The Truth about Betting Systems

“No one can possibly win at roulette unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking.” — Albert Einstein

Not only do bettings systems fail to beat casino games with a house advantage, they can’t even dent it. Roulette balls and dice simply have no memory. Every spin in roulette and every toss in craps is independent of all past events. In the short run you can fool yourself into thinking a betting system works, by risking a lot to win a little. However, in the long run no betting system can withstand the test of time. The longer you play, the ratio of money lost to money bet will get closer to the expectation for that game.

In the many years that run this site I have received thousands of e-mails from believers in betting systems. Their faith surpasses religious levels. However, in all things, the more ridiculous a belief is the more tenaciously it tends to be held. Gamblers have been looking for a betting system that works for hundreds of years, and yet the casinos are still standing.

Gambler’s Fallacy

The biggest gambling myth is that an event that has not happened recently becomes overdue and more likely to occur. This is known as the “gambler’s fallacy.” Thousands of gamblers have devised betting systems that attempt to exploit the gambler’s fallacy by betting the opposite way of recent outcomes. For example, waiting for three reds in roulette and then betting on black. Hucksters sell “guaranteed” get-rich-quick betting systems that are ultimately based on the gambler’s fallacy. None of them work. If you don’t believe me here is what some other sources say on the topic:

A common gamblers’ fallacy called “the doctrine of the maturity of the chances” (or “Monte Carlo fallacy”) falsely assumes that each play in a game of chance is not independent of the others and that a series of outcomes of one sort should be balanced in the short run by other possibilities. A number of “systems” have been invented by gamblers based largely on this fallacy; casino operators are happy to encourage the use of such systems and to exploit any gambler’s neglect of the strict rules of probability and independent plays. — Encyclopedia Britannica (look under “gambling”)

No betting system can convert a subfair game into a profitable enterprise… — Probability and Measure (second edition, page 94) by Patrick Billingsley

The number of ‘guaranteed’ betting systems, the proliferation of myths and fallacies concerning such systems, and the countless people believing, propagating, venerating, protecting, and swearing by such systems are legion. Betting systems constitute one of the oldest delusions of gambling history. Betting systems votaries are spiritually akin to the proponents of perpetual motion machines, butting their heads against the second law of thermodynamics. — The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic (page 53) by Richard A. Epstein

Vegas Click also has a good expose of the gambler’s fallacy.

The Martingale

Every week I receive two or three emails asking me about the betting system by which a player doubles his/her bet after a loss. This system is generally played with an even money game such as the red/black bet in roulette or the pass/don’t pass bet in craps and is known as the Martingale. The idea is that by doubling your bet after a loss, you would always win enough to cover all past losses plus one unit. For example if a player starts at $1 and loses four bets in a row, winning on the fifth, he will have lost $1+$2+$4+$8 = $15 on the four losing bets and won $16 on the fifth bet. The losses were covered and he had a profit of $1. The problem is that it is easier than you think to lose several bets in a row and run out of betting money after you’ve doubled it all away.