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When you lack capital, a bankroll meltdown is inevitable

Dear Mark,
Over the past 20 years I have found great pleasure in making my monthly trip to Atlantic City. My bankroll is limited to $200 and I generally stick with most of the low house percentage bets that you recommend in your column. Sometimes I break even, win every third or fourth time, or lose it all. My question is, will I ever become a "consistent winner" before I join the Angels in a crap game? I'm looking for divine intervention. Sandy G.

There is no real easy way to break this to you so I'll get right to the point: NO!

Though every dog has his day, don't expect a good week. It's not because you're making the wrong bets, nor playing smart, not even because you're not a decent, hard-working person worth more than an occasional bone tossed your way by the casino. You lack the essential component necessary to whip the casino, and no celestial spirit can help. And that, my friend, is a big-time bankroll. Why? Because the casino has a whole lot more cash and staying power than you do. In the industry we call it "gambler's ruin." In essence, it's how long will it take you-with your limited bankroll-to lose everything to a casino, which has a relatively infinite vault of money. You come to the casino armed with X amount of dollars, and the casino has the treasures of Rome. It is the ultimate secret weapon the casino possesses. So even if you do have a short-term winning streak, when the house has this infinite stake, they can, and will, outlast you.

Test this truism out yourself. Sit at your kitchen table and play an even-up game like War with an opponent. You start off with $50 worth of monopoly money, and your adversary-we'll call him Joe Casino-begins play with $50,000. Now start playing at $5 a hand and you will immediately note some normal fluctuations inherent to gambling- like you winning six or seven hands in a row. But without fail, a losing streak will appear and your bankroll will start to deteriorate. You'll quickly notice that your modest bankroll cannot weather the bad streaks that eventually come your way. The casino can, and will, grind away at your wad of cash because their bankroll is enormous in comparison to your bets. Before long you're out of cash. A casino fatality Armageddon style.

So the lesson here is that not even an archangel will help you become a "consistent winner." Only a Catholic Church size bankroll can.

Dear Mark,
I was on a crap game for the first time and asked the dealer what the difference was between a hard 8 and a regular 8. She politely told me the difference when another player started yelling at me because I was holding up the game. Talk about being embarrassed. What did I do wrong? Meg B.

Nothing! There is never a need to be embarrassed, Meg. You are to be applauded for asking for help. All too many players try to cover up their shortcomings and waste their hard-earned money playing casino games they know little about. So no question regarding gambling is "dumb." Well, that's not quite true. I was dealing blackjack late one evening in downtown Reno when a man approached me and asked: "Where are the slot machines for kids?" That was dumb. No, pathetic.

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