Poker players hate pit games, right? Designed by the house to skin the unwitting punter out of their hard earned poker winnings on the way out the door, the pit gambler is destined to lose everything in the effort to overcome an insurmountable mathematical disadvantage. Cut to swelling violin music and a destitute fool crying by the roadside as his partner and family drive away in the Volvo with the dog and the Status Quo Live CDs.
No, that extreme example wasn’t a personal anecdote, I am going to tell you one though, about the greatest game of Roulette that I ever did see…
I worked in a casino (with a poker room) that was running a promotion whereby when customers came in they were gifted a 50/1 Roulette voucher with a min/max of £1/£10. If you put a £10 chip on a number on Roulette and it wins, you’ll be paid £350 and keep your £10 bet. If you put a 50/1 voucher down with it, you be paid £500 and keep your bet. Easy promo, and the punters loved it.
Roulette maths is not like poker maths, in that it is easy to work out exactly who’s got the edge every single time. It’s always the house and they’ve always got 2.7% on you if you’re playing the inside bets. There’s 37 numbers (0-36) and your return on a winning bet is 36-1. You’ll lose 1 chip out of 37 if you bet on every number, that’s 2.7%. The more times you do it, the more times the house will apply its edge. This is not rocket science.
Nor is this me sabotaging my casino career by blowing the whistle on a giant industry secret.
This information is, and has been for many years, available to me in a leaflet in the foyer. The casino industry is required, by law, to exactly inform their clients how they make their profit on their main product.
Do you get the same from other leisure industries? Or the Financial Services?
If you happen to have a 50/1 voucher, then you have a massive edge over the house, and this leads me to the first instance when poker players should play pit games; when the house offers an increased odds promotion. You now have the edge, and you should risk your money on that basis.
In this particular casino, with the 50/1 voucher, 37 poker players put their heads, and their vouchers, together and worked out, the little cluster of geniuses, that if they all laid out a tenner, and all put their vouchers on at the same time then they could only win.
If you line up 37 experienced gamblers and present them with a bet that is a guaranteed winner, the light from their collective eyes can bake a potato. The 37 poker players went about putting their foolproof winning plan into action. The pit boss didn’t give a shit, this was going to cost him £140 and it was pretty funny watching them scrabble about trying to coin together tenners and unfold their vouchers.
I can’t remember what number hit. It didn’t matter, because every single number got them £510 quid back on their collective £370 bet, a cool profit of £3.78 each.
As the amused dealer paid the £500 and flipped the dolly off, one of the poker players, a known big player, said, “Fuck it. Let’s stick it all back on.” He didn’t say it as a question.
There was a bit of uproar and general jibber jabber.
“Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb” discussed the poker players, but the experienced pit boss had a read on this situation and he knew that money was going back on.
The bet was decided as “20 neighbours by £100”, which is number 20 and the two numbers either side of it; a £500 bet.
This takes me to the second reason poker players should play pit games. You can stop whenever you want. If you can’t have a jolly little punt for a laugh, and then stop when you’re a snippet ahead, or when you’ve lost what you said you’d play, then I guarantee your poker game is in trouble. Knowing when NOT to gamble is vital to being a good poker player.
The 37 players made their bet. The situation was now very surreal, 37 poker players had pooled £370 quid and then slammed it on a 6/1 shot with a 2.7% house edge. That never happens.
The dealer placed five stacks of £5 chips and spun the ball. There was a low level of muttering as he announced “Finish Off”, although there were no other players near, nor able to get near, that table. Someone shouted “Come ON!” and it promoted a couple of cheers and squawks. The dealer shouted “No More Bets” and the ball slowed right down. 37 heads moved like a giant, un-showered Medusa, craning to see the result. The dealer watched the ball, the pit boss watched the ball, the 74 gambling eyes watched the ball (actually, sorry 73, one punter was called One-Eyed Pete).
Some of the more experienced roulette players started to hiss as the ball began to drop close to the right section of the wheel. Everybody was holding their breath as the ball went bink… bink… bink….
And this is the third reason to play pit games; for the thrill of it. The spin of roulette all those poker players had that day was easily worth a tenner. I choose not to drink (much) alcohol, I’ve recently given up smoking, and I can’t see a problem with occasionally launching a tenner at a relatively cheap thrill. Everything in moderation, especially moderation.
Of course, the bet won. I do remember this number, it was number 14. The crowd went fucking crackers! 37 poker players leapt about, hugging each other; it was like a homeless Mardi-Gras. They’d just won £3600, for a tidy profit of £87.29 each.
Someone suggested they push it again and a massive majority groaned a motion winning “NO!”
It was a £25 buyin poker tournament that night, you’d need to make the final table to win £90, those players wanted their money right now.
The casino had to consider it money well spent, the buzz it created around the pit was amazing, and lots of people will have left that night with the same story I’m now telling. Highly effective advertising, cheap at twice the price.
As they cashed out, and shared the money between them, other gamblers and bar customers gathered round to hear the tale of the 50/1 vouchers; everybody was excited, everybody felt the buzz from ‘beating the system’, everybody was involved. That is the fourth reason that regular poker players should occasionally take part in pit games, to be part of the house that homes you.
If you are a regular live cardroom player and you slate the pit games, you are doing a dis-service to the mother ship. Your cardroom, with the standards that you expect and the overall experience that you need to draw in the fish is dependent on the pit for survival. The romantic ideal that a cardroom can be an independent business, entirely separate from fixed odds betting is dead until gaming law realises that poker is different to roulette, slots and blackjack.
I’m not suggesting you shovel all your hard-earned poker pennies into pit gaming. I’m just suggesting that where other conditions are favourable, I believe very regular live cardroom users should take part in the main casino, although maybe not even gambling. Say hello to some newbies, show a numpty where the bogs are, help a granny down the stairs. If you’re there five days a week, you’re more than a customer, you’re part of the family. If you love your local cardroom, you need to love the casino that it owes its existence to as well.
This incident happened 6 years ago, and I was only an employee there, but I still remember it, and I still love recounting it. This brings me to my fifth and final reason to play a pit game: Because you might get ‘lucky’.
“Luck” is a stupid, flighty, emotional, human fallacy. “Luck” is just a lazy way of thinking about maths, but when a mathematical event that is as unlikely as it is inevitable happens at the exact minute and in the exact way we’d like it to, we feel lucky. We’re so lucky to be able to feel lucky.
I’m often asked by poker players how I can play roulette, when I’ve been a roulette dealer, and I know that the game is weighted in favour of the house; I answer that when it makes me feel ‘lucky’, it’s a great feeling, and not one I easily forget.
Providing I don’t ever gamble more time or money than I can afford to lose, then I think that feeling is worth gambling for, just occasionally, just a little bit.
Some poker players will find this a bit controversial, but I’ve explained my reasons as clearly as I can. I like the industry I work in. I’ve worked in other industries, and I’ve never been able to be so honest with my customers about the product as I can in casinos, that’s enough for me to be a customer myself, which is the best recommendation I know.
Just before anyone asks: NO! Roulette dealers cannot cheat. Go to your casino, (when it’s not too busy) ask the pit boss if you can have a go at spinning the ball. They’ll probably let you. Have a still wheel, hold the ball directly above the number you want it to go into, and gently let go. It probably won’t go anywhere near it. Seriously. Spinning a number is bullshit, it’s not possible, at all, or a section. Most Roulette dealers are just happy if the damn ball stays in the wheel and doesn’t hit anyone in the face.