10 Apr

The (Dis)Advantages of Casino Bet Sizing

Betting Systems vs. Advantage Betting Strategies

I’d like to start this off with a couple of cliches. They go something like this…

  • You can’t win if you don’t play.
  • You can’t beat something with nothing.
  • It’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.

What do these all have in common? They’re all words of encouragement likely to lead to the loss of your hard earned money at a casino. While they do have a ring of truth to them, these phrases aren’t going to help you win, much like one of the so-called casino strategies we’ll be talking about today.

Betting Systems vs. Advantage Betting Strategies

Beat the Casino: Betting Systems vs. Advantage Betting Strategies

These are two very common tactics gamblers like to use in the casino. A lot of people think they are the same thing, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In the simplest of terms, a betting system is a method of bet sizing that requires a player to increase or decrease their next wager based on the outcome of the previous wager. Advantage betting involves the incorporation of a specific strategy that will effectively decrease the house edge, sliding the odds of winning the game further towards the player’s favor. It might involve bet sizing, but not based on previous outcome.

If you haven’t figured it out yet based on those descriptions alone, betting system strategies are the tactic that mimics the cliches above. Here’s why…

How Betting Systems (Don’t) Work

To show you how these so-called strategies work (and why they really don’t) I’m going to use an example of the most basic casino bet sizing system of all, known as the Martingale System. There are plenty of other positive and negative progression systems out there, each a little more complicated than the last, but in the end, they are all the same in the sense that they cannot and will not ever alter the house edge. The casino will always have an advantage in the long term.

Martingale System

The concept is to play a game with even-money bets, and start with a single bet unit that matches the minimum stakes of that game. You continue doubling your bet after every loss until you win, at which point you’re up one betting unit. We’ll use a minimum $5 bet on Red in Roulette for this explanation. A typical run might look like this.

  • Player wagers $5 on Red.
  • Black hits, player loses (down $5).
  • Player wagers $10 on Red.
  • Black hits, player loses (down $15).
  • Player wagers $20 on Red.
  • Black hits, player loses (down $35).
  • Player wagers $40 on Red.
  • Red hits, player wins (up $5).
  • Player starts over, wagers $5 on Red…

This all sounds very simple and, in theory, seems like a guaranteed way to make a profit every time. There’s one very simple reason why this won’t work; why the odds will catch up to you in time. The table stakes come with a minimum, and a maximum, and you’re eventually going to hit that maximum. At this table, the min/max would be $5/$500. Thus, it only takes 7 consecutive losses to lose a fantastic amount of money. That same applies to min/max of $10/$1,000, and $100/$10,000 limits. Don’t believe me? Do the math…

Let’s have a look at the consecutive wagers if the player continues losing at $5/$500.

Increasing Bet Requirements of Martingale System
  • 1st Bet = $5
  • 2nd Bet = $10
  • 3rd Bet = $20
  • 4th Bet = $40
  • 5th Bet = $80
  • 6th Bet = $160
  • 7th Bet = $320
  • 8th Bet = $640

As you can see, you won’t be able to place the 8th bet because it exceeds the table maximum. Therefore, if you lose the 7th bet, you’re out $635 (all previous bets combined) with no way to make up for it. Ouch! And don’t think you won’t lose 7 bets in a row, either. So many gamblers make the mistake of believing consecutive wagers will increase in odds.

‘If Black hits 5 times in a row, then Red is 5 times more likely to hit on the next spin.’.

This is entirely untrue! Every new game has its own odds, irrespective of the previous outcome. A roulette wheel has no notion of history. Nor does a deck of cards in baccarat. It’s just like flipping a coin, where the odds of the next flip are always 50/50, no matter what the last flip, or last 10 flips, were. Long term odds tend to abide by probabilities, but short term odds do not. Thus losing 7 bets in a row is not uncommon.

How Advantage Betting Tactics (Do) Work

As I said before, advantage bets are wagers that give the player better odds of winning. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are gaining an edge over the house. That’s an extremely rare case present only in blackjack games where the player finds the right rules, makes all the right decisions, and (inconspicuously) counts cards, sizing their bets accordingly to maximize profits and minimize losses.

This is a perfect example of an advantage betting strategy. Playing blackjack with a basic decision-making strategy (no card counting) is also an example of placing advantage bets. A casino might experience a 5% house edge on blackjack against players who use gut instinct or stand on every total of 12+. But following a basic strategy chart can decrease the house edge to under 1%.

The thing you have to remember is that even a 1% house edge begets a negative expectation. As for the example above, you should be expecting to lose 1% of your bankroll each time you wager through it, as opposed to 5% as an inexperienced player using no strategy at all.

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