We’ve all been told that gambling is a game of luck that everything is left to complete chance when we place a bet on roulette or go all in playing poker. However, it’s also known that the house always wins, and everything has a house advantage. So does the house know something we don’t? Is there a science to gambling?
Anyone who has seen the movie 21 or heard of the phrase ‘counting cards’ will tell you that there is indeed a logic and reason behind gambling. Of course the movie isn’t just a fantasy idea dreamt up to make us think about the conspiracies behind gambling – it’s based on the real life story of 6 MIT students who were trained to become card counters. What this basically means is that they endured rigorous mathematical training by a mathematics professor at their university, in order to learn the process of card counting at the game of blackjack. This ultimately worked for a while and they managed to take casinos for millions.
Maths and blackjack aren’t the only things linking gambling to science either, as physicists from Australia and Hong Kong will tell you. Michael Small and Chi Kong Tse published a study in AIP Chaos, an Interdisciplinary Journal of Non Linear Science, outlining how you can predict the outcome of roulette. They conducted an experiment which allowed them to predict where a roulette ball would land, by using Newton’s basic laws of motion in a casino setting. Using a digital camera, they recorded the rate at which a roulette table rotated, along with the starting point of the ball and its spinning speed in order to see if they could prove their theory that roulette could be profitably exploited using basic physics.
The idea is that if you know where the ball starts and how fast it moves, along with the speed of the rotating roulette wheel, you should be able to make a fairly decent guess at where the ball will land. The overall outcome of the experiment concluded that it was definitely possible to beat the house at roulette this way. Their work covered several proposed systems which garnered positive results that indicate they could be used to gain an advantage over the house when playing roulette. And while their method uses the basic principles of calculus and mechanics, it’s perhaps something left to the scientists as you might get swiftly ejected from a casino if you were to take a camera to a roulette table and start noting down speed and time equations.
Plus there are many more mathematical and physics related equations that can be applied to different gambling games, including dice games like craps. Of course die only have so many sides with so many numbers, so you can calculate the basic probability over the odds of landing any combination of numbers. Again, scientists may be able to conduct a similar experiment to that in roulette, taking into account the start position of the die and the manner and speed at which they are thrown. However while of course there is a link here, there’s no guarantee that knowing the probability will give you any edge over the game, or that any experimental results will prove as conclusive as the study by Small and Tse.
Of course not all gambling can be scientifically linked – some things are just in fact luck of the draw. For example, there is no proven scientific link between slot machines and science, or sports betting and science. Perhaps the latter is exceptional as it mostly relies on the skill of another, or a combination of skills over others, which can be much harder to scientifically control.
One thing is for certain though, for as long as gambling is popular and the house has the advantage, there will always be intelligent individuals out there prepared to use science to overcome these odds and beat the house. Whether they’re in it for the money or just the sheer thrill of beating a big casino at its own game, there will always be those out there willing to have a crack at it.