The ramblings of a giant squid…
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How to win money at the casino

Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Games and gaming, Math and Science

Squidette and I went to Rideau Carleton Raceway last week, and on the way out I threw a double sawbuck at a 25-cent slot machine and hit a 470 credit payout.  That was nice as it offset my much-less-than-stellar attempts at horse race outcome prediction.

I was going to write an article about just that, but I decided to be a bit more general because people ask me how I do it…how do I seem to win all the time?  So, for the infinite memory of Teh Intert00bs, here is the sum of my years of accumulated casino gambling wisdom.

  1. The simplest way to guarantee you’ll be in the black after a visit to the casino is to walk out without playing anything.  You’d think this would go without saying, but it’s really disappointing to see how many people go to a casino expecting to win.  I want to be perfectly, absolutely, unequivocally clear on this… if you enter a casino thinking you will come out ahead, you have already lost.  Get your butt back in the cab and go home.  It will save you the slap from the harsh reality that is likely to follow.
  2. Don’t play slot machines.  I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again.  Slot machines pay for all the lights, shows, booze, whatever… all the glam and glitz at the casino is created from the one-armed bandits.  Slot machines are typically set at around a 97-98 percent payout**.  That means that on average, if you stick $100 in, you’ll come away with around $97 or $98.  They can be less, they can be more, but usually it’s around that level.  A small casino with 1000 25-cent slots, and 200 50-cent slots, and 100 $1 slots on a busy Saturday (80% in-use, about 20 seconds per cycle) will be collecting about $21.60 a minute, or just shy of $1300 per hour – AFTER PAYOUTS.  If they’re open 16 hours a day, factoring in lower visitation off-hours, they probably profit on the order of $10000-$15000 per day, every day, all year.  That’s over $3.5 million dollars a year just from a small slot machine setup.  By contrast, a similar sized casino might have 30 tables.  With Blackjack, the house take also averages about 3%.  30 full tables (210 players) with $10 minimum (typical for a small casino) at 1 hand per 2 minutes will generate only about $270/hr after payouts… not bad, but only one quarter of what the slots make and with higher overhead for dealers and pit bosses.  It’s not the card players paying for the lights, the shows, the booze, etc., it is the slots players.

If you take nothing else away from this, take this:  Casinos are a tax on stupidity.  Slot machines are a surtax on exceptional stupidity.  Putting money in a slot machine is like lighting it on fire, but without the heat.

So now you’re probably asking why, if I think casinos are such a stupid place to be, do I go?  Well the reason is entertainment… I enjoy the food, the lights, the sound, the excitement.  But it’s never more than entertainment for me.  I take an amount to play and when I lose it, I’m done… and I go home.  If I win, I set a threshhold – and if I sink below that I immediately leave.  In the case of a place like Rideau Carleton Raceway, which is all slot machines, I leave on the first payout that leaves me in the black or recoups some significant portion of my entertainment dollar.  To people who know me, it seems like I win all the time, but a better description is that I don’t lose big very often.

There are a few helpful tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned over the years that can help any potential gambler:

  • As soon as the thought “I can win it back” enters your head, you are done.  Drop what you’re doing and go home immediately.  If you don’t you WILL lose big.
    If you blow your bankroll, go home.  Don’t take out more money from the machine and have at it.  See the previous point.
  • I have found that a bankroll smaller than 10 minimum bets at whatever table game you want to play is insufficient.  If you want to play a $5 table, you need to start with at least $50, and $100 is a better call.
  • If you’re going to throw money down a slot machine, you really need 20-50 times the base spin, and no more than 100 times.  If you blow 100 times the spin base spin (that’s $25 on a 25 cent slot) and haven’t got your money back, you’re not going to.  Give it up… and that means leaving the slots, not going to another slot machine.
  • On a slot machine, it’s almost never worth playing less than the “max bet” due to the way the jackpot payouts are set.
  • Yes, it’s true that a good blackjack player has odds equal to, or better than, the house.  Unless you’ve studied the game extensively, and practiced for many hours with a computer, you are not an expert.  Don’t kid yourself.
  • Blackjack players at the low-limit tables often have issues with losing even small amounts of money.  It’s my conjecture that many of them are people who probably shouldn’t be in casinos due to their financial situation, if you catch my meaning.  If you don’t want to listen to rants, hostility, whining and complaining, don’t play the lowest limit Blackjack tables.
  • If you think you have a “system” for any game, just mail me your money so at least one of us can enjoy it.  There is no system.   This is particularly true of Roulette, Keno and Slot machines.  System bettors go down hard, every time.
    If you have a choice between an American Roulette wheel and a European Roulette wheel, go continental and play the European one… an American wheel has a 0 and a 00.  That makes the odds about 2.6% worse than a European wheel which only has a single 0.  Payout ratios are the same, but there’s more opportunity to lose on an American wheel.  Duh.
  • Do read up on the games you play.  Learn the strategies.  Learn the odds.  Do the math.  In fact, if you’re bad at math, you probably shouldn’t EVER gamble.  Fast moving games like Craps really require some advance study.
  • Never use intoxicants while gambling.  They dull your mind.  There’s a reason that Las Vegas casinos give away free booze, and it’s not just because they can afford it.
  • The cards / slot machine wheels / roulette wheel have no memory.  They don’t care what they’ve done in the past, and their past has no bearing on what is coming up next.  They don’t “warm up”, they never owe you, they’re not “due” to pay.

Now you can go to the casino safely and have a good time!  If chance favours you, perhaps you’ll come out ahead.


** [edit: 9 Sep 08] I just found out from the LotoQuebec web site that they set their VLT slot machines to a 92% pay out.  It’s probably fair to assume their regular slot machines are set similarly (or people wouldn’t play them).  So multiply all those numbers for slot machine take by 3.

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