Last update: October, 2013.
A betting system is a method of changing the size of your bets and/or timing when to bet and when to sit out, depending what happened in previous rounds, to increase your chances of winning in the short term. No betting system works in the long term, which is another way of saying that no betting system can overcome the house edge (the casino's built-in mathematical advantage on every game).
Now you're wondering how a system could be more likely to win in the short term but no better the long term, so let's look at a made-up game as an example. Let's say I have a hundred shoe boxes with a hole cut out on the side so you can stick your hand inside to grab the contents. In 99 of these shoe boxes there's a hundred-dollar bill. But in one of them there's a rattlesnake. The game is that you pick a box and put your hand in to try to get a $100 bill. Of course you don't know which box contains the snake. Every time you successfully get a $100 bill the box is removed. You can play as many times as you want.
Obviously, the odds are always in your favor for getting a $100 bill, unless there are only one or two boxes left. The fewer times you play, the greater your chances of walking away with money instead of getting bitten. The longer you play, the more likely you are to lose. And when you do lose you'll lose big.
A betting system such as the Martingale works a similar way. It makes you more likely to win in the short term, but the longer you play the more likely you are to lose, and when you do lose you'll lose big. The Martingale works by having you double your bet every time you lose. Let's say you bet $5 on red in roulette. You lose, so you bet $10 on the next spin. You lose, so you bet $20. You lose, so you bet $40. You lose again (man, you have bad luck), so you bet $80. You win that bet, so then you drop back down to a $5 bet again.
Using this method, you're actually likely to win a 1-hour playing session. But if you do lose, you'll likely lose a lot more than if you had just flat-bet $5 every time.
And how could you lose if you always double your bet until you win? Simple: you'll sometimes have a losing streak so long that you can't afford to double your bet. Lose 11 bets in a row (it happens) and you'll have the honor of ponying up $10,240 for your next spin. Even if you could afford it, every casino game has a table limit, which limits the amount you can wager.
A betting system can be fun to use as long as you understand the risks involved. With the Martingale, the risk is that you'll eventually have a very large loss. Before using the Martingale, read our article about the Martingale betting system.
Less Risky Systems
Of course, not all systems are as risky as the Martingale. They're also less likely to make you a short-term winner, but that's the tradeoff.
The Martingale is called a negative progression system because you bet more when you're losing. Think of this as digging yourself a deeper hole. By contrast, positive progression systems have you bet more when you're winning. By ramping up your bets during winning streaks you can take advantage of the streak and win more than you would had you been flat-betting. This doesn't overcome the house edge (nothing does), but if you are lucky enough to hit a winning streak you'll wind up with a little more money in your pocket then you would have otherwise.
Here's a simple positive progression system you can use. Every time you win, just add 50% to your bet. Start with $6. If you win then you'll add half of that, which is $3, so you'll be betting $9. If you win your $9 bet you'll add another half, so you'll bet either $13 or $14, depending on whether you like to round up or round down. Whenever you lose, start over again with $6. I used this system while playing with a friend once and she remarked later how impressive it was when the stack of chips grew to be dozens of chips high.
With this system your bets go up only when you're winning. If you're on a losing streak, you'll lose only one unit each time. But if you're on a winning streak, you'll have the extra money to increase your bets with.
Another system is to bet 1/4th of your total chips on every hand. This way you're automatically betting more when you're winning (exploiting winning streaks), and scaling back your bets when you're losing (limiting your losses). A fun goal with this kind of system is to either double the amount of money you started with, or go bust trying. I've done this one many times as well. I succeed slightly less than half the time, and fail slightly more than half the time, which is what you'd expect.
No betting system can make you
a guaranteed winner
While a betting system can make it more likely that you'll win in the short term, none can guarantee that you'll win in the short term. And no betting system makes it more likely for you to win in the long term. That doesn't stop scam artists from advertising their "foolproof" systems in magazines and on the Internet. All those systems are bunk. If they really worked, the authors would be living on an island with their millions rather than being eager to get your $24.95 plus shipping. And the casinos would have gone bust long ago (or discovered the flaw in their game, and changed the rules to close the loophole). In fact, I'm so confident that no betting system can overcome the house edge that I offer $30,000 to anyone who can prove they have a winning system.
- Betting systems can be fun, but no betting system can overcome the house edge. You don't gain an advantage just because you're using a betting system.
- If you want to use a betting system, try adding 50% to each winning bet, or bet 1/4th of your total chips each hand.
- Use the Martingale betting system only if you've read and understood our separate article about it.
- Never pay good money for a system when I've just given you two decent systems for free.
There's one more system which involves making just one or two bets, which I call the Half-Bankroll System, described on its own page.