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What is Gambler's Ruin?

Jeff Petersen
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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Gambler's ruin describes the idea that any time the house has an advantage in a game of chance, the gambler will eventually lose his entire bankroll. It can also be used to describe the desire gamblers often have of making a final big bet after a streak of bad luck, in the hopes of "winning it all back." When you get right down to it, the idea of gambler's ruin is that if one plays against the casino for long enough, the casino always wins.

In almost all cases, a gambler can be considered to have a limited amount of money to gamble with, while the casino has an effectively limitless amount of money. The casino also has the odds in its favor, sometimes by a very large percentage. Any time a gambler starts playing against the casino, the idea of gambler's ruin describes the fact that a gambler can never take all the casino's money, but the casino can take all of the gambler's money, preventing her from continuing to gamble.

In a standard case of gambler's ruin, imagine that a gambler has 100 dollars. The gambler makes an even-money wager on a bet that gives the casino slightly better odds. Because the odds are in the casino's favor, the gambler will lose more often than he wins. He may win a few times, and have more money than he started with, but because the odds favor the casino, in the long run he will lose more often than he wins. Because the casino has unlimited funds, and the gambler has only 100 dollars, he will eventually run out and be unable to make another bet.

In the other sense, gambler's ruin describes the desire to try and win big, by making a large bet when the gambler has almost exhausted her gambling bankroll. The gambler makes a series of small bets, and over time loses money, since the casino has the advantage. When she realizes that she has very little money left, gambler's ruin describes her desire to try and win it all back, rather than accepting the loss and walking away with what money she has left. No matter how strongly the gambler wants to win, if she keeps betting, the casino will keep winning.

Gambler's ruin applies to any game of chance in which the house has an advantage over the gambler. This includes any casino game played against the casino, such as blackjack, craps, roulette, Keno, and slot machines. The only way to avoid gambler's ruin is to accept that fact that you can't gamble to win, so you should only gamble for the enjoyment of the game. If you play long enough, the casino always wins.

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Jeff Petersen
By Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Creighton University and loves putting his skills to work creating captivating content for WiseGeek. Jeff's articles cover a broad range of subjects, keeping readers informed and entertained with his insightful writing style.
Discussion Comments
By mrwormy — On Apr 02, 2014

I've been one of those gamblers who thinks a winning hand or a big jackpot is just around the corner. It took me a long time to learn how to walk away from a game when it was costing me more money than what I came in with.

By Phaedrus — On Apr 01, 2014

I've heard that the only major gambling game where the player has an advantage over the house is Blackjack. The player can decide to hold at any time, but the house must hit on any hand under 17. This means the house has a higher risk of getting a high value card and busting.

Because Blackjack doesn't favor the house over time, the payouts are not as good as other table games like Craps and Roulette. Slot machines are usually adjusted in favor of the house, too, so I generally play the nickel and dime slots just for fun.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A....
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