The faulty logic of believing in gambling streaks
It’s simultaneously fun and somewhat scary to watch the emotional way in which proponents of streak betting discuss their approach to gambling. Despite long-term losses, despite the evidence of their own experiences telling them they are totally wrong, they remain absolutely firm in their convictions.
Life seems to run in streaks. For the past three days, I’ve been on a lousy one. The outside lights on my house went out due to a faulty circuit; my washing machine went on strike due to a faulty something-or-other; my dishwasher’s undercarriage broke due to a faulty screw; my television cable went kablooey due to a broken cable connection outside; and my parrot’s head got stuck in a small opening in its cage. (I was paid nothing for that act of rescue; the other incidents wound up costing me a small fortune.)
I’ve also had three-day periods recently during which wonderful things happened. I signed a four-book deal with Triumph Books, a division of Random House, the same day that I signed a contract with a Midwest casino to help it with its advertising. The next day I signed a television deal, and on the third day my little grandson won an award in pre-school.
Such streaks in day-to-day life are no different than the streaks one experiences when playing casino games. While these contests are based on randomness, they don’t seem random to us. We see streaks: good ones, bad ones and choppy ones.
The problem with “streaks” in random games is the impossibility of predicting what will happen next. We know there were streaks in the past, and we know there will be streaks in the future. The past streaks are established and ingrained in history; and yes, the future streaks are coming, but how they will affect our fortunes, and when they will arrive, is unknown. The future of any random gambling game exists in a “cloud of unknowing.”
This “cloud” does not sit well with many casino gamblers, who are streak-sniffing creatures, basing many of their cherished gambling systems on their desire to be able to predict the future based on what has just happened. You see these “streakers” in the casinos all the time. Craps players will look for hot tables, or cold tables (in the belief that they are “due” to heat up soon). Before they jump in and start betting, they may wait for a proposition bet such as the Whirl to hit several times in succession—or to not hit in many, many rolls.
Blackjack players try to find dealers who are busting all the time; baccarat players search for long streaks of Bank or Player wins; slot players scour the aisles hoping to identify the “hot” machine or the stingy one that has to explode soon. All players have their own criteria for determining when a streak should be bet. But of course, none of this ultimately matters, because no one can tell when a streak—whether scorching hot, or ice cold—will change. The desire to find and bet streaks is understandable, though totally wrong-headed.
There is no actual harm done if the “streaker” only makes bets with a low house edge. If you place the 6 at craps because a 6 was just rolled, that’s fine, because that place bet of the 6 has a low house edge of 1.52 percent (an expected loss of $1.52 per $100 wagered). On the other hand, if you hop 3:3 on the next roll, that is a poor bet, since a hop bet on the 3:3 comes in with a house edge of 13.89 percent—a monumental edge with an expected loss of $13.89 per $100 wagered.
If you’re looking for streaks on Bank or Player to bet with or against in baccarat, that’s fine, too, since each has a house edge under 1.25 percent. If you decide to bet the tie at baccarat, then you are opposing a house edge of about 14 percent. Ouch!
For casino gamblers, going for or against this or that streak is not harmful if the bets you are making are of the low-house-edge variety. This approach might even be good if you wait out some rolls of the dice, hands of blackjack or spinning of the reels while you walk around the casino floor looking for the “right” time to strike. By biding your time, you reduce your exposure to even the low-house-edge bets by not betting each and every round.
It’s simultaneously fun and somewhat scary to watch the emotional way in which proponents of streak betting discuss their approach to gambling. Despite long-term losses, despite the evidence of their own experiences telling them they are totally wrong, they remain absolutely firm in their convictions. You could say they are the “flat earth society” of gambling strategists—except they make up a significant portion of the betting public.
The bottom line is always this: bet the lowest house-edge bets, even if you do believe in the predictability of streaks.
Frank Scoblete just signed a four-book contract with Triumph Books, a division of Random House. He is the #1 best-selling gaming author in America. He has written 23 books, the latest of which is The Virgin Kiss. He has appeared on over 20 television shows on major stations and over 200 radio shows. For a free brochure, or to order Frank’s products, call 1-800-944-0406. His Web site is www.goldentouchcraps.com.
Predicting The Unpredictable in Gambling.