The 365 Commitment

The House Edge

I was a young boy, in my early teens. I had become quite adept at shuffling and dealing cards. My grandmother’s 3rd husband, Jay, was teaching me every morning. Now my grandmother did not intentionally marry three men, the first two died of unexpected natural causes. These were great men, this third one, however, was a little on the edge. He was the kind of man you found haunting the VFW bar in the middle of the day. He was tall, built like a heavy weight fighter and smoked 4 packs a day. It was from him that I learned how to play cards.

To this day, I can still count cards, calculate odds on hands, and understand behaviors of why people play the way they do in poker. For some reason Jay thought it was really important to tell me, watch the eyes. A stare, no blinking, relaxed expression – they have a good hand – fold. I learned to stick to the plan, do not get distracted. Do not let the dolls fill you up with drinks, the house is not your friend, watch the player to you right, he is in your blind. I remember one morning I learned a powerful lesson about odds.

He thought is was past time to teach me how to play dice, specifically the game of craps. For some reason this was said with an air of total gravity. Kid, dice is the only game worth playing, but even still, always remember – the house always wins. Well, let me caveat that. He said blackjack, if you could find a house that played with single decks, was the best game. That is if you can count the 10s, J’s, Q’s and K’s. If you know how flush the deck is with 10’s then you can beat the house, but that is the only game where that is possible. Next to that, is craps.

This is the day that I learned to play dice and it is also the day that I decided that I would just never gamble. I have never bet on a single thing, including a lottery ticket, since that day when Jay rolled those two red dice, followed by a long draft of his 5th Marlboro Red that morning. Stubbing out the cigarette in the ash tray the lesson started. I am the shooter, and that was the come out role. Here is where the house odds are the lowest. This is where you have just about a 50% chance of getting a 1:1 payout. Get your money back + the bet. However, and this is where it got serious. He pointed at me, after pounding the new pack of Reds in his palm (he liked to pack the tobacco down into the paper so that the initial burn from the lighter would catch) and said remember this Guy. He never used my name, so this was a big deal. Remember Guy, even with the 1:1, you have a 50% chance. You can bet pass or don’t pass and have a 50% chance of 1:1 – however, make sure you know the real odds.

The chances of winning a pass line bet are 49.29%. The chances of losing a pass line bet are 50.71%. I remember these numbers to this day. The point is the house edge, even on the best odds in all gambling, is 1.42%. This means that no matter what bets are made, even on the front end of the bet, the house is gaining 1.42% on every bet. He pointed at me again and said, do not ever play the slots, but if you do, play on the edge. I had no idea but the machines are regulated to payout percentages of their till. It is actually quite high. In some cases, for every dollar inserted into the machine, 98 cents is paid out. That is 2% to the house, not as good as Craps, but still pretty good. However, that only works on the edge casino’s. The gaming commission has zones, and in high traffic area house % is much higher. You could be playing on a 92% slot for example. Nowadays most slots are in teh 92% range. BTW – California has legislation around this. I think the tribal casinos in California have a legislated payout of 75% or something like that. 75%!! This was some promise the Governor made (no doubt after a campaign contribution). Remember there is a healthy state of ca kick back on this gambling activity. If you are gambling in a California casino on  a slot machine you are literally throwing 25 cents on every dollar away.

So craps was game of choice for Jay, the one where the house payout was the lowest.

However, the number that stuck with me was 1.42%. No matter what the house has the edge. Good luck on finding a non-commission table these days, but even if you do, the house will always win.

Life lesson for 10 year old Guy. The House Edge. I vowed from that point forward I would never play a game that gave anyone an edge, much less a guaranteed payout. Not sure why I shared this little tidbit, or if it is applicable anyway, but it is one of my life lessons that I follow.

Guy Reams

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