Bad Bets – Why do we make them?

Bad bets attract the equivalent of billions of dollars in wagers from millions of people around the world each week.

Most professional gamblers look at the promoter's advantage over the player to determine if a specific bet is a bad bet. If the promoter has an advantage of 3 percent or more, it is considered a bad bet.

Every day millions of people buy lottery tickets without the slightest consideration of the promoter's advantage. Between the promoter and the Government as much as 50 percent is removed from the prize pool either before or partly before for overheads and after the draw as tax. If that is not bad enough, the player's chances of winning a prize of any description are thousands to one against and the odds of winning the big one are millions to one against.

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Many of the players making these bets are well aware that they have only a very slim chance of winning a serious prize but most are amazed when shown the mathematical odds against such a win. My wife is well aware of the odds but each week, she plays a set number of games in ‘Gold Lotto', a local lottery type game that is somewhat similar to Keno.

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Bingo is another classic example of a bad bet. Millions of people play it each week. A return of 75 percent of the take to players is considered a high return in bingo. The odds against getting a bingo and the low return to players make this a classic bad bet.

The Big Wheel or Wheel of Fortune gives the promoter an advantage of about 15 percent. Fortunately most of us only ever play this at fairs and other charity events so we know our money is going to a good cause.

The casino has an advantage of at least 25 percent when we play keno. I know this but whenever I have a meal at a casino I invariably play a few games during the course of the meal.

When you place a five number line bet in roulette and select the 00 to 3 bet, you have chosen the worst possible bet in roulette. On this one the casino's advantage is a bit over 7 percent.

Recall hearing the stickman at the craps table constantly extolling you to bet ‘Any crapps'? It is a sucker bet as are all the proposition bets.

Video Poker and Slot machines are all bad bets unless you read the placards on the machines. Because of the way in which prizes are calculated for winning combinations, you must always bet the maximum number of coins or the casino will always win. This is why it is better to play a lower denomination machine and bet max than to bet the same amount as a single coin on a higher denomination machine.

Today most people think that the casinos have a very small advantage when you play blackjack. Wrong, unless you have mastered at least a basic blackjack strategy. The use of this strategy changes the house advantage from about 5 percent to about 1 percent and this allows a skilled player to become a regular winner.

These examples of bad bets highlight our willingness to regularly make sucker bets. Interestingly many of the people making these bets do not consider themselves to be gamblers. This is especially true for the buyers of lottery tickets and bingo players. Cleaver marketing campaigns have popularized many of the bad bets to the extent that many people place them with about as much forethought as we give to purchasing our favorite breakfast cereal at the supermarket. This is especially true for the lotteries.

For the lottery ticket buyers, I believe that it is the allure of instant riches fueled by the publicity given to the big winners collecting their checks in exchange for what amounts to no more than the cost of a couple of cups of coffee that induces so many to contribute to a prize pool from which the vast majority will never benefit.

The rest of us fall into three groups namely those who have made these bets on a regular basis over an extended period of time without ever questioning the wisdom of such bets, those of us who are overtaken by a combination of the euphoria of the moment and alcohol and lastly those who thought it seemed like a good bet at the time.

Of course there are other more scientific explanations for this but the afore mentioned explanations are much kinder to us ‘suckers' and more relevant to human nature and the world in which we live.

May Lady Luck smile upon you the next time you place your favorite ‘sucker bet'.

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© 2005

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