Betting systems are strategies for placing your bets in a specific way regardless of a game’s odds. The idea is that by changing the sizes of your bets, you can beat a game that’s otherwise mathematically unbeatable. You can find betting systems and system players in all kinds of gambling games. Horse racing has entire libraries of books written about these betting systems. In fact, since handicapping horses is a real skill, some of these books and systems contained within are more legitimate than other books about betting systems.

My guess is that most betting systems for horse bettors aren’t good enough to overcome the huge house edge built into most pari-mutuel betting systems, though. What goes wrong with most betting systems is that you eventually hit a losing streak that’s longer than you expect. In fact, all betting systems assume that long losing streaks are less likely than they are in reality. The best betting systems work okay when you have roughly even results over long periods of time.

In fact, most betting systems work better in games of complete chance, like roulette or craps. They still won’t help you overcome the house edge in the long run, but you might book more winning sessions than you’d think. You’ll eventually have a losing session that’s big enough to wipe out your previous wins, but you can have a lot of fun getting to that point.

You wouldn’t use any kind of betting system in a game with a skill element, though. Blackjack and poker aren’t good games for system players. Blackjack players are better off learning basic strategy and card counting techniques. Poker players are better off learning how to calculate outs, pot odds, and reading opponents.

Craps and roulette are the 2 most popular games for betting systems. Beware of craps, though, because a lot of the bets on the craps table are heavily promoted by the casino employees. If you stick with the most basic bets, where the house edge is well under 2%, you’ll be okay at the craps table.

Roulette, on the other hand, means you have to beat a house edge of 5.26% most of the time. If you can find a single zero roulette game, you’ll only have to beat a house edge of 2.70%. So if you want to try a roulette betting system, at least find the best roulette game you can first.

1- The Martingale System

The most famous and possibly easiest betting system is the Martingale System, which is a progressive betting system where you double the size of your bet after each loss. Some gamblers think that once they’ve learned how to use the Martingale System, they’ll never have to work again. They’re just going to live on their gambling winnings.

Here’s how it works:

You place a bet. If you lose, you place another bet, double the size of the 1st bet. If you lose again, you bet again, but this time, you double the size of your 2nd bet. You keep doubling up until you win. No matter how high the bet gets, eventually you’ll win, recouping all your losses and winding up with a profit that’s the same size as your 1st bet.

Here’s an example:

You bet $5 on black at the roulette wheel. You lose. Now you bet $10 on black at the roulette wheel. You lose again. You’ve now lost a total of $15. Now you bet $20 on black. And you lose again. Your losses are now up to $35 So now you bet $40, and you lose again. Now you’ve lost $75 over the course of 4 bets. On your 5th bet, you wager $80 and win. You’ve won back the $75 you’d lost, and you have a $5 profit to show for it.

This is EXACTLY how my last roulette session went, by the way. My date, who was naïve about gambling, was impressed. Little does she know…

Here’s the problem though:

When you’re doubling amounts repeatedly, the numbers get big faster than you ever thought possible. If you doubled a penny for 30 days, you’d have over a million dollars. Don’t believe me? Try it with a calculator or an Excel spreadsheet and see for yourself. When you’re starting with $5 and doubling up repeatedly, you’ll see the same phenomenon—you’ll wind up with huge bet sizes after a surprisingly short number of losses in a row.

$80 doesn’t sound like much, but suppose you lost 5 more times in a row:

  • $160
  • $320
  • $640
  • $1280
  • $2560

Most casinos have a maximum bet at the roulette table of $500, so you won’t be able to continue your progressive system after 7 bets. You  could bet $500 on bet #8, but even if you win, you’re still down by $135. You’d have to win another large bet to get caught up—and winning 2 bets in a row is much harder than winning a bet at a time.

You might be thinking that it’s next to impossible to lose 7, 8, or 9 bets in a row. That’s not entirely true. Sure, it’s unlikely. But since the casino has an edge of 5.26% at roulette, the odds of losing 7+ times in a row are better than the odds of winning enough money to survive that losing streak.

Want to try the Martingale System? Do it with a free casino game and see how it works, first. You can find free roulette games at any of the casinos mentioned on this site. Or just try it with a pencil and paper by doing coin tosses. With coin tosses, you’re actually dealing with 50/50 probabilities, so you’d think the Martingale would be even more foolproof. Your goal is to win $640 before seeing a losing streak of 7 losses in a row. See how often that happens and let me know how it goes in the comments.

2- The Martingale System plus One

If the Martingale System sounds like it’s for wimps, maybe you’d prefer to try the Martingale System plus One. Not only do you double up after each loss, you add a single unit to the size of your bet. On your 1st bet, you wager $5. After losing, you double up to $10, but you also add another $5, for a bet of $15. You lose again, so you double up and add another single unit bet, for $35 on the 3rd bet.

Here’s what it would look like if you win on the 5th bet:

  • $5
  • $15
  • $30
  • $65
  • $135

After losing those 1st 4 bets, your total losses are $115. If you win that 5th bet, you’ll win back that $115, but you’ll also have $20 in profit. If you were just using a straight Martingale System, you’d only have a $5 profit after winning the 5th bet. The more times you lose in a row, the bigger your eventual win will be. For example, if you win on the 10th bet, you’ll have won $50 + $5, or $55, in net winnings. The problem with this system is the same as with the last system—the bets get big fast. In fact, they get even bigger even faster.

Look where you wind up after 10 bets:

  • $5
  • $15
  • $30
  • $65
  • $135
  • $275
  • $555
  • $1115
  • $2235
  • $4475

After 10 losses with the Martingale, your bet is up to $2560. But with the Martingale plus One, your bet is almost $2000 more than that. This system basically takes a bad system and makes it worse.

3- The Labouchere System

The Labouchere System is also called a “cancellation system.” You don’t have to double the size of your bets to use this system, but you do eventually wind up with large bets.

Here’s how it works:

You make a list of bets. When you win, you cross off 2 numbers. When you lose, you add a number to the end of the sequence. Your goal is to win the total of the numbers on your list. It’s easier to understand if you use a simple example.

You write down $5, $10, and $15. You add the 2 numbers on the ends together and bet them. In this example, you bet $20. If you win, your cross the $5 an the $15 off your list. But if you lose, you add another number to the end of the sequence–$20. On the next spin, you bet the 2 end numbers again—the $20 and the $5, for a total of $25.

Eventually, your goal is to win $30—the $5, $10, and $15 from the original sequence. The additional number at the end of the list after each list is how you recoup your previous losses. That number is always the amount you lost on that previous bet. So if, on that 2nd spin, you lost again, you’d add $25 to the end of your list.

Important Note

It might sound like this is so limited that it would be impossible for the betting amount to get too high, but the amount can reach staggering heights faster than you might think. Let’s assume 7 losses in a row, just like we did with the Martingale System.

Here’s what your list will look like:

  • $5 – $10 – $15
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45
  • $5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45 – $50

This doesn’t look so bad, but keep in mind that you won’t recoup all your losses after just one win. You’ll only start recouping your losses after multiple wins in a row.

Let’s say you win that 8th bet. What does bet #9 look like?

$5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45 – $50

You have to bet $55 again on bet #9. This time you lose, and your list looks like this:

$5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45 – $50 – $55

On bet #10, you have to bet $65, because you’re adding the $55 to the $10. Let’s assume you win that one:

$5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45 – $50 – $55

Now you must bet $60, and you lose, making your list look like this:

$5 – $10 – $15 – $20 – $25 – $30 – $35 – $40 – $45 – $50 – $55 – $60

Your next bet is $75… and this is after hitting a few wins in a row. The premise is that when you win, you get to cross out 2 numbers, but the problem is that the numbers remaining get larger and larger. Like the Martingale System, the Labouchere System falls victim to big losing streaks that wipe out your winnings.

4- Raising and Lowering Your Bets by Single Units

As I’ve progressed through this list, the progressions have gotten slower. In this system, the progression is so slow that it will take a long time to get to the point where you can’t make the next bet because you’ve hit the table maximum. But it will happen eventually, and you’ll regret it.

Let’s say you start with a $15 bet. (3 units of $5 each.) If you lose, you raise the size of the bet by $5. If you win, you reduce the size of your bet by $5. If you lose 2 times in a row and win 2 times in a row, you’ll be ahead.
You’ll bet $15 on the 1st bet and win $15. Then you’ll bet $10 on the 2nd bet and win $10. (You’re now ahead by $25, or 5 units.) Then you’ll bet $15 on the 3rd bet and lose $15. Then you’ll bet $10 on the 4th bet and lose $10. (Now you’re back to even.) As with all the other betting systems on this page, you’ll eventually hit a losing streak long enough to wipe out your winnings. It will just take longer with this system than with the others.

It reminds me of a guy I used to know who sold comic books at comic book conventions. He said that he lost money with every comic book he sold, but he made up for it with volume. Think about that for a minute and how it applies to making negative expectation bets repeatedly.

5- The Patience System

This is a system that’s supposed to help you take advantage of winning and/or losing streaks. The classic example is a roulette system where you wait for the ball to land on red 5 times in a row before betting. At that point, you place a large bet on black.

The theory is that it’s unlikely for a roulette wheel to land on red 6 times in a row, so by waiting for 5 reds in a row, you’re getting in on a situation where the probability of winning when betting on black has improved. The theory also has elements of “The Gambler’s Fallacy.” This is the belief that after several events, the odds will start to even out. This might be true in the long run, but the long run is so much longer than most people think. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of spins of the roulette wheel—not dozens.

The truth is that every spin of the roulette wheel and every roll of the craps dice are independent events. This means that what happens on the previous spin or the previous roll of the dice has no effect on the probability for the next event. When you roll a pair of dice, they each have 6 sides. You have 36 possible combinations. No matter what you roll, on the next roll of the dice, you still have 36 possible combinations, no matter how many times in a row you’ve rolled a 7.

When you spin a roulette wheel, you have 38 possible outcomes. Regardless of what happened on the previous spin, you still have all 38 of those possible outcomes. None of them have disappeared. Assuming that those odds have changed because of what happened previously is folly.

And for many gamblers, they’ll see success with a system like this often enough that confirmation bias will convince them that this is a winning betting system. After all, if you bet on black after getting 5 red results in a row, you have a 47.37% chance of winning. Almost half the time, your actual results will confirm your bias. Since you’re likely to forget the times it didn’t work, you’ll think that the system works even though it doesn’t.

6- The Impatient System

This is the opposite of the last system. (You might have realized that based on the name.) You don’t wait until something has happened several times. The 1st time it happens, you jump on it. If the ball lands on red, you bet on red on the next spin. If it lands on red, you bet on red again. If it lands on black, you start betting on black. The idea is that you’ll be able to catch winning streaks this way. The problem is that the winning streaks and the losing streaks are already accounted for in the game’s statistics.

You’ll see the same kind of results from this kind of betting system as you would betting randomly. You might have some luck, but you won’t have any more luck than you would have had using any other system. But you do have the advantage of not having to raise the size of your bets. You can just keep placing single-unit bets repeatedly.

Of course, you can find hybrid systems related to this where you increase the size of your bets every time you win. This is a sort of reverse Martingale approach. Guess what. That won’t work, either. If any of these simple betting systems worked in real life, the casinos would have gone out of business a long time ago.

7- A Ludicrous Craps System

I read about all these systems in an old gambling book called The New American Guide to Gambling and Games by Edwin Silberstang. I’m pretty sure it’s out of print now, but it’s outdated in a lot of ways now, anyway. (I don’t think he even mentions Texas holdem in the poker section.)

My favorite is this craps system he explains and calls the “One-Shot Place Numbers System.” In this system, you just bet all the place numbers at the same time. Once a number gets rolled, you collect your bets and walk away from the table a big winner. The idea is that you’ll only spend a few minutes at the table and walk away with a big score. Of course, all the place bets have a house edge, so betting them all at once doesn’t do anything to help you win.

Here’s an example of how you might use this system:

You bet $100 on each of the following place bets:

  • Place 4
  • Place 5
  • Place 6
  • Place 8
  • Place 9
  • Place 10

If you win the place 4 or place 10 bet, you win $180. If you win the place 4 or place 9 bet, you win $140. If you win the place 6 or place 8 bet, you win $116.67. So if any of those numbers hit, you more than double your money on that $100 bet. And you can pull the other bets off the table and walk away.

To make a place bet, you do need to ask the dealer for help, too. It’s not a self-service bet. The problem is that a roll of 7 will wipe out all those bets at one time. Sure, you’ll win more often than not, but when you lose, you’ll lose enough money to compensate for the previous wins and then some. That’s how the house edge works. Still, this can be a fun way to bet on craps if you don’t mind giving the house an edge.

I went to Vegas several times with a buddy of mine, Ryan. He was fascinated by roulette. He spent hours writing out bizarre roulette systems which used various betting combinations. He never came home having won any money at roulette—not even once. He’s a good guy, but he’s obviously never read any of my blog posts.

He never understood that making multiple negative expectation bets is just like adding up a bunch of negative numbers. No matter how you adjust the size of those numbers, you’re never going to turn them into positive numbers.

When you’re dealing with bets with a negative expectation, you can’t overcome that expectation with a betting system. It’s just not possible. You can have some fun playing with a betting system, but remember that the casino will always win all your money in the long run if you’re playing against the house edge.

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