Joey is a friend of a friend, someone I usually see once or twice a year at barbecues. One thing I can count on: If we’re at the same party, Joey will corner me to talk gambling.
There haven’t been any barbecues this summer, or any other gatherings of that circle of friends. So Joey contacted me online for a little chat.
“I’ve decided betting progressions are the way I’m going,” he said. “When I’m on a little winning streak, that seems like the right time to raise your bets.”
For the life of me, I couldn’t remember Joey’s main game of choice. We’ve talked about many games. So I asked.
“Oh, I skip around,” he said. “But really, with progressions, I’m talking about blackjack and the roulette bets with even-money payoffs. You know, red or black, odd or even, 1-18 and 19-36.”
I told Joey progressions could be fun, but they don’t suspend the house edge, or even put a dent in it. The house edge still applies on every bet.
“I get that,” Joey replied. “But when you raise bets in a progression, you’re betting the house’s money. The house edge is working against money I didn’t have when I came in. How can that be wrong?”
That’s a mindset I disagree with. Once you’ve won money, it doesn’t belong to the house anymore. It’s your money, and you can do whatever you want with it.
A portion of each bet can be seen as coming from your own stake. If you were going to be betting $10 a hand, then a $20 bet in a progression is your normal $10 bet plus $10 you’ve won.
Besides, most progressive bettors lose their largest bet, then restart the progression. A large loss wipes out several earlier wins.
At that, Joey had to interject.
“For all that,” he said, “I have a lot better chance at winning big with a progression. And if I lose, part of my losses are money I’ve won. I can win big, my losses can’t be any bigger than they would be by betting the same on every hand. That’s win-win to me.”
I stopped him and told him you can lose more in a progression that if you bet flat. If your starting point in a progression is your normal flat bet, your average loss will be higher with a progression.
“Explain,” he said.
Imagine a cautious progression in which you bet $10 to start and add $10 after two consecutive wins. On a winning streak, you’d bet $10, $10, $20, $20, $30, $30 and so on.
If you lose a hand, then win two in a row, increase to $20 and lose, you’ve won two hands and lost two hands, with $20 in winnings and $30 in losses. You’ve lost $10 for the sequence, while a player betting a flat $10 a hand would have broken even.
Short, common sequences like undermine less common longer streaks.
Unless you reduce your starting bet, you bet more money with a progression. If you bet a flat $10 for 100 red/black bets, you risk $1,000 and your average loss is $52.60. If you bet a progression starting at $10 and, with all streaks considered, have an average bet of $15 for 100 bets, you risk $1,500 with an average loss of $78.90.
A hot streak can bring much bigger wins on a progression. Is that chance worth accepting a higher average loss? That’s your call.
Joey’s response: “I’m going to give it a go, no matter what you say.”