Turning the Tables – Section II: What’re The Odds

Before we can get into the particulars of our two major wheel types, we should first note that “odds” and “probability” are NOT the same thing. If you remember this portion of your fifth-grade math class—or weren’t playing a mini Ferris Bueller that day—feel free to skip ahead to “Wheel of the People” below. If, on the other hand, your recollection of fractions, odds and probability is a little sketchy, we suggest you read on.

In the simplest terms, odds are the likelihood of an event occurring expressed as the number of desired outcomes over the number of undesired outcomes. “Desired” in this sense only means, “What are we asking?” It doesn’t mean “desirable,” or whether you want a thing to happen. So, for example, if you were trying to determine the odds of winning a coin flip in which you chose heads, you would have to count the possibility that the coin will land on heads as the “desired outcome” and count the possibility of it landing on tails as the “undesired outcome.” If, however, you were determining the odds of losing the same flip, you would have to count the possibility of tails as “desired” over the possibility of heads. In either case, the odds for the coin flip would be 1 to 1, but take a look at what happens if we use a more complex set of variables, say a six-sided die: In a scenario in which you can only win if you roll a six, your odds of winning are 1 to 5, and your odds of losing are 5 to 1!

To further complicate matters, you won’t always hear the question posed in the same way. In casinos, for instance, odds are always posted in terms of the house winning, while if another player asks you, “What’re the odds?” he could just as easily mean his own odds of winning since you’d sooner square a circle than find a gambler looking to lose. In any case, then, just assume the house’s posted odds are the topic of conversation, and if you’re asked, refer to them. (That way you can avoid a long and tiring conversation with a player who’s too dull or too sweet on the cocktail waitresses to really get what you’re telling him).

Now, as for those odds posted by a casino, they are almost always the “payoff odds,” not the real odds. This is essentially how the casinos get that 5.26 or 2.7 percent advantage in roulette you keep hearing about and how they keep their coffers full. All they do is subtract the odds of the zero and/or double zero from their own odds of winning, and suddenly, they get to keep their increased chances of cleaning up, while only paying you out as if you were playing against a smaller wheel