There is probably not a casino in America where you won?t find the Wheel of Fortune, also known as the Big Wheel or Big Six, prominently displayed and brightly lit for all to see. While it is not one of the major casino games such as blackjack, craps or roulette, it does have its allure and it has found a permanent place in the casino scheme of things. You can always find some people willing to play it and, even though it doesn?t get terrific action, it is still a money maker for the casinos, and that?s why they keep it.
Its allure is very much like the allure of a slot machine. Because the Wheel of Fortune requires no knowledge of strategy or odds and percentages (indeed, anyone with the knowledge of odds and percentages would steer a clear course far away from this particular game) it is simplicity itself; you just plunk your money down on one of the various dollar amounts or symbols, watch the wheel spin, and then you hope and, if you are religious, pray that it lands where you wanted.
The Wheel of Fortune has a rich history ? for its owners, not its players. While games like craps, roulette and blackjack can be traced to the earliest days of man?s existence and to serious pursuits (to ascertain the will of the gods, to predict the future, etc.), the Wheel of Fortune has always been somewhat frivolous and can be traced to the carnivals and sideshows that made their serpentine way across Europe and America in the 1700s to the mid 1900s. These carnivals consisted of rides (animal then mechanical), freak shows with such entertainment as bearded ladies, giants, pin heads, midgets, lizard men, Siamese twins, feral men and wild women, and games ? often gaffed games [gaffed means rigged] that set up and then plucked the unwary pigeons whose attention they had attracted.
One such game was the Wheel of Fortune. Despite the fact that carnivals never paid off the players? wagers at anything close to the true odds of the bets, the carnival barkers still cheated by putting a pedal under the betting layout so that the dealer could stop the wheel on the number he wanted. In this way, the dealer could lure a sucker in by allowing him to win a few little bets and then clobbering him when he started to put up some serious money. Or, the dealer could allow the wheel to stop just short of the suckers bets, often shouting, ?Oooo! Look how close you came. You?re about to get lucky!?
The casino version of the Wheel of Fortune is not rigged in such an underhanded way but rather it rigged legally because it pays back winning wagers at less than true odds, much, much less in fact. Some of the very worst house edges can be found at it, anywhere from 11 percent to 24 percent. Ouch! Yet, people play it ? ?Ooooo! Look how close you came! Is someone about to get lucky??
Answer: Not if he plays it for any length of time!
So how is the wheel set up and how is the game played?
The wheel is usually six feet in diameter and stands upright. It is divided into nine sections with each section containing six sub-sections. The six sub-sections are the reason why some casinos call the game Big Six. In all, there are 54 distinct outcomes (sometimes called ?landing posts?) possible (9 x 6 = 54), each designated by a given denomination of paper money; be it a one, two, five, 10 or 20 dollar bill. However, two posts on opposite sides of the wheel have special markings, sometimes a star, a joker, a casino logo or the like, and these offer the highest payouts ? and the highest house edges.
When you approach the wheel, you will notice a glass-covered counter in the front that has the same bills and symbols as are on the wheel. You make your wager by placing your money or chips on the bill or symbol of your choice. The wheel is then spun and where it lands (usually the casino bank account!) determines your payoff. If you bet on the one-dollar bill, you are paid one dollar for every dollar you wagered. (You bet $10, you win $10.) If it lands on the five-dollar bill, you are paid five dollars for every dollar you wager. (You bet $10, you win $50.) Simple.
Unfortunately, the very best bet at most Wheels of Fortune, the $1 bill, hits only 24 times out of 54 possible decisions. That means you lose five times for every four wins, yet, the casino will only pay $4 for a $4 wager, not $5, as the true odds indicate, resulting in an 11 percent edge for the house. Yikes! That?s for Las Vegas and most other casinos in America. However, in Atlantic City, the $1 only hits 23 times out of 54, for a house edge of almost 15 percent. Double yikes!
The following chart explains the total number of possible decisions for each ?landing post or bill,? the payoff, and the casino edge. Since the Las Vegas Wheel of Fortune is the norm, Atlantic City is in parenthesis.
Symbol Total # Payoff Casino Edge
$1 24 (AC: 23) 1:1 11.1% (AC: 14.8%)
$2 15 2:1 16.6%
$5 7 (AC: 8) 5:1 22.2% (AC: 11.1)
$10 4 10:1 18.5%
$20 2 20:1 22.2%
joker 1 40:1 (AC: 45:1) 24% (AC: 14.8%)
symbol 1 40:1 (AC: 45:1) 24% (AC: 14.8%)
As you can clearly see, with the Wheel of Fortune, or Wheel of Misfortune, all the bets are bad, badder, baddest and puke producing. However, like any form of wagering, there are better ?bad? bets and worse ?bad? bets. If, for some unaccountable reason, you are compelled to place a wager on the Wheel of Fortune (like say a deranged criminal is threatening to pop you if you don?t bet the wheel), and you are in Atlantic City, put your money on the $5. If you are in Vegas, put your money on the $1. If you are sane, then go to another game.
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