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The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are over. And as I write this column, I fully understand why my father used to tell everyone to never bet on any event where the participants have two legs.

The best experts for any given sport can put together their best odds, but there are just too many unknowns. You don’t know who didn’t sleep the night before. You don’t know who just found out that his girlfriend has been cheating on him with his best friend.

Most importantly, you don’t know how any of this is going to affect the player. There is just no way to quantify this.

A couple of months ago, I had a little showdown with George Epstein in Gaming Today. He took the side of why real poker is better than video poker and I took the opposing side. One of the fundamental differences between the two games is the human element. When you play real poker, at least you are betting on yourself against another human being.

When it comes to sports betting, you’re betting on what complete strangers will do. When you’re talking about the NCAA tourney, you’re talking about what 17- to 22-year-old “kids” will do. They’re not even professionals yet.

That’s why I stick to video poker when I’m putting my money on the line. Absolutely everything is known about the game. Every mathematical detail and every probability is an open book.The only one who can make a mistake is you.

Not that it is really much of an issue in casinos, but you don’t even have to worry about a dealer making a mistake. You don’t have to worry about another player’s bad play distracting you – unless you’re paying way too much attention to the person at the next machine.

Now, most of the table games in the casino offer you’re a similar open book. If you sit down to play Three Card Poker, there is very little hidden in the game. If you’re looking at your hand, you can know the exact probability that you will win that hand or that the dealer will not qualify and it won’t matter.

The house advantage of ante-play is just over 2 percent and there is nothing you can do to reduce this. Over time, you have to expect that this will be your financial experience.

For years, I’ve said that you have to look at casino gaming as a form of entertainment. If you wager $200 per hour at a table game and lose $10, you’ve spent $10 on a form of entertainment.

Was it worth it to you? Only you can make that call.

With that in mind, that brings me back to sports wagering. If you’re getting joy out of it, far be it from me to say it is a bad idea. If you’re losing money while doing it, you have to decide if the cost is worth the entertainment value.

Personally, I found that I wound up wagering on teams that I wanted to lose to help my favorite team and that just didn’t bring me any joy. Maybe I’m just too much of a sports fan for my favorite teams to find joy in wagering on the other teams on any regular basis. 

The other thing that is very different about sports wagering is that there are no absolute paybacks the way there is for casino games. 

Several months ago, I wrote about how the casino is looking at the very big picture and thus they don’t really care who wins and loses much. But, at an individual level, if you are astute, I do believe there is the opportunity to win money on sports wagering.

You have to overcome the inherent house edge – being paid $100 on a $110 wager. While this can prove to be a challenge, it does not mean it is impossible.

My hunch says that if you are a player and you’ve been winning, you’ve probably been getting joy from it. Even if you are losing, it is O.K. to keep trying, as long as you get joy from it, which seems to be a trend nowadays. 

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At Gaming Today we are dedicated to providing valuable up-to-date information on the casino industry and pari-mutuel race wagering. With news and features, plus expanded coverage in key areas – race and sports analysis, picks, tips, and handicapping.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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