With a simple betting strategy of picking just black or red, then doubling up if you lose, it appears that using the Martingale system at the roulette table is a pretty good way to win.
After all, betting on, say, red at the roulette table gives you a roughly 50% chance of winning. So if the ball lands on black, it seems reasonable to double up your bet on red, knowing that it won’t likely land on black two times in a row.
But even if it does land on black (or green) on the third try, you could just double up your bet again, because it probably won’t land on black three times in a row, right? And you can forget about it failing to land on red four times in a row, because that would be impossible. A streak of five or six spins without a red would be a sign the casino is cheating, or the apocalypse is upon us.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
The truth is, a streak of lots of reds or blacks in a row is a lot more common than you think. In a 2009 article by Frank Martin published on the Wizard of Odds, it was calculated that if a coin is flipped 200 times, there is an 80% probability that at some point there will be a streak where the coin lands on either all heads or all tails 7 times in a row.
If you don’t believe me or the Wizard of Odds, just check one of the numerous lighted roulette boards, the next time you are in a casino. Chances are, you will see a streak where the ball is spun eight or nine times without it landing on your color. And a streak of just seven, or eight spins without a winner is a recipe for financial disaster.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you were starting out betting $10 on the “red” on a standard casino roulette game, and you decided to use the Martingale system.
This would have you increasing your bet to $20, then $40, etc. after each loss until you won. This Martingale roulette strategy can, and has, worked many times in the casino. But only in the short run.
I can’t tell you the times I’ve won using this strategy. But I can tell you that each time I’ve used this strategy, I’ve only won $10 profit. That sounds good until you figure in how much I’ve lost, trying to double up my bet each time during a bad streak. After all, if I start with $10, and stick with red, and doubling my bet each time, it only takes 7 losses in a row before I’m down, gulp, almost $1,270, as shown below:
$10, then $20, then $40, then $80, then $160, then $320, then $640. Those seven losses equals $1,270.
And as we learned from Frank Martin at the Wizard of Odds, there is an 80% probability in this happening with 200 spins. (Actually more, since Martin was calculating a coin flip. With the green 0 and 00 in each American roulette wheel, the odds of you winning each single bet on red is less than 50%. It’s 47.37% to be exact).
After that? What happens after I see that the ball hasn’t landed on red in the last seven spins? First I cry. Then I consider my options, which are slim.
Even if I could afford to double my bet of $640, to $1,280 in hopes of it finally landing on red, I couldn’t do it, as the table maximum at most roulette wheels is $1,000 tops.
I don’t know about you, but this is way beyond my bankroll. But even the table limits were super high, and even if I were rich and could afford to keep on with my Martingale roulette strategy, I would be risking $2,550 (the $1,270 I already lost + the $1,280 on the new bet), just to win $10 profit.
My point is that the Martingale system loses. It’s perhaps the most popular of the many roulette strategies, however there is a house edge in roulette, no matter what type of bet you make, or how much the bet is. The math doesn’t lie in the long term. Using Martingale strategy at roulette won’t be a loser every time, but it just takes one normal streak for you to go broke.
So go ahead and gamble in Las Vegas. Have fun. Drink too much beer. But don’t do like I’ve done in the past, and think that you will go into a casino and make money using this incredibly “brilliant” Martingale system in roulette (or in craps or blackjack or baccarat) for that matter.
Lots of people are eager to tell you about the benefits of the Martingale, but nobody every wins with it in the long term. (Otherwise they would be selling this system to you and not giving away to you free, right?). (Photos courtesy of Jamie McCaffrey and Matt Buck via Flickr).