Long Shot Bets Offer High Payoffs but Even Higher Risks

By John Grochowski

Several years ago I was one of about a dozen presenters at a weekend forum on casino games. It was there that I met Paul, who was attending my session on baccarat. He explained that he usually played video poker along with a little blackjack, but was looking for a third game to spice things up.
It seems the third game he settled on was craps, as I found out in August when he approached me at a casino coffee shop. After an exchange of pleasantries and my assuring him that I did remember meeting him at the seminar, Paul got down to business.
“I play a little craps, mostly as a change of pace,” he explained. “I like to follow a pass bet with two come bets, and take odds on all of them, but honestly, I can’t really afford that. Most of the time, I’ll bet the pass line and then I’ll place 6, 8 or both, depending on whether one of them is the point. I keep the pass bet to table minimum and take whatever odds I can afford.”
That’s a reasonable way for a modestly bankrolled player to go about craps, I told him. House edges are low at 1.41 percent on pass and 1.52 percent when placing the 6 and 8, and there’s no house edge on the odds bet. It still means having two or three bets on the table at once, not including odds, so it can be a stretch for a true low-roller.
“Right,” he said. “I looked up all the house edges before I started playing, and it seemed like the best play for me. But I want to ask you about something else.”
OK, go ahead.
“While I was playing last night, a guy came up to the table and put $5 on 12. A bad bet, right?”
A very bad bet, I agreed. The shooter has a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 12, but the bet pays only 30-1. That gives the house a 16.67 percent edge.
“Well, the shooter made that 1 in 36 shot,” Paul continued. “Then the guy left all $155 on 12, his $150 in winnings and his original bet. Wouldn’t you know it, another 12. I’ve walked away with black ($100) chips before, but never the stack of orange ($500) and yellow ($1,000) chips this guy had.
“Some guys high-fived him. I just looked at him, stunned. He winked and said, ‘That’s tuition for another semester.” He probably meant for a kid. He looked like he was in his late 40s, early 50s.
“Anyway, I did the arithmetic, and he turned his $5 into $4,805. That’s jackpot territory. Do you think it’s worth taking that shot once in a while?”
I told Paul that I wouldn’t do it, that the big winner had been incredibly lucky. A 1 in 36 chance of making one 12 means a 1 in 1,296 chance of making two in a row. At a cost of a $5 initial bet on roll No. 1, he’ll average $6,480 in first-roll wagers to walk away with $4,805. He got lucky this time, and he could get lucky again. But if he’s determined to stick it out for two 12s, never walking away with one winner, then with average luck he’ll lose 1,295 times for every big hit
“I thought that probably was the case,” Paul said. “But it sent chills up my spine to watch him win all that money. Incredible.”
WHAT IF … ?  Paul had one follow-up question before he left me to my turkey sandwich.
“I noticed that while players were cheering or looking stunned, the crew … well, I wouldn’t say they took it in stride, but they weren’t amazed. They had congratulations for the big winner and one guy grinned and asked he was going for three, but you got the feeling they’d seen it all before.
“If the odds are so much against it, why weren’t they more shocked?”
I told Paul that they probably had seen it before. The crew will see something close to 1,000 rolls on an eight-hour shift, even allowing for break time. They may even have seen consecutive 12s on that same day, though someone letting their winnings ride for consecutive 12s is rare.
Given enough trials, anything that can happen eventually will. Players win back-to-back slot jackpots, the same number turns up on consecutive spins of the roulette wheel, and craps shooters roll back-to-back 12s. That doesn’t mean you want your money riding on the long shots. The reason they’re long shots is that they lose a lot more often than they win.

John Grochowski writes about casino games and the gambling industry in his weekly "Gaming" column, which is syndicated in newspapers and Web sites across the United States. John is also the author of six books on casinos and casino games.