Identifying a Pattern
I planned on playing for six hours at the Palms from shortly after midnight until about 6:00 a.m. on the early morning of Wednesday, April 27. It was a double point day--- I also earned points for gift cards, a small amount of value for the weekly drawing, plus my play kept the mailers and other benefits coming. There were only two machines that I wanted to play, both containing $1 Ten Play Deuces Wild Ultimate X, and I expected other players to want the same machines on that day. So I went at hours when other players preferred to sleep. And this time, at least, one machine was available.
To get ready for it, I arranged my schedule so I could get sleep between six p.m. and midnight Tuesday night. This would allow me to play long hours at maximum alertness. There was a drawing at South Point at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday night (and every other night that month) that I was just going to have to miss. If you were present and your name was called first you got $10,000. If not, $500. Bonnie wasn't otherwise occupied so she decided to go to the drawing. We each had the maximum number of tickets allowed (10,000 --- earned with $10,000 coin-in) and her odds for winning were the same as mine.
When my alarm went off shortly before midnight, Bonnie was still awake. I asked her about the drawing and she said there was good news for me. Apparently they had a computer glitch and would post the names online and the $10,000 first prize could be picked up within 72 hours rather than four minutes.
"Well," I said, "that gives me some chance to win the $10,000 first prize and I'd have zero chance otherwise, so I guess that's good. Probably the odds are 300-1 or so against me winning first prize---just a guess really---so that gives me $33 in equity that I wouldn't normally have."
"But when this happened a year and a half ago," Bonnie replied, "you were the winner! So now you can win again!"
Hardly. In September 2014, the South Point ran a very similar promotion. One night they had a computer glitch and posted names late. I won and I wrote about it here
. But that day was simply a 1-in-300 chance coming in (still going with my wild-ass estimate. I don't know how many tickets were in the virtual barrel). I have no special ability to win when a casino has a computer glitch.
I went to my computer and checked southpointcasino.com to see if they had posted the winners yet. They had. My name wasn't listed and neither was Bonnie's. That's our usual result, of course. In 2014, between the two of us we won seven times during the month of that promotion. This year we were only called twice (it was Bonnie for $500 free play each time.) We were a bit luckier than average before and a bit unluckier than average this year. No big deal. There's a lot of randomness in drawings. Over time you learn what the average is, but it takes a lot of data to figure that out.
Although I'm always rooting for Bonnie and me to win, it was probably a good thing that I didn't win this particular evening! Why? Because there are a lot of players who are suspicious of casinos and/or of me. When they identify a "pattern," they jump to conclusions. Although there was nothing in common about the night I won twenty months ago and this night other than the computer glitch (I have no idea if it was the same type of computer glitch or not), some players would say, "Back to back! And I can't even win at all! Dancer must have a special arrangement with the South Point that is unfair to the rest of us!"
Well, I do have an arrangement that allows me to teach classes there and the South Point is one of the sponsors of my Gambling with an Edge radio show. But we're strictly at arm's length when it comes to me competing in the casino. But if that conspiracy theory gained enough traction, and in the days of Internet and social media that wouldn't be too difficult, it would be bad news for the casino and for me. No thanks! (Although I must admit that Bonnie and/or me winning one of the twenty $500 prizes that night would have been very welcome.)
On a related note, Bonnie ran into some friends of ours that night while at the South Point. They asked her how we had done in the drawings so far and Bonnie answered that we had won once (which was true at that time. Our second win came on April 30).
"Have you had maximum tickets each time?"
"Well, that just goes to prove that having all those tickets doesn't help you very much. We've only had about 1,000 tickets each night and we're only one win behind you guys!"
Well, no. Having 10,000 tickets gives you ten times the likelihood of winning that 1,000 tickets does. Having a greater likelihood BEFORE the drawing doesn't always translate into greater success in the short run, but if we did this drawing 100 or more times, I'd be willing to lay odds that the people with 10,000 tickets would do better than those with 1,000. Even this year, we've noticed several people have been called multiple times over the month. I strongly suspect most of them max out their entries every night.
Although these situations are different, they are all examples of gamblers (people, really, Bonnie is hardly a gambler) drawing conclusions from very small sample sizes. Sometimes a small sample size is all you have, but when that is the case, you should be very leery of drawing precise conclusions from them.
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