Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of gamblers are superstitious? Would it also surprise you to learn that some gambling myths are encouraged by casinos and bookmakers?
The first step in becoming a savvy gambler is to make sure you understand the facts about gambling. This means ignoring the myths and superstitions that are so rampant in the hobby.
Here are 10 of the most common gambling superstitions and myths. You’ll find other lists elsewhere on the internet, but many of the myths and superstitions listed on those pages are just subcategories of the 10 below.
1 – The Gambler’s Fallacy
The gambler’s fallacy is a mathematical term from the discipline of probability, which is the branch of mathematics that deals with measuring how likely (or unlikely) events are to happen or not. Gamblers and mathematicians measure likelihood using a fraction, which can be expressed in multiple ways.
The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that probability changes based on previous events. For example, if a ball has landed on red six times in a row, someone can believe the gambler’s fallacy and assume that the ball is more likely to land on black on the next spin of the roulette wheel.
Most people gamble on independent events. Previous events don’t affect the probability. On a roulette wheel, you have 18 black pockets, 18 red pockets, and two green pockets. That’s 38 total possible events.
The probability of the ball landing on black is 18/38, or 47.37%. That doesn’t change based on what happened on the previous spin.
2 – Luck
You can list all kinds of examples of what people think bring good luck or bad luck. The implication is that by doing certain things, you can increase your probability of winning. An example might be someone wearing red to the roulette table, thinking that it will bring them good luck.
Any kind of good luck charm is an example of this myth or superstition in action. Bringing a rabbit’s foot on your keychain to the casino has NO effect on the probability behind the game.
Savvy gamblers don’t believe in the supernatural, at least not as it relates to gambling. And believing in good luck or bad luck. at least as forces you can somehow control, is a belief in the supernatural.
Of course, mathematically speaking, good luck and bad luck happen any time you see results that deviate from the mathematically expected results.
But that’s only visible in retrospect. You can’t do anything to make sure you get lucky in the future.
The probability of the ball landing on red in roulette remains 47.37%, regardless of what kind of good luck charm you have in your pocket.
3 – Bad Players at the Blackjack Table
Many people believe that the actions of the player at third base at the blackjack table can affect the luck of the entire table.
What’s third base? When you stand behind a blackjack table, the first person to act is the person on the far right. That’s first base. The last person to act is the person on the far left. That’s third base.
The player at third base can play the cards any way he likes and not affect the probability of you winning. As long as you’re following basic strategy, the third baseman’s actions have no effect on your outcome.
4 – Using Your Players Club Card in the Slot Machine
Most modern casinos have a players club. When you sign up for the players club, you give the casino your contact information in exchange for a card you can insert into the slot machine while you play.
This card tracks how much money you’re wagering per hour. The casino provides you with rebates in the form of cash, food, and other perks as a tiny percentage of that action, usually about 0.2% of the amount you wager.
Many gamblers think that if they insert their players club card, it’s impossible to win the jackpot on a slot machine. Or they think the machine will run colder because the card is inserted.
Neither of those myths is true. In fact, the random number generator that determines your outcome on the slot machine has no connection to the device tracking your play.
You’re just as likely to win (or lose) on a slot machine with your players club card inserted as you are without it inserted.
5 – Don’t Count Your Money While You’re Sitting at the Table
In the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler,” he insists that every gambler knows you shouldn’t count your money while you’re sitting at the table.
The implication is that this is rude or unlucky. The truth is, it’s neither rude nor unlucky. It’s not rude unless you’re holding up the game while you’re counting. Obviously, it’s rude to force everyone else to wait for you while you count your money.
But knowing how much money you have in front of you is critical for strategy decisions when you’re playing poker. And it’s not unlucky because we don’t believe in the supernatural, remember?
How on earth would counting your money affect the probability of catching any specific kind of card?
6 – Gambling Isn’t Really Addictive
Some people think gambling isn’t addictive because it doesn’t involve ingesting some kind of foreign substance that changes how you feel. Science doesn’t agree.
Psychologists have run multiple experiments analyzing the brain chemistry of gamblers while they’re gambling. Hormones like dopamine, the same substances that get released when you’re doing drugs, are triggered by gambling, too.
Slot machines, in particular, are especially addictive. In fact, they’re similar to “Skinner boxes.” B.F. Skinner was a behavioral scientist who studied what happened when rats were given cheese when opening doors on boxes.
The rats who got cheese when they opened a box were more motivated to open a box than the rats who didn’t. But the most motivated rats were the ones who got cheese some of the time when opening a box.
This intermittent reinforcement of behavior is exactly what happens when you’re playing a slot machine.
7 – Casinos Cheat
Gamblers who think casinos cheat are on the right track with their reasoning; they’re just drawing the wrong conclusion. Casinos wouldn’t stay in business if you could win on a consistent basis.
But thinking that the casinos cheat means you believe they somehow control the outcomes of random events. And that’s not where the casino gets its edge.
The casino gets its edge by paying off bets at odds lower than the odds of winning. For example, when you’re playing blackjack, you have just as good a chance of winning as the dealer, right? After all, you’re getting the same cards from the same deck and playing by the same rules, right?
The dealer doesn’t play his hand until you’ve completed your hand. This means that if you bust, and the dealer busts, too, you still lose. You lost your hand as soon as you went bust, even though the dealer didn’t play his hand first.
In a fair game, if you and the dealer both busted, you’d face a push result. You wouldn’t win anything, but you wouldn’t lose anything either.
In roulette, when you bet on red, you have 18 ways to win. But you also have 20 ways to lose.
There are 18 black outcomes, but there are also two green outcomes. The bet pays off at even money, which would be a break-even bet.
The casino doesn’t have to CHEAT. The outcomes can be entirely random, and the casino will make money hand over fist.
8 – Betting Systems
This is one of my favorite misconceptions, that you can somehow increase your probability of winning by using some kind of betting system.
One example of a betting system is the Martingale System. Using this system, you bet on something with an almost 50/50 chance of winning. The classic Martingale player will place an even-money bet at the roulette table, which means he has a 47.37% probability of winning.
If he loses, he doubles the size of his next bet, which means he’ll recoup the loss from the previous bet and show a profit the size of his original bet.
If he loses twice in a row, he doubles the size of his bet twice in a row. So, if he bet $5, lost, then bet $10 and lost again, his next bet would be $20.
This seems foolproof. After all, you’re eventually going to have to win. What are the odds that you’ll lose seven or eight times in a row?
As it turns out, the odds of losing eight times in a row at the roulette table is better than you think. And once you do, the size of your bets would become too large to be realistic. The casino has betting limits, and you (presumably) have a finite bankroll.
See how fast these bets increase?
Another betting system which takes the opposite track is the Paroli system, also known as the Reverse Martingale. The idea is that you double the size of your bets after each win, hoping to get a huge win when you hit one of those inevitable winning streaks.
No betting system can ever overcome the house edge, though. Eventually, the results will ensure that you lose money.
9 – Money Management
Some aspects of money management make perfect sense. Of course you should have a bankroll set aside for gambling, and of course it should be money you can afford to lose. And yes, you should have an idea of how much you’d like to win and how much you’re willing to learn.
The main premise behind money management, though, is that you somehow reset the clock every time you sit down for a new gambling session. You set a stop loss limit, which is an amount of your bankroll for that session you’re willing to lose. You also set a win goal, which is a percentage of your bankroll that you’d like to win before quitting.
Suppose you put $100 into a slot machine. A money management proponent would suggest that you set a win goal of 20% and a stop loss limit of $20.
At any point, if your credits on the machine go over $120, you’re supposed to quit and walk away. You’re also supposed to walk away if you get down to $80. The reasons why this won’t work to help make you a winner should be obvious.
10 – Practice Makes Perfect
Some people think that if they just practice playing a casino game long enough, they’ll eventually get good enough at it that they can win.
But no matter how much you play roulette, you’ll never get “good at it.” The game is entirely random.
Even in games with a skill element, like blackjack or video poker, the house has a mathematical edge regardless of whether you play perfectly.
Those are the 10 gambling superstitions and myths that I hear most often. Did I leave out any of your favorites?
Do you disagree and think that any of these myths are actually fact? Let me know what you think in the comments.