When done in moderation and within limits, gambling can be fun, cheap entertainment. I try to get out to Vegas once a year with some friends and give it a go at the table games.
A few years ago, my first time in Sin City went rather poorly, to say the least. I had a vague understanding of many of the games, and I employed no strategy whatsoever. I played slots (the worst game you can play), blackjack (incorrectly), and I avoided craps (one of the best probability games you can play).
It was only when I returned and started doing some research that I realized where I went wrong. You see, every game as a thing called the "house edge" – the average casino profit per bet. The longer you play, the more accurate this becomes. So you can be sure to lose less money off the bat by just choosing to play the correct games and bets. Here is an excellent table from Vegas Click that summarizes this.
As you can see, slots is the WORST "game" you can play, and just by playing blackjack (correctly), or craps, you can save hundreds from the expected loss of your trip. Notice how I said "cheap" entertainment above? That was not a typo. Think about how much it costs to go to a two hour movie or a day at the amusement park. By playing the correct games we can literally gamble for 16 hours straight and only be down by an average of $40 or so. Not to mention that drinks are free while you gamble (disclaimer: I do not recommend drinking for 16 hours straight) .
And I say expected LOSS because it is a fact, the more you play the more you WILL lose. There is no getting around it. There is a reason why the casinos can afford elaborate buildings and 100 foot fountains, they literally print money.
Risk = Reward
"Big Deal" you say, what if I want to WIN money and not LOSE it? Well, we can. By employing some simple strategy AND playing the right games, we can TEMPORARILY put the odds in our favor. The strategy is called Martingale, named after an 18th century French mathematician.
Following the martingale strategy simply means to double your previous bet every time there is a loss. Once you win, you then revert back to the minimum bet. By doubling up your previous bet, you ensure that you recoup all of your previous losses plus one unit of your starting bet. This allows you to gradually build your bankroll. The only way you can lose is to hit a consecutive loss streak where you either run out of bankroll or hit the max bet of the table. The table below gives us a short example:
Now the reason this does not work in the long term is that you WILL run into a losing streak if you play long enough and will wipe out your bank roll. The key is to set a sensible "target" winnings limit where you stop playing once you have reached a certain level of profit. In doing so, we can then simulate a bunch of martingale sessions to determine what our "win percentage" is. This is the percentage of the time that we hit our target winnings. The risk here is that if we do not hit our target winnings, that means that we went "bust" and lost it all.
The Development Component
I have built a martingale simulator that allows you to enter parameters for your game played, starting bank roll, and target winnings. This way you can easily see your target win percentage and chance you go "bust".
For example, if we start with $500 and martingale an even money bet in roulette, we have a 65% chance of getting up $100 and stopping, and a 45% of going bust. If we increase our win target to $200 up, we only have a 48% chance of getting there.
The application arrives at these percentages by simulating the sessions 10,000 times.
Play On, Playa’
So how did this Vegas number’s strategy work out for me? On my most recent trip, I had quite the run playing baccarat. The "problem" though is honestly, the martingale system can be a bit boring in practice. If you stay disciplined though and don’t set an unrealistic target, you will give yourself a good chance of staying out of the red.