Want to win the lottery? You're better off with blackjack
Anthony Curtis, the president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, the go-to site on the latest happenings and deals in Sin City, used to make a living as a card-counting genius, like the one dramatized in the movie 21. Curtis came to Las Vegas in 1979. He says that the competition today is immense, and he doesn't recommend being a professional poker player as a career path. "Where my serious money got made was in publishing," he says, citing the Las Vegas and gambling-interest books he regularly puts out.
So what odds does Curtis give for some of the world's favorite get-rich-quick pastimes?
"There's a longer shot than being shot by lightning," says Curtis on your odds of winning the lottery. So you're saying there's a chance? "If it was that easy, there would be a whole lot of millionaires walking around," he says. The odds of winning Mega Millions, according to MSN, are 1 in 135,145,920. MSN also points out that buying two tickets keeps your odds the same.
In this card game, the player tries to get to 21 without the sum of his or her cards exceeding that number. "Blackjack is the game considered to be the best for the player," says Curtis. "It has a varying degree of house advantage....Counting cards monitors the deck." Card counting lets a player know when he or she has the advantage, to inform the size of the bet. It isn't illegal, says Curtis, but the casino has every right to not serve you if you're caught doing it. For the average person not counting cards, the odds in blackjack are as low as .5 to 1.5% in favor of the casino. This means, for every dollar you bet, you lose .5-1.5 cents, which adds up the more you play.
It may be enticing to sit in one place and just pull a lever for hours, watching the colorful slots spin. Curtis warns, "The unwritten rule is, the easier something is to do, the more it will cost you to do it." He places the odds of winning at slots, 1.5-15% in favor of the house. That means, you could lose up to 15 cents per dollar, which really adds up, especially with a passive game like slots where it's easy to get sucked in and play for hours.
March Madness is high betting season, creating pools among co-workers everywhere. As a little school called Butler taught us this year, don't just go for powerhouse universities like Duke. (Even though Duke won, betting on underdog Butler at certain rounds would have meant favored odds). Curtis explains one way to win in NCAA, "You can make a futures bet. You look at those 64 teams and say, I think Butler is going to win [the tournament]." This would have given 60 to 1 odds, says Curtis, explaining, "If that last miracle shot had gone in at the end of the [final] game, [one] would have made $600 on a $10 bet." The odds of turning a little into a lot with futures betting at NCAA basketball is 20-30%, depending on how big an underdog you pick.
The Super Bowl
"There are more ways to bet on the Super Bowl than any other sporting event," says Curtis. You can bet on anything from who you think will win to specifics like how many yards, completions, or points players will have in the game and even compare those numbers to other sporting events. These are called proposition bets and Curtis says the options are limitless but the odds are hardly in your favor.
It's everywhere in Las Vegas and easy to play -- choose from 1 to 20 numbers on your Keno card and hope they're drawn. Entry bets are $1, and the fact that Keno is commonly found in restaurants and bars in gambling towns, makes it an easy game to fall into. The odds are 30% in favor of the house, says Curtis.
While it's illegal to bet on politics in the United States, except for on Web sites where anything goes, especially on the notorious Irish-based PaddyPower.com. The site favored President Obama in the 2008 election and even took bets on his chances for passing health care reform.
Just for fun, Curtis picked favorites in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race coming up in Long Beach on April 17. Oscar-winner Adrien Brody and Christian Slater have nothing on Adam Carrolla, says Curtis, who takes racing and cars seriously. "Here's the thing about Adam: he's got a racing background. It's like a hobby." Last year, Curtis picked Keanu Reeves as the favorite and "Neo" sweeped it. These bets are all for fun, but the mainstream betting site Bodog.com lets you bet on celebs. You could have put money on how long it would take Carrie Underwood to sing the national anthem at this year's Super Bowl. "Anything that the public has an interest in, you can usually find a bet on it," says Curtis. From American Idol to which celeb will get busted with drugs first at the start of a year. But these bets, he says, are "not a very good gamble."
Nothing, it turns out, beats hard work. Get-rich-quick is simply entertainment -- a fun idea -- and not a money-maker.