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# Random strategies

28 July 2013

QUESTION: I teach statistics and probability at a community college, so my brother-in-law was asking me about betting systems. He showed me a book in which the author claimed the way to beat baccarat was by betting streaks. The BIL wanted to know if he could apply that to roulette, maybe starting to bet on black after it won twice in a row, then getting off after a loss and staying off until some other even-money bet won twice.

I told him I couldn’t see any reason a system like that would win in either baccarat or roulette. As long as the results are random, the streaks don’t have any predictive value. What do you think?

ANSWER: You are correct. That a baccarat bet or roulette bet has won a few in a row is no indicator that it will keep winning, nor is it an indicator that a loss is due. The odds are unchanging, no matter what has happened in the past -- at least, they’re close enough to unchanging that the house can count on making its profit. In baccarat, the odds do change very slightly depending on what cards have been played, but the change is so small that there is no practical card counting system that can put a dent in the house edge.

Betting the streaks will work sometimes. So will always betting banker, or always betting red, or alternating plays between red and black. More often, any of those systems will lose and give the house its expected percentage.

The few betting systems that actually can overcome the house edge depend on events being non-random to some extent. Blackjack has very strong random elements, but the odds change in a known way with each card that is dealt. That’s why card counting works. When there is a higher concentration than usual of high cards remaining in the deck, more blackjacks are dealt, and you draw more 10-values in double-down situations. Both those circumstances favor players, so card counters bet more money when there is a high concentration of low cards, and less when there is a low concentration.

In craps, Frank Scoblete’s 5-Count can beat the house edge only if there are controlled rollers bringing non-random results. If all rolls are random, the 5-Count can extend play by keeping you from wagering until a shooter has rolled the necessary amount of point numbers. That doesn’t change the house edge, but at least you’re betting less and reducing exposure to that edge.

But what the 5-Count is trying to do is zero in on those shooters who are in a rhythm where their roll is depressing the frequency of sevens and increasing the frequency of point numbers. If the rolls are bringing non-random results, then bettors can take advantage. [Read Frank’s book “Casino Craps: Shoot to Win!”]

Baccarat and roulette are not games of changing odds, nor are most other casino games. Betting the streaks is just a systematic way of arriving at the usual house edge.

QUESTION: I was playing slots on a Facebook app, and I watched in amazement as reel symbols turned from one thing to another as they were rolling past. It wasn’t just the [video] reel rolling, I actually saw a dolphin change into a 10 and some other symbols flip.

Is that legal? How does it change the odds?

ANSWER: The randomness standards that apply to casino slot machines do not apply to free-play games such as those on Facebook apps or other non-wagering games available to Americans.

That said, it is possible to program a game to behave in that way without it having any detrimental affect on the odds of winning. What you see on the video reels is just a user-friendly interface, a visual representation of the game really being played internally on the random number generator.

To make up a purely hypothetical example, if the RNG has selected No. 38, and I as the programmer have told the game to display a 10 at the bottom of the left reel every time the RNG stops on 38, then it makes no real difference if the display gets to the 10 by rolling different reels symbols past that bottom point vs. changing the symbol already at the bottom point to a 10. Either way, you’re going to get to the result determined by the RNG.

I can’t say for certain that is what’s happening with your app. I’m not privy to the programming. But just because the display looks funky doesn’t mean there’s something funny going on with game randomness.
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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.