Review – Ewan Leeming – Gambling : Does The House Always Win?

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

Wise words from Mr Kenny Rogers there and they were expanded on in fine style by Ewan Leeming, Edinburgh Skeptics very own maths whizz, at the Banshee Labyrinth last night during his talk on the different types of gambling and whether or not the ordinary punter can beat the odds.

Ewan took the audience through the history of gambling from it’s origins in early dice games, where knucklbones were used initially before the shaped and numbered dice that we are more familiar with today were developed, and card games such as mahjong (before it moved to tiles) as well as the various card decks used across Europe which are closely related but have subtle differences in numbers, card names and design.

We then had an explanation of the different types of gambling available today such as Premium Bonds, Football Pools, Lottery, Sports Betting in all its variations and Casinos, with Ewan discussing their history, how they worked, how good the chances of winning could be, what return you could get for your money and whether there was a way you could tip the odds in your favour.

It was certainly heartening to find out that yes, I could be guaranteed to win the lottery but before I pop open the champagne I just have to see whether the piggy bank will cough up the few million needed to be able to buy all the combinations of possible numbers.

And that seemed to be the problem, there are ways to beat the system but it appears takes a lot of hard work and plenty of cash (or, if you don’t mind spending the rest of your life looking over your shoulder for large men who look like their suits are three sizes too small, cheating). For us regular punters it is indeed all a bit of a gamble.

For a talk which led us through the odds and probabilities of gambling, Ewan presented with enough plain english and a fine line in humour to keep those of us not so mathematically gifted well entertained and informed and he had a very attentive audience.

Now I’m off to a casino in a couple of weeks as part of a friend’s birthday celebrations. That gives me about 14 days to learn the secrets of card counting and hope for a big win on the Blackjack table, but to be on the safe side I’ll take the lesson learned from Ewan’s talk and make sure I have the fare for my bus home tucked away safely in my shoe!

Diane Waugh