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In 1962 a mathematics professor named Edward O. Thorp published ‘Beat the Dealer’, the first book to mathematically prove that the house advantage in Blackjack could be overturned by card counting. That book, published over 50 years ago, laid the groundwork for thousands of counters to try their luck against famously hard-nosed casino security.
What Thorp proved using computer simulations, statistics and not a little of his own research was something that many gamblers had known for some time - that when the deck is rich is high values cards like 10s and aces players would win more often. In Blackjack dealers shuffle multiple decks together in a shoe, only shuffling again when almost all those cards have been dealt. Thorp’s revolutionary method only required that players keep track of the dealt cards, assign each a value and keep a running count.
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.
If there’s one thing casinos are better at than relieving people of money, it’s holding onto that money afterwards. Thieves throughout the ages have successfully broken into targets described as “impregnable”, “unbreakable” or “the safest place on earth” with almost embarrassing regularity including banks, museums, and the Tower of London. As far as we know though no thief has ever successfully penetrated a casino vault and returned with the proceeds. In this article we’ll take a look at the vast security operations behind the scenes, trying to maintain that perfect record.
Casinos generally aren’t too concerned about a customer’s winning session. Big wins act as rare, good PR and, in any case, are normally lost straight back to the casino. But what if someone were to dramatically up the stakes? Only in hindsight might a manager wonder, as the mysterious high roller sails into the night with a smile and the contents of the vault, did he know something I didn’t?
Breaking a casinos bank means to win so much the casino does not have enough cash on hand to settle the debt immediately. In the entire 300 year history of casinos in Europe this has only come to pass a handful of times, each time immortalised in casino legend. The men and women behind these coups are a motley bunch of gamblers, mathematicians, confidence men and entrepreneurs each of whom did the impossible and beat the house.
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