Please, do the math!

Apr 5, 2005 7:58 AM

A friend of mine in the industry recently told me about a large Las Vegas casino that had a single-zero roulette table right next to a double-zero table (which includes spaces for single and double zeroes).

The pit boss was horrified when he realized this had happened. He was sure that the double-zero wheel would be ignored, while the single-zero wheel captured all the business.

When he checked the drop for each table, he was surprised to find that they were virtually identical. Why would anyone play on a double-zero roulette table when less than 20 feet away was a single-zero roulette wheel with a higher payback for the player?

I don’t have an explanation, except maybe there are players who simply like betting the double zeroes! Given that the double-zero wheel has 38 numbers instead of the 37 found on a single zero wheel, every wager on the double-zero table is less likely to hit because of the extra spot on the wheel.

So, why do people continue to play the wheel with the higher house advantage? Quite frankly, the answer is that most people walk into a casino without a clue of the math behind the game they are playing.

This doesn’t mean that each player should study the detailed and complex math that goes into developing a game. It simply means that they should have some idea that all casino games are created based on sound mathematical principles and thus there are sound strategies to be used for most games to maximize the player’s payback.

While in short sessions it may not always be so easy to see the impact of the math, the more hands you play, the more you can expect your results to approach the theoretical models.

Just because it may take a million or more hands of video poker to get very close to the theoretical payback does not mean that after 500,000 hands or even 100,000 hands that you will not begin to approach the theoretical payback.

Of course, this is still a lot of hands. But it will not take nearly this many to see the difference when playing essentially the same game with different paybacks, as is the case with our roulette table or is the case with video poker machines playing the same game, but with different paytables.

On any given night, a player on the double-zero table may do better than a player on the single zero table. But, you can be sure that over just 10-20 sessions the impact of that extra zero will be felt by the double-zero player.

Likewise, in video poker on any given night, someone sitting at a 6-5 jacks or better may do better than someone else at full-pay jacks or better. But, if you insist on playing 6-5 instead of 9-6 repeatedly, you WILL begin to feel the impact after only a handful of sessions.

Undoubtedly there will be one person who will tell you how they hit two royal flushes in a week on a 6-5 machine, but don’t let that be an excuse for you to dismiss the importance of the math behind the machines. Before you start playing, you have no idea which machine will deal the royal, so there is no reason to hand the casino back the extra coins for a full house or a flush.

There is good news about having so many casino players so unaware of the math behind the games. The casinos count on these people for the majority of their profits.

Casinos can offer a game like full-pay jacks or better at 99.5 percent payback because they know that most people don’t play properly and will turn the game into a 92 percent or 93 percent game. Their loss is your gain. You get the advantage of playing a casino game at near 100 percent, if you’re willing to learn the math behind the game.