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Betting Systems - Positive-Expectation Situations

According to your blackjack software tables, both the Unified Gaming and Boss Media systems give the player a slight edge. If this is so, how can the casinos that use these software systems turn a profit? Is it because relatively few players use basic strategy and/or good money management techniques?


Online casinos are not the only ones to offer positive expectation games. Using basic strategy some Las Vegas casinos offer games with a negative house edge. There are video poker games all over the country with a positive expectation assuming optimal strategy. The reason the casinos can afford to do this is that the vast majority of players make errors in strategy. As someone who has played hundreds of hours of blackjack in casinos all over the U.S., I seldom see other players playing proper basic strategy. Money management has nothing to do with it.

Are you saying that in the long run you will lose at every casino game no matter what you do?

Joe from Harrisburg, US

With the exception of rare positive expectation opportunities in blackjack and video poker, yes, that is what I'm saying.

First of all, thanks for providing reliable gambling info. You are one of only about four or five sites on the net doing so. In your opinion, is it possible that a mathematically sound method (card counting etc.) could ever be devised to give a positive expectation in baccarat? There has recently been some speculation (and wild claims) on the bj21 and other gambling forums.

Gavin P. from Bury, St Edmunds, England

Thanks for the compliment. I address the vulnerability to card counting in my baccarat appendix 2. To make a long story short, no, baccarat is not countable unless you use a computer.

I have read a couple of articles about "Parrando's Paradox." Is there a way that you could explain what is going on as it is extremely counter-intuitive that two losing games played in a certain sequence could add up to a winner. I thought I understood the mathematics of gambling / probability! I can see that there is a subtle link between games A & B as game B is dependent on capital that is affected by game A; I am unable to carry the logic any further. Does Parrando's Paradox have any implications for negative expectation casino gamblers? I doubt it but would love to hear it from someone with a greater understanding.

Gavin from Burt St Edmunds, England

Parrando's Paradox states that two sub-optimal games of chance can show a long-term gain if played alternately. However the games can not be independent of each other, which eliminates any comparison to casino games.

Have you ever considered the impact of commissions (i.e. junket players get a commission based on turnover)? Although they require a lot of capital to begin with, commissions reduce house odds. I've done some calculations and it seems as though (if you play say basic strategy in blackjack) you can get slight odds in your favor (even without counting cards!). Have you done such calculations before and if so, what was the result?

Siew from Sydney, Australia

Assuming you could get paid for your play then yes, it would be very possible to make a profit from playing junkets, depending on if the commission is more than the expected loss gambling. I've heard of a professional gamblers exploiting such offers in Asian casinos.

For those games which returns higher than 100%, have you thought of writing computer programs to play against them? I saw this idea mentioned somewhere else so I bet you must have known it. What is the problem with it then? No big return? Too many people have already done it? Casinos can easily find out and bar you?

"Anonymous" .

I addressed robot players in the September 20, 2001 column. Assuming you could create a robot then it should do well against a game with over 100% return. However I would recommend programming it to play at a human speed and reasonable sitting times. Some online casinos have been known to blame players for using robots even when they weren’t, as an excuse not to pay in my opinion.

I know you say that betting strategies don’t work because of the negative expectation built in to most games but what about when the player has the advantage? Do betting strategies work under these conditions?

"Anonymous" .

Yes! If the player had the advantage a betting system could not help but work in the long run. The reason is the house/player advantage is immutable. Betting systems can not change it.

On a recent Travel Channel show about Las Vegas whales, they surprised me with the statement that casinos sometimes offer loss discounts to whales. In other words, the whale plays on credit, and are charged only a percentage of their total losses at the end of a visit. Does this make it possible to set up a positive-expectation game? Would betting systems start to make sense in this context?

"Anonymous" .

Yes, this is true. It is not unusual for "whales" to get a 10% rebate on losses. In my opinion this is a very risky offer to make and a sharp player could easily abuse it and gain an advantage. The kind of player who would make an ideal recipient of this offer is one who grinds out a lot of play in a high house edge game. The kind of player who could best exploit this offer is one who plays a low house edge game, for a short time, and with a wide range of bet size. It sounds paradoxical but under this deal the player must lose to gain any benefit. Thus the player should set a high winning goal and relatively low losing goal. If we can ignore the house edge for the sake of example if the winning marker were $1,000,000 and the losing marker $100,000 then the probability of success is 1/11, as I show in a later question. The expected value after the 10% rebate is (1/11)*$1,000,000 + (10/11)*(0.9*-100,000) = +$9091. A good strategy to achieve a high winning goal quickly would be something like an anti-martingale, or anything where you bet more after you win.

I was wondering how the house advantage would change if you played 5 hands at a time using basic strategy blackjack and card counting at an online casino. Let me explain. I know the deck is shuffled with each hand, however you can count the cards of all hands leading up to the last hand - the 5th hand. You can then use this information to help you modify your basic strategy betting. For example, not doubling down when the count is against you or hitting when you normally should stay. Could this possibly shift the overall odds to the players advantage?

"Anonymous" .

Flat betting and only five spots, I think not. However if you bet seven spots and progressively more on each spot to be played then yes. This is called depth charging and is treated lightly in the book Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Andersen.

What is the best betting system for a player to use when playing the online casino blackjack games that give the PLAYER the slight edge? Are there any systems when there is a positive player edge that can be used to most effectively gain maximum winnings with minimum chance of losses over the long run? Or would the best system be to bet the same amount consistently and follow the optimum basic strategy (and its exceptions for single deck) for all the hands played?

"Anonymous" .

I would recommend flat betting. The expected return is the same regardless of how you bet, but flat betting is best for minimizing volatility and ensuring bankroll preservation.