Coming to terms with the concept of luck

When I told a friend I was writing this article, he laughed and said that “only dummies would ever gamble.” I smiled to myself. Although it’s true that most people who gamble do lose, the real dummies are the ones who take on the casinos without first educating themselves especially on concepts about probability and odds, understanding the house edge, and identifying which games offer the best chance for success.

Unfortunately, too many newbie gamblers rely on luck to guide their experiences. Casinos can be an easy place to burn through money, so your best chance for hanging on to that hard-earned cash is through a little dose of knowledge. But, you wonder, when it comes to striking it rich in the casino, isn’t there such a thing as luck? Technically, the answer is yes – but don’t count on your rabbit’s foot to keep you on the path to riches over the long haul. The term luck can describe many situations, especially in gambling.

Someone may have a lucky run at the baccarat table, or maybe your Aunt Rosemary plays a lucky slot machine that never loses. But in order to have a realistic perspective of your chances in the casino, you need to view luck in rational and mathematical terms: Luck is a temporary fluctuation or deviation from the norm. In the short run, you may perceive that you got real lucky when the dealer busted eight hands in a row at blackjack. But in reality, such an event is just normal fluctuation – also known as a random walk – such as when the stock market drifts one direction or another. For example, in Caribbean Stud poker, for every $100 you wager, you can expect to lose about five bucks. Yet over the short run, anything can happen.

You may get lucky and finish the day ahead – or you may get unlucky and lose far more than $5. In a purely mathematical sense, neither of these results has anything to do with luck. They are simply the normal consequences of fluctuation. For example, try flipping a coin. Half the time it should be tails and half heads. But over a short-term sampling, it can veer far away from 50 percent.