It Ain’t What It Seems
The truth about hot streaks
By Frank Scoblete
The world of the casino inside the heads of many casino players is not the world of the casino inside the heads of the folks who know casinos, run casinos, and often have to talk to patrons who see the casino world in a very, very diﬀerent—and wrong—way.
Take streaks as an example. All casino games have streaks. Some of these streaks favor the player while some of these streaks favor the house. Some of these streaks favor neither.
Now, many players think that favorable streaks mean that things have gone right for them. Here they are correct in their thinking. Look at the past, see a good streak, and a player can rightly say that “things were going right for me.”
The casino can say this too.
And here is where many (so many, many) players indulge in a fantasy world. They will think that if things went well for them then things will continue to go well for them in the near future. They will then increase the size of their bets or bet the same number or combinations that they have just been betting thinking, “Oh yeah, I am going to ride a hot streak!”
On what do they base this future optimism? After all, the games remain the same. The house edges on decision after decision (with blackjack and baccarat as the two exceptions) will remain the same. The player will lose in the long run and some players will lose even in the short run.
The recent streak means nothing about the future prospects of the player. It’s like reading tea leaves without the leaves. And we all know, or should know, that reading tea leaves with or without the leaves is a total meaningless activity.
Still, the players will increase their bets after a good streak and wish and hope that this good streak will continue.
True, sometimes good streaks for the player will continue. Sometimes good streaks for the player will end. But in almost all times, the math of the game favors the casino and a player’s good streak is irrelevant.
If a player puts up more money or more bets (or both) after a streaking moment, he or she is giving the house more money to win. The house edge will grind away at that more money as it ground away at less money. It is almost always the players’ money being ground; rarely is it the casino’s money.
[Please note: Why are blackjack and baccarat exceptions to the above rule? They are and they aren’t. Since these are games where a card that has just been used is not replayed and is removed from the deck or shoe, the actual house edge will change as cards depart the game. Card counters at blackjack can follow this and increase their bets in favorable situations. In baccarat, the change in the house edge is not great and nothing can come of card counting systems at that game.]
Craps odds and edges do not change and unless a player has the uncanny ability to inﬂuence the dice with his or her throw, the game is for all intents and purposes stagnant. Unless there is something really oﬀ about the wheel in a roulette game, then the odds and edges are also stagnant. This holds true for card games such as Pai Gow Poker, where one deck is used only once. There are no second deals on that deck and the game stays stagnant.
The casino bosses know these truths. They are fully aware—or should be aware—that their games are money makers for their casinos and money unmakers for the players. Players’ faulty reasoning is merely helpful to the casinos’ bottom line and nothing more.
So why do we players think as we think? It has something to do with Santa Claus. (Okay, okay, hear me out.)
People want to live in a magical world where normal events can be superseded by magical moments. Santa Claus can travel the world giving gifts to all the good boys and girls. In fact, his reindeer can ﬂy and one of them has a really red nose. Santa can listen in on your life to make sure you have been a good little individual.
Now, that’s magic.
Of course, you may have been a good individual all year but when that monstrous earthquake hits and swallows you and your family and your entire town up, well, there ain’t no magical thinking in that. Nature, raw and awful, raw and wonderful, is not magic; it is just powerful.
So is math. It is inexorable. You can’t change the house edge by wishing and hoping. Something has to be “oﬀ” about the games for a player to deliberately take the reins of power from the house. That rarely happens.
The answer to our magical thinking is quite simple: Wake up! Santa ain’t coming to town, ever, whether good things happen to you or bad things happen to you or nothing good or bad happens to you.
(Get the kids out of the room right now.)
There is no such thing as Santa Claus. He doesn’t exist in the real world and he doesn’t exist in the casino world. You’re on your own in both.
All the best in and out of the casinos!