Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vegas, Baby! Your gambling options

The last time I was in Las Vegas was 8 years ago. Since then I've been yearning to go back. Enticed and teased by my favorite Las Vegas movies, I've decided to go back to Sin City this month. I've foolishly decided to take a more methodical approach to gambling (if there is such a thing).

The last time I went gambling in Vegas, I did it in the worst way possible. I was tired, sleepy, and maybe a little drunk. I hit the roulette tables and the craps table, betting on impulse and gut feelings. I didn't lose the shirt off my back, but I did lose pretty badly.

This time around, I think I'll take a more academic approach to Vegas... and see if it holds up against the glitz and glamour of the moment. Here are the gambling choices when you get to Las Vegas. Pick your poison. Good luck.

Slot machines: They are called one-armed bandits for a reason. Personally, I believe them to be the worst gambling option available. I've been told that casinos are increasing the number of slot machines versus gambling tables, as it gives them more control over the odds. Even more terrible is the phasing out of coins and tokens in favour of card and receipt based rewards. Let's say you win triple bar on a slot machine. In the old days, you'd hear the satisfying plunking and clinking of tokens falling out of the machine... well nowadays, it would only update the balance on an electronic card or print out a receipt with an ID number on it. It's psychologically not the same... and it makes little difference to me because I'm vowing to avoid slots altogether this time around.

Poker: Poker became crazy popular a few years ago during the NHL hockey lockout, when sports channels began to show poker tournaments instead of hockey games. Is poker a sport? Who am I to say? I had a glimpse of the poker rooms during my last Vegas trip, and it was a snake pit. The poker rooms of Las Vegas should be avoided unless you are a pro, because they will eat you alive in there. It didn't even look fun, with all the ball caps, sunglasses, and stone cold poker faces.

Roulette: This was one of my favorite games. If you are lucky, it offers you a 35 to 1 pay out. If you bet red or black, it offers a payout of 1:1. It all seems quite fair, except for one problem. There are zeroes on the wheel! The single zero and the double zero are not considered red or black, and they are not factored into any of the other payout odds. This gives the house an edge of 5.26%. These are the worst odds of any of the table games. If you insist on playing roulette, you MUST find a European table with only one zero on it and a house edge of 2.70%. I've been doing research on roulette strategies, and I've discovering the existence of betting systems. The infamous Martingale system involves doubling your bet every time you lose, in order to win back your losses. While it seems very methodical, you are playing with fire. Eventually you will hit a losing streak that will force you to bet over your budget or the table limit... as which point you are broke. A milder version of this system exists, based on the Fibonacci sequence and a slower level of increase. (Martingale is exponential. Not good.) As fancy as these betting systems are, statistically-speaking, they do NOT improve your odds of winning. Roulette is purely a game of random chance and bad odds. The only way to win is to find an uncalibrated roulette wheel that favors certain numbers. Good luck with that, because it's likely the casino will find them before you do.

Keno: They offered Keno everywhere the last time I was in Vegas. I could play it at a restaurant, while waiting for my food! Now I don't understand Keno very well, but it works similarly to Bingo, in that a sequence of numbers are called out and you have to match them on your card. The house edge will depend on the payout ratio, and there doesn't seem to be a set standard. You can do more research about Keno, but I don't find the game very interesting.

Craps: I like this game, but the rules are a bit complicated. The basic "pass" bet has a house edge of 1.41%. And if you are a jerk and bet against the dice thrower with a "don't pass" bet, your bet has a house edge of 1.40%. There are a lot of other bets you can make on the roulette table, but they have worse odds, so don't bother with them. Under certain conditions, you can get fair odds. When the dice thrower rolls a 6 or an 8 on their first roll, you can bet if they are roll another 6 or 8 before they roll a 7. That will pay out 6:5... which are fair odds. You can only make these bets after you have make an inital "pass" or "come" bet, and that overhead ensure that the house still makes money. In terms of strategies, one can use the betting systems I talked about before, but they don't actually work to win you any more money. Some hardcore craps players use dice control, where they practice throwing 7's by throwing in a consistent manner. This is crazy hard to do, and not feasible if you have a life outside of playing craps. Like Roulette, Craps is mostly a game of chance... It offers better odds than Roulette if you stick to the bets I talked about.

Blackjack: This game offers the best odds of any table game in Las Vegas... but only if you know how to play it well. I've decided to focus on Blackjack exclusively during my upcoming Vegas trip. I'll write up a separate blog post about how to improve your odds in Blackjack.

PS: Our first trip to Vegas in 2003 has been immoralized by VXT.


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