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15 Ways to Improve Your Chances in Gambling

By Randy Ray in Casino
| November 17, 2016 12:00 am PDT
Winning While at the Blackjack Table in the Casino

Casino games are all about probabilities, but we’re using the term loosely. In reality a probability table is not a very helpful tool for most gamblers. That is because probabilities feel too much like predictions and when you base your decisions on your belief that the probability table favors you, your decisions are flawed. There may be only 1 low card left in the shoe but no probability table can tell you whether that is the next card waiting to be drawn.

Casinos win because they play against everyone, or they take a commission and stand aside while the players devour each other. But in most games the casinos play against the crowd and they count on the small percentage or the large gullibility of people. And we gamblers are gullible, a rather superstitious lot who will believe anything.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate that point:

Which casino game offers the lowest house edge?

99% of you immediately say , “Oh, that’s simple. It’s blackjack”.

And you’re wrong 98% of the time.

The tricky thing about that blackjack statistic is that they assume everyone is an expert player.  If you consistently make bad choices in blackjack the house edge shoots up like a rocket. Sure, if you’re using perfect basic strategy, the house edge is only 0.5%.

But do you know how bad the average player is?

According to statistics related to the running of the casinos, the house edge the way the average player does it is over 5%. That means that blackjack has a house edge that’s almost as bad as roulette—if you don’t know how to play correctly.

In fact, if you don’t know basic strategy, you’re a lot better off playing a game with a low house edge and no decisions to make. Baccarat is one example. Craps is another—assuming you make the right bets.

The most common mistake gamblers make is assuming the house edge is deducted per hand or game played when they calculate odds. In other words, if you think the house edge is 2%, you may be calculating how much money you’ll have after 100 games at an average 2% loss.

But the games don’t work that way.

You lose the entire bet.

When you play the probabilities you have to look at the wins to losses ratio and compute the cost of each bet. Your best case scenario assumes you win the maximum on every winning game. Your worst case scenario assumes you break even or win the minimum (which could be less than your bet) on every winning game.

There are ways to improve your chances of winning when you gamble. Sometimes those probability tables help you to make good choices (such as when you have to decide whether to call or fold in poker) but sometimes the probability tables are just a distraction. You cannot use probability distributions to predict what the next outcome of a game will be.

Obvious Ways to Improve Your Chances of Winning at Casino Games

Be the Dealer

The games are designed to favor the house so if you want to be on the winning side of a casino game more often than not, get a job as a dealer. This is a cheat choice because you’re not gambling with your own money, you’re just earning a salary and hoping to make some tips. Casino dealers are treated as glamorous people, and in some casinos the dealers have to dress up in sexy outfits.

But, in reality, dealers don’t get rich by gambling.

Still, if you prefer winning then the dealer has the best chance of winning.

Don’t get caught cheating

A lot of players try to cheat the casinos. As casino game and security technology improves players have a much harder time cheating than they used to. But you’ll hear about someone getting away with a small cheat every now and then. The most common method of cheating is to slip the wrong chips into a game and hope no one notices.

Sure, we’ve all heard the stories about people using devices to tilt the slot machines. And there were some almost famous locals in Las Vegas who learned how to bang on the old mechanical slots so they would pay a few extra coins.

But those ships have sailed.

Your days of stacking grimy alcohol and cigarette ash covered casino tokens and quarters are done.

Real cheaters are taking larger risks than the potential rewards. You would be better off learning to count cards. All the casinos can do is ask you to leave if they think you are too good at counting cards.

15 Less Obvious Ways of Improving Your Winning Chances

What’s the difference between gambling and insurance?

This is a real question that may be asked of would-be insurance agents when they take their licensing exams. Although no one knows in advance which questions will be on the exams, every insurance agent class brings up this question.

Gambling is the staking of something of value on an unknown outcome. Insurance, on the other hand, is the pooling of resources to replace expected highly predictable losses. The insurance licensing instructors are always careful to make this point clear to their students. Insurance is not a gamble. Insurance is a strategy for spreading the cost of replacing predictable losses against as large a pool of insured members as possible.

Insurance companies also try to reduce those expected losses by teaching their agents and customers how to take fewer risks with their lives and property. Taking fewer risks tends to reduce your losses to acts of nature, spoilage, disease, etc.

But that’s a great way to gamble, too.

How do you take fewer risks when you gamble?

Start by placing small to modest bets. We’ll discuss this in option 15 below.

Create a betting pool with friends

This is not a betting syndicate.  A betting syndicate is more than a betting pool. With a betting pool you and your friends choose a designated player for each game. You’re each risking a smaller percentage of your money.  You split the winnings after each game and you share in the losses automatically.

How does this improve your probabilities of winning?

It extends your playing life.

We’ll get to that further on, but whenever you gamble, as the Star Wars Jedi says, eventually you lose. So your goal when you gamble is to survive as many losses as possible until you get a big win. The more money you have to gamble with the more losses you can survive.

Play games with big win to bet ratios

This is counter-intuitive to everything you have learned about gambling.

But we’re not talking about picking 10 numbers in keno here.

The math in lottery style games is pretty simple:

The larger the payoff you’re chasing the more expensive it is to play that game.

That is why you don’t want to bet on a single number in roulette. The big payoff sounds great when it happens, but getting to the big payoff is expensive (except on those rare occasions when Lucille Ball puts a chip on the roulette table and instantly wins).

Which games have big win to bet ratios?

Poker comes to mind. The more players there are in the game the faster the pot grows. Assuming the betting doesn’t get crazy, you should be able to stay in the game long enough to win a nice pot.

Slot machine games also have a big bet to win ratio.

But so many people lose their money on slot machine games no “serious” gambler wants to play them.

Blackjack has a terrible win to bet ratio. The most you can win is 50% of your bet. That is 0.5 in return on investment. A $5 slot machine that pays a $5000 jackpot offers a 1000 in return on investment. So you can bet $5 per hand at blackjack, hoping to rake in $2.50 every hand (which is not going to happen) or bet $5 on a slot machine hoping to win that $5000 jackpot before you’ve blown through $5000 (and sometimes that does happen).

You will have noticed something by now that we’ll call perspective in the timeline but we’ll come back to this in option 15.

Break your concentration

More than one gambling expert has pointed out the fact that casinos don’t like windows, don’t allow you to use your smart phones at the table, and generally do whatever they can to keep you playing your games. They’ll bring you food, drinks, and may even cash out your chips for you. They would go to the restroom for you if they could.

The longer you keep playing a game without taking a break, the less rational your thinking becomes. You settle into a mental fog, and you lose awareness of what is happening around you. Some people have been robbed in casinos merely by leaving their money in plain sight and allowing themselves to become mesmerized by the game. The casino security system might catch the theft on video, but the chances they can prevent it or recover your stolen money are not very good.

When you stop playing the games, walk around, go outside, or something other than obsess about how you’re going to win, your mind is able to relax and reset. Your judgment improves and you can assess where you are in your list of goals. If you just keep playing the game you take more and more risks, become more and more desperate to recover your losses, and make worse and worse decisions.

Play against a less experienced dealer

This is great when you can recognize that one dealer is less polished than the others nearby, but it doesn’t always happen. Worse, any dealer who doesn’t quickly improve their game probably won’t last long.

Watch the tables for a while and pay attention to how often the players win and lose. If a dealer seems to be really hot or lucky, maybe he’s not so hot or lucky. Maybe he’s just a really good dealer. That’s not supposed to happen, but you do hear stories. And when you see player after player lose their money at the same table you should be asking how the dealer is “beating the probabilities” so consistently.

The secret to playing less experienced dealers is that they are prone to making more mistakes. Mistakes take the edge off your game. Casinos count on players making mistakes, and they set their rules to minimize the potential for mistakes by their employees.

Gamblers most likely to make money against less experienced dealers may not be playing honestly. But this is an option for improving your chances of winning.

Play the table by yourself whenever you can

Whether you count cards or just try to play by the probabilities at blackjack, your chances of making good choices improve when it is just you against the dealer.

Casinos don’t like to see dealers playing one on one against the players, and they may close tables if there are too few players. The casino’s biggest advantage in a table game comes from players changing up the probabilities for each other. When it’s just you against the dealer with a six deck shoe your probability tables help you. When there are three other people sitting at the table you have to do more math, but even so, the chances that someone else will split or double down (changing the distribution of the undealt cards) increase.

If you are winning by yourself and someone else joins the table, leave. If you are losing by yourself and someone else joins table, keep playing for a while. This strategy only works for games dealing with fixed distribution sets. Electronic lottery game outcomes can also be affected by changing the mix of players.

Only play truly random progressive games

If you have to bet more to be eligible for a progressive jackpot, don’t bet more. Merely being eligible for a progressive jackpot does not provide sufficient return on investment. The win to bet ratio declines as you increase your wagers.

Some slot games pay better percentages when you bet more. The higher payouts or more frequent payouts are an incentive to keep players gambling. If the percentage increase is significant enough, it may be worthwhile to make the maximum allowed bet, but more often than not you are just throwing money away.

A truly random progressive jackpot is awarded regardless of how much you bet. These kinds of jackpots are less common, although you may be able to win local progressives on less than max bets when you play games that offer several progressive levels.

Never use the “gamble” feature on a slot game

Some slot machine games offer a secondary game you can only play when you win a prize on a spin. Say you bet $10 and win $20 on a spin. You see the “Gamble” button light up. Pressing that button you are taken to a screen where you might be prompted to guess the next card in a series or to adjust a large dial.

The classic “gamble” feature offers a 50% chance of doubling your money or a 25% chance of quadrupling it. You might think this is a great chance to win more money, but consider that the slot machine you’re playing offers anywhere from a 65% to 98% theoretical return to player.

Why trade in that prize for a smaller chance of winning?

On the slot games that allow you to adjust the percentage chance of winning, you’ll win a smaller prize as you increase your chances. Maxing out on the percentage is your best choice, but if it’s less than the basic game’s theoretical return to player, you should keep your prize and stick to the basic game.

Only risk your prizes if the chances of winning in the secondary feature are better than your chances of winning in the basic game.

Only play with casino money

Some players love those “no deposit” bonuses offered by online casinos. You risk nothing and might win something with $20-$25 in casino money. The playthrough terms and withdrawal limits might seem odious.

But take the long-term view. You only need to keep as much money as the casino gives you until you can roll it up.

Just being able to play for real money with someone else’s cash is a win. You have a chance to claim that money later. What the casino counts on is your giving in to temptation. They want you to make big bets so you’ll lose the money as fast as possible (without becoming discouraged) and start making deposits.

There is no way to guarantee you’ll win enough to keep the casino credit, but you have the option of trying.

On the other hand, suppose you have $500 for a deposit and the casino offers a 100% match. If they’ll loan you $500, and you can roll that up before you touch your own money, you’ll eventually be able to withdraw your deposit and keep playing. That’s a risk the casino is willing to take and, again, it’s because they are counting on the players to make bad choices.

Always raise when you have a good hand in poker

The pundits argue back and forth on this all night long, but any game that involves psychology will always divide opinions.

How many premium starting hands are there in poker versus all the weaker hands?

The probabilities are against the player who calls or raises with a weak hand.

Raise and fold strategists assume they’ll lose less money over time by folding quickly rather than by calling (or calling and raising) before folding. In this clinical view of betting strategies the calculation is the same as in other games: you burn through your money faster when you play more large losing bets than when you play more small losing bets.

As you gain more experience at reading other players you can try breakout strategies where you raise on a bluff or call on a weak hand–if you are confident your opponents are not happy with their cards. Sometimes the good cards in your hand include the other guy’s willingness to fold, but if you’re not ready to play at that level then cutting your losses keeps you in the game longer, increasing your chances of getting to that next win.

Look for low variance games

“Variance” is a word that is overused. What you want are games that pay prizes more often at the expense of paying smaller prizes. Blackjack is a low variance game (but even this low variance varies based on player knowledge and the number of decks in the shoe). A 1 pick keno bet is a low variance game. A 10 pick keno bet is a high variance game.

When playing the slots, you should be aware of the theoretical return to player, but the variance depends more on the size of the largest possible prize. Ignore randomly awarded progressive jackpots. The smaller the maximum prize, the more winning combinations that pay a prize (equal to or greater than the bet), and the higher the theoretical return to player the lower the variance tends to be.

Some slot games pay prizes less than the bet. These games tend to be bad choices, especially if most of the prizes they pay are less than the bet.

In roulette, you should prefer single zero (European) to double zero (American) games and stay with the outside bets, even though the odds on the inside bets look good.

There are many betting systems for craps, each with its own weird name. Minimum bets stretch your bankroll. Aggressive bets increase the risk. If you spread yourself thin on the table you might do well but when you lose you lose it all. Some players prefer the don’t pass or don’t come bets and laying maximum odds. Some players prefer to play pass or come bets and taking max odds. Avoid the field and prop bets. Don’t skip the come out roll.

There is no option 13

However, you should stop being so superstitious.

Seriously, player superstitions earn a lot of money for casinos.

Do not play for comps

Casinos will reward you if you spend enough money. Think of this as saving money on groceries by buying items you don’t normally use because you have a 50 cent coupon for them.

By all means, use your player card.

But don’t run up the losses thinking you’ll get it back on comps.

The casino exists to make a profit, not to give everyone a free meal and a room for the night. You’ll have to visit your local homeless shelter for that kind of love and attention.

Comps are based on the amount of money you play, not the amount of money you lose. You cannot control the winning and losing, but you can be both prudent and patient in your gambling. Being awarded comps when you win is much more fun than using comps as a consolation prize after you have blown your bankroll.

Play the smallest bets for the most wins

Big wins are great but you have to put everything into perspective. When you gamble there is a perspective in timeline that is best explained by thinking about two workers, Cheap Charlie (representing minimum bets) and Expensive Edward (representing maximum bets).

Charlie and Edward work at the same pace. Each of them produces 100 Work Units per Hour. When you hire Cheap Charlie he agrees to be paid $10 per hour. When you hire Expensive Edward he insists you pay him $50 an hour.

After 10 hours you owe Cheap Charlie $100 or Expensive Edward $500. You sell their Work Units. Charlie’s units are poorly made and sell at auction for between $0.50 and $2.50. Edward’s units are high-quality merchandise and they sell at auction for between $2.50 and $12.50. It looks like you’ll make more profit with Edward than with Charlie, but there’s a catch.

Every 2500 units or so either worker will accidentally make a unit that is 100 times more valuable than the average unit he makes. You know this when you start your business, but you only have $1000 in startup capital. You will run out of money before Edward gets close to his Magic Unit. He might produce it in the 2,000 or so units he can make for you, but the chances that he will are less than the chances that Charlie will produce HIS Magic Unit.

Charlie will produce on average about $15,000 in revenue for you. Edward will produce on average about $15,000 in revenue for you as well. The only way you can make more than $15,000 in revenue is if a Magic Unit is produced by either worker. Charlie should produce about 4 of those units. You’ll be extremely lucky if Edward produces even one. Sure, Edward’s Magic Unit should be worth more than all four of Charlie’s Magic Units, but the safer money is on Charlie.

The longer you keep your money in play the more likely you’ll win big in a game that offers a big prize. Those low variance games don’t pay the largest jackpots, but you can adjust your bets between a minimum and maximum value. Betting the maximum looks like the smart play, but it reduces the chances of your winning a better than average prize, or the number of better than average prizes you hope to win.

If the only difference between a $5 bet and a $50 bet is a multiple of 10 in prize value, stick with the $5 bet. Your money will last ten times longer, giving you many more chances to grow your stake regardless of what game you’re playing.

Conclusion

Although the house edge plays a part in determining how much money you win back over time, the cost of your bet plays a much larger role in that calculation. The outcomes of the gambling games are unpredictable. You could lose every bet in a row for the first 100 bets. You could win every bet in a row for the first 100 bets. There is no probability table that predicts if or when this will happen for you.

Any card game that allows multiple deals in between shuffles changes the probability distribution as the cards are played. There is value in using a probability based strategy in these kinds of games. But that value diminishes as more decks are added to the shoe or the more often the cards are shuffled. If the cards are shuffled in between every game, your probability tables are almost useless.

That is because probabilities can only be computed on the basis of past (recorded) results. Since we don’t know what the results in the future will be, they cannot be included in any probability distributions we compute. To compensate for not knowing what happens next, statisticians prefer to use large simulations to estimate the likely probability distribution of what will happen in a given real world scenario.

But those large distributions obscure the many smaller “local” distributions that fall outside normal expectations.

In a situation where you don’t know how many bets you will lose in a row, the more such bets you can afford to lose, the longer you will be able to continue gaming. And the probabilities suggest you have a much better chance of winning more prizes to replenish your dwindling pool of cash when you make small bets than when you make large bets even though the risks are the same.

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