Most people already know that humans seem to have an unquenchable thirst when it comes to gambling.
But betting on stuff doesn’t come in a vacuum.
Sure, people bet on random stuff like the weather or the outcome of various sports, but they also use a wide variety of dices and equipment to have something to bet on.
This post looks at some of the most common of those devices.
A traditional deck of cards is often used for gambling purposes. In the United States, almost all card games in the casino – including blackjack and poker – use a standard deck of playing cards.
A traditional deck of cards consists of 52 cards, 13 in each of 4 different suits. The ranks are the numbers on each card – 2 through 10. You also have an ace, which counts as 1 but also sometimes as 11, and which is sometimes the lowest card in the deck and sometimes the highest card in the deck. You also have the so-called face cards – the jack, queen, and king.
In most games, the cards are ranked as follows, from low to high:
In most gambling games, suit is irrelevant – clubs aren’t worth more than diamonds, for example.
But having multiple cards in the same suit can constitute a flush or a meld in a rummy game.
Depending on the game, some decks of cards also include a joker, which acts as a wild card. This means it can replace any other card you need to complete a hand in poker.
Craps is the most famous example of a gambling game that uses dice. Sic bo is another game that uses dice. If you grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons, you probably know that dice come in multiple sizes, but when you’re gambling, they’re almost always the standard 6-sided variety.
Casino dice return results of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, and these aren’t indicated with a number but with a number of pips or dots on each side.
Dice used by casinos in craps games are engineered to be almost perfectly random, but wear and tear happens over the course of a craps game. Casinos take used dice and drill holes in them and use them as giveaways. (They do the same thing with playing cards when they’re starting to show signs of wear.)
You’ll notice that casino dice are almost always translucent. The casinos do that so you can’t hide a weight and load the dice.
Roulette is the most famous example of a game that uses a spinning wheel to determine results, but some casinos still feature a game called Big Six, which also uses a spinning wheel to determine outcomes. Some slot machines have a bonus feature with a spinning wheel, too – the most famous example being Wheel of Fortune slots.
A roulette wheel is horizontal, rather than vertical, and modern roulette wheels are engineered to have a minimum of wear and tear and return almost perfectly random results. The numbers on a roulette wheel are actually pockets that the metal ball will fall into after it loses velocity when spun around the rim of the wheel.
American roulette wheels have 38 numbers on them – 1 through 36, 0, and 00. The 0 and 00 are colored green. Half the other numbers are red, and half the other numbers are black.
All the bets at a roulette table would pay off at break-even odds IF the 0 and 00 weren’t on the wheel.
European roulette wheels only have 37 numbers on them – 1 through 36 and a 0.
This cuts the house edge for the game – the casino’s statistical advantage – almost completely in half.
Random Number Generators
A random number generator is a computer program that spits out numbers on a persistent basis. They’re usually used to power slot machines and video poker games. Real money online casinos use random number generators to determine all their games’ results (unless they operate a live dealer casino).
How does that work?
The computer program “thinks” of thousands of numbers per second. When you hit the spin button or the bet button on the gambling machine, the computer program stops on whatever number it’s thinking of at that instant.
It’s an easy matter to set up the algorithm for such a machine to have enough numbers corresponding to an outcome to duplicate any other casino game.
In craps, you have 36 possible results – a random number generator that cycles constantly through an equal amount of numbers 1 through 36 will generate a craps result each time.
For example, you have one outcome that results in a 2, two outcomes that result in a 3, and so on.
You can also program a random number generator to spit out the same probabilities you’d expect from a deck of cards. Each possible card in the deck is just a number between 1 and 52 in that case.
The random number generator operates in the background. As the gambler, the only thing you see is the outcome every time.
Casino chips and poker chips aren’t normally used to generate results in a gambling event, but they are an important piece of gambling equipment. Casinos (and now, most home poker games) use chips made of clay. Different colors have different denominations, but most casinos note the denomination in writing on each chip.
Casino chips are also usually emblazoned with the name and the branding for the casino, too.
Home poker games sometimes use plastic chips, which cost next to nothing. I’ve never enjoyed playing with plastic poker chips – they’re just cheap-looking and ugly.
Clay poker chips, though, can be bought in batches of 1000, which are enough for any home poker game I’ve ever been involved in.
In most casinos, roulette tables have a separate set of chips from the rest of the casino. Each roulette player gets his own color chip so that the casino can keep his bets separate from the other players at the table.
But other than that, the tables in the casino tend to use the same chips from table to table.
Players Club Cards
The casinos do this so they can provide you with casino comps and rebates in exchange for your action.
They do NOT use the players club card to change the odds of the games you’re playing or to make sure you start losing once you’ve won a specific amount of money.
The casinos don’t care about individual winners and losers. They’re interested in the aggregate win and loss rate for the casino.
Since the odds in all the casino games are set up so that the house has an edge, this means that the players who are losing at the casino games are paying off the players who are winning. And the casino makes plenty of money based on the difference between wins and losses based on the math of the game.
In other words, there’s no incentive for a casino to cheat you just because you’re using your players club card.
Just the opposite, in fact – they WANT you to use your players club card and earn rewards because it incentivizes you to gamble more.
And the more you gamble, the more the casino wins in the long run.
Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets
You might not think of scratch-off lottery tickets as gambling devices, but that’s exactly what they are. These are printed up in batches of 1000 or 5000 tickets, and there’s a specific number of winning tickets in each batch.
They’re then distributed to the gas stations and grocery stores where they’re sold.
The number of winners in each batch determine the payback percentage for the game, and the formula for calculating that is easier than you might think.
Suppose you have 5000 lottery tickets that cost $2 each to buy. That’s $10,000 in revenue that the lottery commission brings in.
Now suppose that the game pays out $6500 in prizes.
The profit is $3500.
Percentage-wise, that means that the house edge is 35%, and the payback percentage is 65%.
Those are lousy odds when compared to most casino games.
One way you might be able to get an edge at a scratch-off lottery game is to pay attention to how long a game has been going on and whether the top prizes have been won.
If the game has been going on for weeks, a lot of the tickets have probably already been sold, which means your probability of getting the ticket with the biggest win increases dramatically.
In the example above, suppose that the biggest ticket in the game pays off $2000, and there’s only one of these.
Let’s also assume that you’ve waited long enough for 75% of the tickets to be sold. This means that your probability of winning $2000 is now 1 in 1250 instead of 1 in 5000.
If you can win $2000 in a situation where you have 1 in 1250 odds, you’re going to make a lot of money with scratch-off lottery tickets.
Those are just some of the devices used in modern casino and poker gambling games. I could have also written about shoes – the devices used to hold multiple decks of cards at the blackjack table. Or I could have also written about automatic or continuous shuffling machines, which keep the deck randomized regardless of the status of the game.
The bottom line is that the use of devices and machinery in gambling has been around for a long time, and it will continue to be around for the foreseeable future.