Another guest asked rhetorically, “But she won at keno, didn’t she? So maybe it’s not as unbeatable as you say.”
I reminded her that even the longest of longshots may occasionally be beaten in the short run, but in the long run the mathematical disadvantage can’t be overcome.
Everyone’s eyes glazed over, and they returned to excited chattering about how the keno expert won $500.
For those disinclined to spend the $10 or so it costs to pick up a paperback copy of one of my gambling story collections, I offer here some free advice: Games with a fixed house advantage cannot be beaten — except by cheating.
Because of the constantly changing composition of the deck, blackjack, or “21,” is vulnerable to expert players. The odds aren’t static; sometimes they even swing to the player’s advantage. On the other hand, games like roulette, craps, baccarat, and, yes, keno, have a house edge that never varies, not on the first trial, not on the millionth trial. But because human beings are blessed at pattern recognition — even when one doesn’t truly exist — the casinos cleverly encourage the misapprehension that each independent trial is actually dependent, that somehow what happened previously impacts what happens next. This is why you see LED tote boards next to roulette tables. The boards display the wheel’s last dozen or so results. When red, or odd numbers, or single digits, or whatever, have come up frequently, patrons get the mistaken idea that the ball somehow knows where it ought to land, that it’s on a mission to do the same thing again. (Or that it’s tired of the same old thing and is ready for a change.) The dismal and unexciting truth is that unless the wheel is “gaffed” or defective, the next roll — and the one after that and so on — has no relation whatsoever to the previous one.
In the case of keno, the casino has about a 28% advantage over the player. This means that for every $100 you wager on keno you’re giving the house $28. (The average blackjack game costs you about $1 per every hundred wagered, and the average dice table costs about $1.40.) Which means the casino considers its keno players extremely valuable customers — even the ones with a magic system.