Can You Make Money in a Casino?
By Steve Gillman
In any casino, there are supposed secrets and systems that
are passed from player to player, and the result of all this
gambler camaraderie is big profits... for the casino in any case.
In reality most systems are just ways to lose your money more
slowly or to lose it in a different manner. I'll explain that
latter part in a moment, because making your money last longer
or having more fun while losing it are at least better than the
usual alternative.
But there are a few ways to actually come out ahead when visiting
casinos. Not all of the following techniques are appropriate
every casino, but you might find something here that will work
at a gambling establishment near you.
For example, there was that a man who made $80,000 over several
months on my roulette wheel, when I was working in a casino fifteen
or twenty years ago. I'll get the details of how he did it in
a moment. But first let's look at some misconceptions about gambling
games.
Gamblers' Dumb Ideas
If a red number comes up on a roulette table twenty times
in a row, the odds of another red on the next spin are the same
as they are for black: 18 out of 38 on an American wheel. But
many people will be betting black after a "run" of
red numbers, thinking a black one is "due" to come
up. This is just one of the many delusional ideas out there.
Now if you want to test the theory with actual money, you
can. Just stand by the roulette table and wait for a while. Once
red has come up, say, four or more times in a row, bet on black.
Do this every time there has been a run of red numbers. Remember,
a black number is "due," meaning the little ball is
more likely to land on one at these times, according to this
theory. You'll have plenty of opportunities to bet during an
evening, but I can tell you right now that you probably won't
like the result, so don't quit your day job.
One of the most common ideas I have seen in recent years,
is that some system of "money management" can make
you a winner in a casino. Managing your bets in certain ways
can slow your losses, and it certainly can mean leaving the place
ahead more often. But money management doesn't change the odds.
In the long run you still lose, just in different ways.
For example, if you sit down to play blackjack, without "card
counting" or otherwise moving the odds in your favor, you
may see your bankroll go up and down. If your habit is to keep
playing until you win really big or lose, you'll normally go
home having lost. On the other hand, if you have a simple money
management system, you can go home a winner more often.
Let's say you start with $100. Make it a rule that you have
to leave if you lose $50 from any highpoint. This is called
a "trailing stop loss" in stock trading. In other words,
if your bankroll (the money you have to gamble with, including
winnings) is up to $175 at some point, the most you'll let it
slip back to is $125. That's $50 lost from that point, but you
still leave $25 ahead. The idea here is that you can still win
big while controlling losses. You can even increase the size
of the "stop loss" once you get to say $300, to allow
for bigger bets.
You will very likely go home ahead more often with a simple
system like this. But you haven't changed the odds one bit. You
are just disciplining yourself to play less and not lose too
much in one night. Over the years, you'll still lose a small
percentage of every dollar bet on average, resulting in a net
loss overall.
Card Counting
There are real ways to win in a casino. Card counting can
give you a real edge at blackjack (also known as "21"),
for example. Anyone can learn how to do it, and I dealt to several
players who consistently made money counting cards. However,
you'll need a good book to show you how, and you'll need to practice
and follow the "rules" religiously. Since 95% of "card
counters" won't put forth the effort to do it right, they
are a profitable market for the casino owners.
You also may not have the stomach for gambling, even when
the odds are in your favor. With the best card counting you can
still have days where you lose, and lose a lot. And betting less
to avoid big losses can mean making less than minimum wage for
your efforts. This is because you might have only a small edge
on the "house" so if, for example, you have an average
bet of $6, you manage to play well enough to get a 1% edge, and
the dealer is dealing 60 hands per hour, you'll make just $6
per hour in the long run (and if you can't do that math you are
not ready for card counting.
Roulette Systems
The most common roulette schemes are variations of the martingale
system, in which you double your bet until you win. For example,
you bet a dollar on red and if you lose you bet two, and if you
lose that you bet four. Once you finally win you will be one
dollar ahead for that "series" of bets, and then you
start over with a onedollar bet. Of course you are not changing
the odds with this system. You might leave ahead once in a while,
but normally you will double up to the table limit and then lose
at some point. Notice that casinos design the upper and lower
betting limits so that no more than six to eight "doublings"
are possible. At some point in the evening you'll lose six to
eight times in a row, and when you do you'll probably lose more
money than all those $1 series wins added up to.
On the other hand, how you play matters if you just want to
have fun as you lose, and have the possibility of a big win once
in a while. If you wager a couple dollars on the "evenmoney"
bets, you can probably make a hundreddollar bankroll last all
day and night, but you'll never be very far ahead at any point.
But if you bet the numbers also, for a 35to1 payout, you can
parlay a lucky win into bigger bets and possibly leave with many
hundreds of dollars (I have seen it happen quite often). You
can always leave when you hit your "stop loss" point,
so the only additional risk you have with this strategy is that
you'll have to go home earlier than you planned.
Now let's look at that roulette system...
It is sometimes possible to identify numbers that are coming
out more than the the 1in38 spins that they should show up.
You can do this by "charting" the wheel. Here's a basic
description of this process:
Record the results of 5,000 spins (pen and notebook work fine).
Find any numbers in that came up more than 151 times total. If
there are any, start betting those numbers every spin. If not,
try another wheel. By the way, when you bet a number, you get
paid 35 to 1 if it hits, plus you keep your bet.
Roulette wheels can have biases, meaning some numbers come
up more often that they should. If a number is frequent enough,
you can make money betting it. For example, if 18 is showing
up 1 in 30 spins, and you bet $10 on it each time, you would
win $350 once for every 30 spins, on average, and lose $290 on
the other 29 $10bets. On a "fast" table, one where
the croupier is managing to do 40 spins per hour, for example,
you would average a $60 profit for every 30 spins, or about $80perhour.
This can be tough, because betting the same number every time
is boring. Also, an "average" profit doesn't mean no
losing nights. I saw that gentleman who won $80,000 lose $500
on some nights. The bias must be sufficient too. This player
played numbers only if they came up 1in33 spins (151 out of
5,000 spins) or more often. The best wheel had a number that
came up 1 in 29 spins, making him as much as $100 per hour for
his time, depending on the pace of the game each night.
Why do the wheels have biases? There are many different reasons.
For example, a few manufacturing imperfections might cause a
bias. A divider between pockets which is higher than others "catches"
the ball, causing it to fall on certain numbers more often. Also,
a loose divider could absorb the "hit" of the ball
causing it to drop rather than bounce off of it as it might normally
do.
There are other reasons, but you don't have to know why a
bias exists for this roulette system to work, as long as the
bias is statistically significant. To know if it is sufficient,
you track the results of 5,000 spins or more. If you bet based
on any less than that you may be betting on a falsebias. The
mathematics can be difficult, but a simple example helps explain:
Any ten coin tosses can result in seven heads or tails, right?
But an unbiased coin won't ever come up heads 7,000 out of 10,000
tosses. Big numbers show true bias.
If you do notice temporary reasons for a bias, like a sticky
pocket with a few drops of someone's drink splashed in it, you
may want to watch to see if they are corrected (cleaned in this
case). Most biases remain there for a while because they are
not noticed by management, or their cause is unknown, and replacing
roulette wheels is expensive. Of course, cleaning one doesn't
cost much.
A cheap solution some casinos use to thwart "wheel charters,"
is switching a couple wheels around. If you memorize the woodgrain
pattern of the wheel you'll know if it was moved or replaced.
This kind of roulette system works only on specific wheels (those
with known biases), so you have to know you're at the same wheel
each time you play.
Books on "Casino Secrets"
There are many books on gambling systems out there. They all
promise a way to make big money. Most of them are pure garbage.
Some, like those based on "money management," teach
you discipline, so you can lose in a different and more controlled
way. Some actually have a few useful secrets on how to win in
a casino.
How do you choose? Read a bit of the book, and if you can't
understand why what they are telling you will work, move on.
You'll have to exercise your brain, and there will be some math
in any good gambling book, but numbers are used to confuse as
often as they are used to enlighten, so be sure to find a book
that make sense to you.
Make Money With Casino Promotions
Other ways to make money in a casino is to take advantage
of coupons and promotions. I have seen casinos do promotions
that put the odds in your favor, like paying double on blackjack,
or matching bets on the moneywheel. To really take advantage
of these, though, you have to learn a bit about probabilities.
Otherwise you won't know when the game favors you.
My wife and I have been visiting a casino where we have a
club card that you can get for free. If you have this membership
card they give you $5 in free slot machine play every time you
walk in and give them $5. In other words, you get $10 of play
for $5. We play fivecent slot machines and eat the free dinner
they offer every evening. We have been to this place about eight
times now, and have left ahead every time. You do have to play
a certain number of times to keep the free money (I think it
is 100 plays).
I do not know the payout settings on these machines, but the
math is something like this: Suppose the machines pay back an
average of 85%, and we bet five cents 200 times while we are
there for forty five minutes (we never stay longpart of our
success). Since we have bet $10 (200 times five cents) total,
our average loss should be around $1.50 (the 15% the machines
are designed to keep). That means between us we would have retained
all of our own $5 and about $3.50 each of the free $5 they offer.
Winning $7 and having two free meals is not much, but it's nice
to be paid for a bit of entertainment.
As you can see, to make money with promotions (and there are
people who make a living doing this in Las Vegas), you have to
learn a little about probabilities. It isn't really difficult
math, but it is necessary.

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