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Since gambling first began a very, very long time ago it has inspired countless stories, fables, theories, criticisms, and legends. Here I take a look at some of the modern world’s most frequently cited casino myths to set the record straight.
#1 - There is a winning system: The biggest, longest standing and most dangerous myth out there is, of course, that gambling can become a winning proposition for anyone but the casino. It is also divisive - leading to a stark split between those who accept reality and those who cling to the delusion that they can control/predict winning results.
Before shredding this myth completely it is worth distinguishing between inevitably doomed systems and advantage play, which can turn around the house edge. Card counting in Blackjack, though it requires money, time and patience is an example of the latter.
Betting systems use a structured system of bets, supposedly guaranteeing wins or making them more likely. However, Patrick Billingsley, a mathematics professor and an authority on gambling, famously stated that ‘no betting system can convert a subfair (i.e. losing) game into a profitable enterprise’. The Martingale - a particularly famous strategy, requires players to double their bet each time they lose. Not only does this lead to huge bet sizes very quickly but it makes absolutely no difference to the house edge - it can easily be shown that the Martingale, or any other system, is still a losing play.
Other “winning” systems are often based on the gambler’s fallacy; that if an event (for example red coming in Roulette) happens more than it “should” then the opposite outcome (Black) becomes “overdue”. Casinos have been profiting from this myth for generations but few more than Monte Carlo’s where one day in 1913 red landed 26 times in a row. Its said to be one of the most profitable days in the casinos history as fortunes were wagered over and over on black.
#2 - Casinos get robbed all the time: Remember Ocean’s Eleven? A group of suave criminals at the top of their game plan to hit 3 casinos simultaneously after navigating a nuclear bunker style vault, creating a citywide blackout and winning Danny Ocean’s beautiful wife back from a cold casino tycoon.
Sadly the reality is very different. Casinos have occasionally been taken for a ride by collusion between players and staff, with Melbourne’s Crown Casino recently losing $33m to a high rolling Baccarat and Poker player who subsequently turned out to be benefitting from an inside man with access to camera feeds.
However the largest ever casino heist not involving inside men netted a relatively paltry $2.5m in an unsophisticated smash and grab. One of the perpetrators, Roberto Solis, who was 43 at the time also demonstrated how little honour there is amongst thieves by abandoning his 21 year old girlfriend with $1,000 in cash and heading for the hills.
Casinos have such vast security operation that in reality very few attempt to steal from them in the first place and fewer still get away with it.
#3 Slot machine fables: Maybe it was inevitable that when electronic gaming started to hit casino floors a whole new wave of myth, rumour and misunderstanding would be born. Common slot machine specific myths include:
Slot machines pump out oxygen to keep you awake/playing
Slots near aisles pay out more so arriving customers see more wins
A machine which hasn’t paid out in a while is due to hit a jackpot
Casino employees manually trigger jackpots for customers they choose
All of these myths are completely and utterly false and many of them would regulate gambling laws. All slot machines in casinos are controlled by electronic random number generators and reprogramming a slot requires that the machine be physically opened and the chip replaced; it certainly can’t be done remotely. Although casinos might conceivably put some slot games which pay out more near aisles, for example a game with small, regular payouts instead of a 1,000,000/1 jackpot, all slots of the same type will pay out with exactly the same frequency. The oxygen myth is particularly absurd as the gas is toxic in pure form.
That isn’t to say casino won’t try and and all legal methods to keep you inside. The gaming floor will often have no windows or clocks and an unlimited supply of free drinks, often including alcohol.