Take a look at Las Vegas today. Las Vegas Boulevard, the famous Strip, added new hotels at a rate of two per year during the Nineties, and the pace of additions seems to be continuing in this century both on and off the Strip. Excalibur, MGM Grand, Treasure Island, Luxor, New York-New York, Paris, Monte Carlo, Rio, Bellagio, Venetian, The Palms and others will soon be joined by Wynn Las Vegas, mognl Steve Wynn’s first fabulous creation of the new century on the site of the old Desert Inn. Atlantic City’s 12 casinos are jammed for every hour of the 24 hours they’re open. Even in sleepy Biloxi, Mississippi, casino action is non-stop, with more dock-side casinos being added year after year.
What should this expansion tell you? No, there isn’t the need for new hotel rooms in Las Vegas. No, the beaches in Atlantic City aren’t the most beautiful in the world. And no, people don’t frequent the dock-side casinos in Biloxi because they yearn for riverboat gambling of days past. This should tell you that the casinos make so much money that American casino companies are falling over themselves – and spending hundreds of millions of dollars – to build the next one. And why are they making so much money? Because the games offered in casinos don’t offer players much chance of winning. The tables have a built in house advantage, and the slot machines are simply computers programmed to win more for the casino than they payout.
Mathematics plays the most important role in the casino. The mathematicians who developed the rules of the various games that give the house its guaranteed wins are some of the casinos’ most valued consultants.
Slot machines are easy. They are essentially computers that can be programmed to pay back a certain amount of the money deposited in them. A little device known as the "random number generator", an essential element in many different kinds of computers, determines when jackpots are hit, how many are hit, and for how much. No one can tell when it will happen, but casino executives know one thing: when the day is over, a pre-determined amount of money will be added to the bottom line, courtesy of the "slots".
Sure, you can win at slot machines. They all hit jackpots, and if you’re lucky enough to be playing the machine when the jackpot hits, you could be a winner. But if you continue iD play ad infinitum, you will lose. It’s the law of averages, and it’s a law that has no loopholes.
Video poker is different. If you know what machines to look for and how to play those machines when you find them, you can reduce the house advantage to zero, or even less – an actual player-advantage game. But to beat that house advantage, you have to get your share of the jackpots – royal flushes, fives-of-a-kind, or whatever the top award might be. And that factor is dependent upon our old friend, the random number generator. Video poker gives you some control over the results by making your decisions matter. A skilful player will have a better idea of which cards to discard, and so on.
That’s where we draw the line in the casino. You have the best chance to win when you play games in which you have some control over the outcome.