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Nothing is a sure bet in a casino, but streaks sure help

Dear Mark,
In roulette, if red came up five times in a row, would you advise switching over to the black since streaks do not last forever? Rich K.

One thing a player who has been around gambling for any length of time knows is that the streaks can and will happen. It is one of the many life lessons you learn in the casino. Gambling, like life, is loaded with streaks. Many gamblers bet streaks so they won't get emotionally involved in bucking a trend. And when you are on one, Rich, oh the joys of telling your friends and family.

But along with the above advice comes this caveat. For a gambling analogy, note the agate type at the bottom of a mutual-fund advertisement. "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." In other words, just because red appeared five times in a row, that does not mean it will happen again. Assuming you are playing on an unbiased wheel, the ball has no memory, and red can appear again or not for the next 20 spins.

Dear Mark,
NASCAR is one of the fastest growing spectator sports. We can bet on football, baseball and basketball, but how about betting my favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, to win? Jimmy B.

You can bet Jeff's #24 Dupont car not only to win, but to place or show. Also available are quinellas, exactas and even some prop bets. My personal favorite is betting individual drivers against each other. An example of this would be Geoff Bodine in the QVC Ford finishing higher in the race standings than Ward Burton's MBNA Pontiac. The reason I love this wager is not my knowledge of the sport, the drivers or the teams, but some sports books post the odds prior to the finish of Saturday's time trials. Then they don't change them. For those of us, Jimmy, who follow racing, this can be a license to print money.

Gentleman, start your wagers.

Dear Mark,
I have been told that before putting your first coin in a video poker machine, it already knows what hand you will be dealt. True or false? Denise C.

Video poker machines work like this, Denise. When they are sitting in an idle mode, the machine is constantly crunching numbers waiting for the next sucker-I mean gambler. When a participant walks over and inserts a coin the machine is triggered into knowing it has a live gambler on the hook. The random number generator (RGN) crunching numbers stops, then picks the combination of cards you will see on the screen.

Dear Mark,
I have an amusing (at least to me) anecdote about losing in a casino. I had been playing blackjack and lost about $400. I then went up to my room and my wife asked me to get her a soda. I went down the hall to the soda machine and inserted my dollar. The machine wouldn't give me a soda or my money back. I was grumbling about this all the way down to the hotel's convenience store until I realized I was more upset about that one dollar than all the money I had lost all day.

Now here's my question for you: Does the casino have more than a 2% advantage on the soda machine? Andrew R.

Haven't you heard the saying, Andrew? "Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine." Actually, I would guesstimate your average vending machine holds about 5.26%, the same as most of the bets on a double zero roulette table.

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