What Are the Odds?

Paul Buri, RSA

Paul Burri, RSA

It was September 1956. My wife and I had just decided to take a short trip to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving weekend. Back then, Vegas was a good place to go over Thanksgiving because it was a family holiday and most people stayed home with family. When I happened to mention it to my friend Dave, he immediately started reaching for his wallet. He fished out a $1.00 bill and he said, “I want you to bet this dollar on 23 Red at the first roulette table at the Dunes hotel.” He was very specific and emphatic about exactly how I was to bet that dollar.

He was so emphatic about it that I wrote a little note and stapled it to his dollar before folding it and putting it in my wallet. Even as I write this, it seems a bit silly to me, but a dollar in 1956 was “serious” money.

A few weeks later, there we were in Las Vegas driving down the Las Vegas strip. Suddenly, there was the Dunes hotel ahead of us and I pulled in and parked. The roar of the crashing slot machines and the smoke from hundreds of cigarettes greeted us as we walked in and walked through the casino looking for the roulette tables. While we were walking, I started fumbling to retrieve Dave’s dollar bill and removing the “23 Red, Dunes Hotel” note I had stapled to it.

Now a short lesson in roulette. The roulette wheel and roulette table both have 38 numbers on them. There are thirty-­?six numbers from one to thirty-­?six and then there is also a zero and a double zero. You are allowed to place a bet on any number including the zero or double zero. If your number comes up -­? that is, if the little white ball falls into the roulette wheel slot with your number -­? you get paid 35 times whatever you bet. So you have a 38 to 1 chance of winning but you only get paid 35 to 1 if you do.

So here I am standing at the roulette table fumbling with my dollar bill while the wheel is spinning and the little white ball is racing around inside it. I finally get the dollar bill separated and hand it to the croupier and ask for a silver dollar. (Yep, in those days you bet with real silver dollars.) Just as he hands me a silver dollar, the ball falls into its pocket.

Guess what? 23 Red! The exact number that my friend Dave told me to bet. If I had been there only a minute sooner, I would have won $35! (By the way, $35 in those days would be worth about $350.00 in today’s dollars. Back then I was earning

$2.35 per hour and I thought it was pretty good pay.)

But Dave had been emphatic about how I should bet his dollar. As the wheel began to spin again I placed the dollar on 23 Red.

When the wheel stopped the next time, guess what?

23 Red again!

I collected Dave’s $35.00 and walked away. I’m sure that the “regulars” at the table that day are still talking about the idiot who bet on the same number that had just come up -­? and it hit again.

(And in case you’re wondering -­? instead of telling Dave that he had lost his dollar, I did give him his winnings.)

©2017 by Paul Burri


Paul Burri is a retired inventor & entrepreneur writer, columnist, life-long woodworker, photographer and general know-it-all. He lives with his wife in Santa Barbara, California. He can be reached at pburri@cox.net

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