We owe much in life to “fortune” as in luck, be that good or bad – as in money, be that much, some, little or none – as in all the events, thoughts, and decisions we make in our lives without truly knowing the consequences of such and their impacts.

And what’s “out there” in the world can cascade in on us and determine our lives from a given point onwards. Pestilence, war, poverty, natural disasters, our own mental sharpness, or lack thereof, is the scenery for much of our lives. Fortune hangs above our heads.

Even in relatively simple things fortune plays a role. 

I’m guessing that 100% (or close to that) of couples getting married think that their marriages will succeed. About 50% of those marriages don’t. All those couples flipped coins. Some got the winning side, some got the losing side. Some of us have been on both sides of that coin flip. How much did fortune have to do with that?

Here's a horrifying thought: many marriages that last are actually not good marriages.

Romeo said in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, “O, I am fortune’s fool.”

Most of us have had moments, perhaps many moments, when we have felt just such fortune’s foolishness in our lives. Sometimes this foolishness is simple and somewhat silly, and sometimes this foolishness is deadly to ourselves or perhaps others.

Are we “fortune’s fool”?

Surely, it is difficult to escape the ravages of ill fortune. But it is wonderful to celebrate good fortune. Many of us think we earn our good fortune; that it tells the world about us. We are good and therefore good things must come to us. 

The ancient world (certainly before the book of Job in the Bible) thought that those who were wealthy were good people. They had to be, otherwise why had they been rewarded by the gods?

Those men and women and children who were poverty stricken, disease ridden, and miserable deserved their fates because they had done wrong in this life or that their relatives had done wrong in past lives. Such collective guilt was rampant in the old world. Collective guilt was a staple of primitive thinking. Two people eat a fruit that was banned and everyone whoever lives after them must die. Yikes! 

Today, most of us do not think we earn bad fortune. Certainly, earning the bad is not the prevalent feeling in the modern world. We have answered the philosophical question of: “why do bad things happen to good people?” This way: bad things do happen, sometimes because we have made mistakes that bring such bad things on ourselves or that we just had bad fortune in this or that arena.
 
We think of bad fortune as something dumped on us. We don’t ask for it. 

Now good fortune belongs to us and it should. We deserve it, don’t we? Most of us think of ourselves as good people. Even criminals often think of themselves as good people because it is most other people who are bad, correct?

Not so with ill-fortune. No, sir, that bad fortune has been splattered all over us like gooey detritus.  Read Facebook and you can hear the laments of many people raging at their lots in life. Not everyone has been enveloped by good fortune.

We all believe we deserve good fortune or at the very least more good fortune than we have at this moment. Just about all commercials are pushing the “fact” that this or that product will make us feel fortunate or better than we are at the moment. Every politician promises us that things will get better if they get elected.

Fortune’s Birth

The first bout we have with fortune is in our conceptions and births. Our parents bring us on life’s stage and then they set the stage for us. If we are not perfect at birth, we had no say in the matter. Our genes are fortune’s first instruments as is the womb in which we reside. 

All that is associated with our early lives most of us owe to our parents. We are formed, created, and enter the world totally at the mercy of those who bred us. And to those around us, be they blood relations or just relations, they dictate our early experiences and some or most of our views. Each and every one of us must deal with what, where, and who we have been born into.

Now, many babies are healthy, happy and grow up in happy homes. Their “outrageous fortune” (to quote William Shakespeare’s Hamlet) is that they have not been dumped into the many horrors many other humans are born and bred into. Think of the world and think of your state in it – do you have more good fortune or more ill-fortune?

Sometimes “outrageous fortune” can actually be good; most times it isn’t.

Roulette

“Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” (Honoré de Balzac)

Which brings us to Fortune’s Fortress, the casino. Here fortune is manipulated in clever ways to make us happy and to make us sad. Look out over the casino floor, over the slot aisles, and you will see fortune’s influence in powerful ways. People are relying on good fortune to win money and fearing bad fortune that will make them lose money. Yes, some players win and yes, some lose.

There is an ongoing popular perception that the rich achieved their status by committing crimes or, at least, using unsavory practices that might not have been technically illegal to gain property and wealth. It is also widespread that the rich manipulate the law to favor themselves.

I have met many people who think the casinos cheat their players and that’s why the players lose. The players are just fools for playing.  Why would you play games that you know you will lose? Isn’t that wrong thinking?

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Casino players are aware that the house has an edge on almost every bet at every game and this allows the casinos to ultimately beat the players and continue to offer their product to people who wish to play casino games. Nothing is hidden here. Anyone who wants to learn how the casinos win from the players can do so. It isn’t rocket science. It is also relatively easy.

Many players know this is true but don’t actually know how the casino achieves such victory.

“How do the casinos do it?” (my mother)

The casinos manipulate their games in basically two ways: they win more decisions at a game and/or they underpay the winning bet based on their conception of what the bet should pay and not on the true probabilities of the bet. Both of these techniques will bring the money to them sooner or later.

Here are four examples: 

In craps, a pass line bet pays even money. The casino will win 251 decisions and the player will win 244 decisions. That seven-unit difference gives the casino a 1.41% edge over the player.

At roulette, the American double-zero wheel will pay 35-to-1 on a winning bet directly on a number. The true odds of the bet are 37-to-1. But the casino skimps on the payout by two units bringing down the player’s win to 35. This gives the casino a 5.26% edge over the player. The players will win 1 bet in 38 on average which is the correct probability but they will not be paid properly and that gives the casino the edge.

In blackjack, the casino will win approximately 48% of the bets, the player will win approximately 44% of the bets and the other bets will be draws. The casino will pay out more money on certain bets, such as a blackjack, so the house reduces the player’s chances of even bigger losses. The blackjack house edge (depending on the game and the rules) will be about 0.5%.

Machine games such as slots and video poker manipulate the payouts so that what comes out of the machine is less than what goes into the machine. Yes, there can be big wins at some machine games but as time passes the house edges of between approximately 1% (video poker) to 12% (slots) will beat the players.

Is this thievery? Is it a crime of gross proportions perpetrated on unwise and unwary players? No. It is the price the player pays for playing the games. Players know this fact: casinos have the edge over them.

When you buy a television set, you aren’t paying what it actually cost to build the set. The store has to add something to that price for the store to make a profit. Such is not a crime.

Blackjack Chips

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” (Louis Pasteur)

Are players just silly, stupid creatures enjoying their own doom as many casino critics maintain? Are the players loopy lemmings jumping over the casino cliffs?

Of course not. Still…

Players have options of what games to play and, perhaps even more important, how to play them. Most games with multiple bets have a range of house edges to confront and players owe it to themselves to know these house edges.

Again, let us take craps first: 

There are so many bets at a craps game, ranging from absolutely good to somewhat decent to absolutely awful. The awful bets tend to have large payouts coupled with extremely large house edges. And, yes, most craps players make a couple or some or many of these bets. Not a good thing to do if you want the best path to winning.

Craps is an exciting game; perhaps the most exciting game in the casino. Many craps players will tell you that without being prodded to do so. Still…

Too many craps players are disobeying Louis Pasteur’s dictum. Play the game making the lowest house edge bets and your chances of winning are far better.

Blackjack has a varied number of games with different rules. The best rules give the best chance to win. Of course, a player has to make playing decisions based on basic strategy, the computer-derived play of every possible player hand against every possible dealer up-card. Much of the success of blackjack play is in the decisions of the players – good players have a decent chance to win; bad players, well, poof!

There are better and worse slot machines to play. Don’t be shocked at this. For example, those multi-million-dollar machines have huge house edges in order to save up for the few players who hit it big. Too many slot players think they will be a part of the select few as they fantasize that fortune will smile on them. It might, yes, but it probably won’t. So don’t play those machines. Go for the more traditional machines that are not progressive and not linked to other machines.

There are better and worse video-poker machines to play but in video poker you must play the hands using the proper strategy for that particular game. Some video-poker games have very low house edges if played correctly – so why not play correctly?

[Please note: As a matter of fact, and as a strong word to the wise player, almost all casino card games have better and worse ways to play the hands. Find out the best ways to play the hands and only play those ways. That’s being prepared and that gives you the best chance to win.

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.” (Benjamin Disraeli)

A thinking casino player is usually a good casino player. Thinking in this context means understanding the games, how to play the one or ones the player likes and to always bet money that the player can afford to bet.

Players have to keep themselves under control and play in a contained way. That makes sense to me. Letting it all hang out is a sure way to have what is hanging out to get chopped off.

Proper money management and proper playing strategies are all important. 

All the best in and out of the casinos!
 

About the Author
By

Frank Scoblete grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He spent the ‘60s getting an education; the ‘70s in editing, writing and publishing; the ‘80s in theatre, and the ‘90s and the 2000s in casino gambling.

Along the way he taught English for 33 years. He has authored 35 books; his most recent publisher is Triumph Books, a division of Random House. He lives in Long Island. Frank wrote the Ultimate Roulette Strategy Guide and he's a well known casino specialist.