Internet Gambling

I am going to undertake a very ambitious project and that is to play extensively at a minimum of one Internet casino per month, evaluate their games and report all my thoughts, findings, fears and gripes to you. The catch here is that I won’t be playing for real $$$, simply because that appears to be illegal for me as I’m a resident of the Great State of Missouri (great, but not liberal). To some of you, the fact that I’ll be playing only for ‘fun’ means that my observations may not be valid. Some of you, hell, maybe a lot of you, think that the on-line casinos can throw some sort of switch so, when I’m playing for ‘funny money’, I’ll win, but the minute I buy in for real, I’ll be getting a different set of cards. That might happen; heaven knows the technology exists, but I don’t think so. I gave this some thought and came to the conclusion that a really nefarious casino operator could juice the ‘fun’ games (make it easy to win) to gain a player’s confidence, then rig the ‘real’ games to shear the sheep, but I think I’ll recognize a juiced game since I’m keeping very accurate stats on my play and I’m very familiar with the theory of probability. Of course, it could also be that the ‘fun’ game is straight and the ‘real’ game is rigged, in which case I’ll never know since I’m not playing for real $$$. But if you really believe that, though, you should restrict your play to real-life casinos.

You should only play where you’re comfortable and if you’re one of those people who thinks that any winning session you had was because the casino let you win or if you don’t insert a slot club card into the machine because by doing so the casino will know you’re there and will take back the $$$ you won yesterday, then you’re never going to be comfortable at an on-line casino. But, if you feel as I do, that the on-line casinos have a built-in edge on every game they offer, don’t have to pay dealers, don’t have a lot of employees of any type, don’t have an investment in bricks and mortar, don’t have to comp anyone to dinner and have small daily operating costs, then you may realize that an on-line casino probably doesn’t have to cheat. It’s not to say that all on-line casinos are on the ‘up-and-up’, but I think the problem casinos will just keep your deposit or not pay off your winnings, rather than try to cheat you with their software. (I know those words don’t provide a whole lot of comfort, but that’s how things seem to be working.) But I don’t know any of this with absolute certainty and you need to understand that. I’m going to analyze and theorize, examine and calculate, but I still might be cheated, one way or another.

Anyone who’s smart is skeptical about an on-line casino; there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. But you need to remember a few basics about probability. Some time ago, a reader e-mailed me to say he had been playing at an on-line casino and, while he was playing Blackjack at $5 a hand, he had a good run and made some serious $$$. Then, he told me, he switched to $25 a hand and promptly lost all his winnings and a bunch more. His conclusion was that the game was rigged. But was it, really? He had a good winning session and that gave him the confidence to up his bets, but the reality of Blackjack is that even a skillful player will lose more hands than s/he will win. Were the losses while betting $25 a hand caused by cheating, or was it just the win/loss ratio getting ‘even’? I practice my Blackjack on a computer program that keeps track of the number of wins, losses and pushes that I get and, when I’m way ahead on the number of wins, I’m not at all surprised when the ‘dealer’ starts pulling 20s and 21s; it’s just part of the game.

Will you feel that way if the same thing happens at an on-line casino? When it comes to Blackjack, you may expect to get a ‘natural’ (Ace and face or 10) on average about once every 21 hands or so. But you may go 100 hands without one, however that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve been cheated. We human beings are amazing in our ability to look at something which has no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever and find a pattern. My favorite example of this is how we go outside and look up into the night sky, see seven stars that have no relationship to one another and exclaim, “Look! A dipper”. Our creative minds attempt to discern a pattern where none exists and, if we think we’re being cheated, we can fool ourselves very easily. But mathematics can explain a lot of what happens and that’s what I’ll try to do in this series; rely on math to explain things. By doing it that way, if events fall outside the parameters of probability, then we can at least suspect that we’re playing at non-random games.