QUESTION: What do you think of a system where you stick with the hot numbers in roulette? My friend likes to look at the boards at the tables where they post the last 18 numbers. If one appears three or more times, that’s what she bets.
ANSWER: It’s as good as any other system, which is to say that on a double-zero wheel, it has the same 5.26% house edge as drawing numbers out of a hat.
There are players who swear by hot numbers and those who swear by playing those that are “due.” Truth is, there is no tendency for hot numbers to stay hot, nor for cold numbers to stay cold. The wheel doesn’t know what numbers have come before and there is no makeup time. The odds remain the same on every spin, and eventually unusual streaks just fade into insignificance.
I once decided to run a real-world trial. Over the course of several months, I kept an eye on the roulette results boards at the casinos on my rounds. Whenever I saw a board that showed the same number had hit three or more times in the last dozen spins, I took note. I also took note of the next 38 spins, to see if the number in question would hit more or less than the 1-in-38 average we expect of any number on an American double-zero wheel.
I kept track until I had 100 trials, leaving me with a record of 3,800 spins of the wheels. In 3,800 spins, any given number should turn up an average of 100 times.
My 100 hot numbers came up a grand total of 102 times in the 3,800 ensuing spins. Had you been betting $1 on the hot number on each of those 3,800 spins, you’d have lost $128. Not quite what a systems player would be hoping for.
Unless there is a bias in the wheel, the odds are going to hold true in the long run no matter what kind of system you use. If a wheel is out of balance, the frets between numbers are uneven, a track has been worn in the wheel by repeated use, or the dealer has become so consistent that he or she releases the ball at the same velocity every time, it could influence some numbers to show up more often than by random chance.
Such biases are rare. Modern casinos are aware of such pitfalls, and maintain their wheels so they give us a random game. As long as the game is random, the casino can be confident the odds of the game will lead to profit.
QUESTION: I understand that dollar slot machines pay more than quarters, and quarters pay more than nickels or pennies. Is that a rule, or do casinos just do that?
ANSWER: There is no rule, regulation or law that forces casinos to pay more on higher-denomination games. It’s all about profitability, marketing goals and what it takes to keep players at the games. If dollar players would keep betting while getting penny payouts, we’d see lower-paying dollar games.
When nickel video slots rose to popularity in the late 1990s, there were 10 casinos on my regular rounds. At all but one, the new nickel video slots had lower payback percentages than quarter three-reel games.
One casino bought into the logic that nickel players would, or at least could, bet more money per spin than the quarter players. Nickels paid more than quarters there for about a year, but the figures consistently showed its neighbors were getting as much play at lower payback percentages. There was no incentive for casinos to pay more on nickel games regardless of bet sizes.
Had players voted with their feet maybe we’d see low-denomination games with high maximum bets paying more than quarter three-reelers today. Instead, we see an old pattern extended to new denominations. From the $1,000 games on down to the pennies, the lower the denomination, the lower the payback percentage.
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