Casino Gambling
Russell T. Barnhart

This book was originally published in 1977. It comprises 221 pages and carries the tag line "Why you win, why you lose" - something which every degenerate gambler, recreational or hard-core, should make themselves aware of. Afterall the numbers drive everything in games of chance and a book that highlights all of the essential factors should be mandatory reading for everyone who puts their pennies on the line. I'm afraid however that this one didn't do much for me, with the boredom quickly setting in and exceeding my personal threshold after just 22 pages. After that I fell back on speed-reading the remainder of the content, the vast majority of which mirrored the style of the bit I did wade through.

Chapter one is entitled "Heads or Tails?" and is devoted to the subject of normal variance in a series of trials; flipping a coin in this case. No bell curve diagram to illustrate the concept just series of numbers supplemented with long, wordy explanations. On page 2 Mr B writes "We should remember that everytime a gambler places a bet at a gambling game, be it blackjack, craps, roulette or anything else, he is perforce playing, consciously or not, either for or against a return to equilibrium, depending on the staking system he is using". Funny . . . I thought everytime I placed a bet I had a (quantifiable) chance of winning some money? After that, more numbers and words although on page 7 there is a scatter diagram that shows the distribution of outcomes of a fair coin flip over 10,000 trials which does clearly illustrate the point being made.

Chapter two, "Winning and Losing Streaks", looks at the matter of the probability of coincidences of winning and losing outcomes, and chapter three, "The Bank's Percentage" discusses the issue of the house edge. Both of these continue in the same vein; a mix of numbers, formulas and wordy explanations with the latter not really presenting the concepts in a particularly easy to absorb or transparent way (IMHO). By the time of reaching the end of chapter three (the 22 pages) my eyelids were dropping and I pulled the plug on the book as an inspiring read that would result in an epiphany moment for your common-or-garden gambler looking to understand why sometimes they win, sometimes they lose and why, over time, they tend to lose more often than not.

The remainder of the book, some 200 pages, is made up of a look at roulette as an example of a typical game of chance, analyses of datasets of results (four chapters), staking systems for even-money payoff punts (three chapters) and with the remaining chapters outlining the rules of various casino games - Roulette, Craps, Baccaret, Keno etc etc. There's also a short bibliography contained on a single page and an appendix that provides further calculations and commentary relating to items found earlier in the book. Flicking through chapter seven, "The Result of Three Months: 50,000 Spins Betting on 18 Numbers (Red)" the discussion includes a fictional conversation around various aspects of the data with "Mr Optimist" (really?) although I didn't read through the discourse in detail - frankly it all seemed pretty naff. Disappointingly, within the analyses chapters I couldn't see any references or warnings regarding using the analysis of historic results data in some way to predict future outcomes. Perhaps there are some cautions against this in amongst the words somewhere, either clearly stated or implied, although scanning through the pages nothing of that ilk jumped out. Bearing in mind the illogical but ingrained beliefs of so many people who gamble I think it's something that needs to be clearly stated in books written with them in mind as a target audience.

Thank goodness that nowadays we are able to do all of the calculations regarding probability, coincidence, best and worst case scenarios etc with the aid of computer spreadsheets. Back in 1977 when Casino Gambling was published (1979 in the UK) the vast majority of punters wouldn't have had access to such processing power, although even then the fundimentals were pretty straightforward and some time with a pencil and pocket calculator would have sufficed. I'm afraid that, for me at least, this title buries those fundimentals in amongst lots of numbers, words and algebraic formulas, with the end result being a real risk that the whole point of the book is likely to be missed. I suspect many, even possibly the majority, of those who set out to read it may well have found as I did?

In summary then, Casino Gambling isn't a title I'd recommend to anyone who opts to put time in at the felt (or via their PC/tablet/mobile nowdays), and not because it's over forty years old. I'm afraid for me it was just too dry and theoretical, and took an overly complex approach in explaining just "why you win, why you lose", rather than covering the concepts in an easy way that most will appreciate. It may be of interest to those having a maths inclenation, and who are interested in picking through the finer points of the algebra, but for the majority of gamblers not having a maths background I would suggest seeking out something else.

Mr B wrote eight other gambling related books, including Beating the Wheel published fifteen years later in 1992, and translated three others written by another author. He was working on his tenth title Dens of Iniquity - A Life Among Gamblers, Cheaters and Theives, at the time of his death in 2003, aged 77.

June 2020.