This is the second in a series of columns exploring gambling options available at the new Seneca Niagara Casino. The series, designed to familiarize readers with the risks, rewards and rules of play, will appear on Thursdays.
Ah, roulette. The glamorous game of books and movies.
James Bond played roulette in "Casino Royale." Humphrey Bogart won at it (thanks to a crooked wheel) in "Casablanca." Fyodor Dostoevsky's character became addicted to it in "The Gambler." And last Monday morning, I took my shot.
I didn't wear a tuxedo or have a beautiful starlet on my arm. But I still felt a bit Bondish when I peeled $100 off my bankroll, placed it on the green felt and told Daniel, the dealer, "singles, please."
He took my money, jammed it into the table's cash-goes-here slot and slid five stacks of bright yellow chips across the table to me. There were 20 chips per stack and each one now was worth $1. (In roulette, each player gets a different color chip, good only at that table.)
"Place your bets, please," the dealer told me and the three other players.
Roulette is gambling at its simplest.
At one end of the table is the spinning wheel with a little white ball. The wheel is divided into 38 slots, each with a number (1 through 36 plus 0 and 00) and color (18 red, 18 black, 2 green). When the players finish betting, the dealer drops the ball into the rotating wheel. The ball bounces around and eventually lands in a numbered/colored slot. Guess the slot, win the money.
The table also contains a grid listing all the numbers. This is where the bettors place their chips as they try to predict which number will come up. If you guess the exact number, the payoff is a whopping 35 chips for one. You also can play various combinations of numbers, although payoffs are proportionately lower if you, say, play three numbers with one chip.
Payoffs are lowest (one-for-one) if you bet that the winner will be red or black, odd or even, high or low. All those bets lose if 0 or 00 shows up.
My favorite roulette method is based on geometry. I found it years ago in a 1978 paperback called "Gambling Systems That Win" published by Gambling Times magazine.
The numbers on the roulette wheel don't run consecutively. The 1, for instance, sits between 00 and 13. The 36 lies between 13 and 24. The system's author studied the wheel and figured out if you play five chips on certain combinations of numbers, you can have a "live number" in about every fourth slot of the wheel.
Following the system, I placed one chip each on numbers 8, 10, 20 and 26. If any of those hit, I get 35 chips.
Then I put one chip on the spot (the cross of the "T" that separates 1 and 4). This spot indicates a six-number combination bet on the numbers from 1 through 6. If 1 through 6 hits, it pays 5 to 1.
"Notice that the numbers you have placed are no further than three spaces apart," the article said. "Each time the ball falls, it will land no more than two spaces away from, or on, your number. . . . you have a one in four chance of winning."
Maybe so. But no matter what your system, the house always wins in the long term. You have one chance in 38 of winning, but the payoff is only 35 to 1, plus your original bet. Over time, the house keeps $2 of every $38 wagered, an edge of about 5.26 percent. Wouldn't you like to own a roulette wheel for a few days?
In the short term, of course, anything can happen. Using my "have a plan and stick to it" philosophy, I decided to limit my play to 20 spins of the wheel. That way, I would lose no more than $100.
Daniel spun the wheel, dropped the ball and waved his arm over the layout. "No more bets," he said.
The ball clattered around and landed on 23. I was out $5, the minimum total wager per spin at this table. The next number was 9 and another five disappeared. But on the third spin, the 4 came up and I won five chips on my six-number (1 through 6) wager.
The money management part of the system says to increase the bet after you hit a winner. If the six-number combo wins, add one chip to the 1-through-6 spot. If 8, 10, 20 or 26 wins, double all the bets. When you lose, go back to the original one-chip bets.
On the sixth spin, my 26 hit. Hot damn.
Daniel put a tubular glass marker on my winning chip, swept away all the other losing chips, and paid me with two stacks of golden, er yellow, chips, 20 in one and 15 in the other. It was nice. Bad math or not, you can understand why the game is so universally popular when the dealer slides those tall stacks of chips to you.
It felt even nicer eight spins later, when my 20 came in and another 35 chips came my way.
After my 17th spin, I was down a few bucks when Daniel was relieved by a dealer named Anthony (all dealers wear tags with their first names.) If I were superstitious, I would be building a shrine to Anthony.
I was behind a few dollars and, according to my plan, my 20th spin was supposed to be my last. But when the 4 came up, producing a five-chip win and requiring a wager increase, I decided to stick around until my luck ran out.
Next number was 5, another winner. I stayed for another spin. The number came up 8 and I won another stack of 35 chips. Then I doubled all the bets and, to my delight and amazement, up came 20. This time I won a stack of 70 chips. With Anthony at the controls, I'd won four of five spins.
I doubled the bets again and now had four chips riding on each of five spots. But 25 came up and my session was over. It was time to quit while I was ahead. (Remember that expression if you want success at any casino.)
The dealer tallied my yellows and paid me in house chips (redeemable at the cashiers' cages) worth $182.
As the Casablanca dealer told Bogey, "Your winnings, sir."
I'd made $82 in 55 minutes. And I felt glamorous.