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Bettor's Rx

The Best (and Worst) Prescriptions for Gambling Fever
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

A funny thing happens to passengers on airline flights into Las Vegas. They get gripped with gambling fever.

The symptoms are similar to what happens to preteen children as the car Dad is driving gets within eyesight of an amusement park: excess nervous energy, manifested primarily by incessant wiggling of the feet and pumping of the knees; an increased heart rate, resulting in loud, involuntary laughter; and, most telling, a sudden, nonfatal loss of rationality. For those stricken with the most virulent strains of gambling fever, this last symptom usually takes the form of supposedly authoritative--but completely incoherent--dissertations on betting systems, wagering tricks and other "foolproof" schemes to win at otherwise unwinnable casino games.

On most of these Vegas-bound flights, the nonsensical chattering begins about 20 minutes from landing, just as the airplane begins its initial descent. But in extreme cases, the ranting has been known to commence before the flight has even taxied to the runway for takeoff.

For example, on a recent flight to Las Vegas, one could overhear the following conversation between a character we'll call The Expert, a suave, well-dressed older man wearing a diamond pinkie ring, and The Student, an attractive, much younger woman sitting across the aisle. Expert: You gamble much in Vegas? Student: Of course. I love it! Expert: What games do you like? Student: I play the slots a little. But I mostly play blackjack. Expert: Oh, you shouldn't do that. Blackjack is the game where the house has the biggest advantage. Student: Really? Expert: Oh, sure. You're better off playing Caribbean Stud Poker. Much better. Student (wide-eyed): Wow. Tell me about it.

For the next 10 minutes, as the twinkling lights of the Vegas Strip grew ever closer, The Expert managed to persuade his impressionable listener to quit playing a game (blackjack) that averages less than .5 percent advantage for the House to one (Caribbean Stud Poker) in which the House advantage is a stern 5.25 percent--and sometimes as high as 45 percent. Great advice! The Student could now look forward to spending her weekend playing a game with odds at least 10 times worse than her usual choice.

Most gamblers know the games they like, but they don't know if what they like is going to cost them big money in the long run. Few casino visitors realize that not all the games are created equal, that some bets are truly better--or worse--than others. Believe it or not, some of the best bets actually work in the player's favor; these deserve to be inducted into the casino bettor's Hall of Fame. The worst bets are so larcenous they deserve inclusion in the Hall of Shame.

THE HALL OF FAME: THE FIVE BEST BETS IN THE CASINO

NO. 5--Craps, The Line Bet: --1.4 percent

Of all the myriad--and sometimes inscrutable--options on the green felt layout, betting on "the line" is the most basic wager on the dice tables. And easily one of the best deals. Players gamble on whether the shooter (the player rolling the dice) will "make his number" (roll a predetermined number) or throw a losing 7. Conversely, you can bet the shooter won't make his number. This option is called "don't pass." Both line bets are paid at even money: bet $10, win $10.

If you bet the shooter will pass, and his very first roll of the dice--the "come out" roll--is a 7 or 11, you win. (After the first roll, any 7 is a loser.) If the dice come up 2, 3 or 12, you lose. The casino gains its small advantage by taking money from "pass" players on the 12 and not paying off the "don't pass" players. Still, when you make a line bet, with its -1.4 percent expectation, in the long run you will lose only $14 for every $1,000 you gamble.


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