A dealer’s eye view of some of the characters typically found at the casino

PUNTER: [PUNT-ER] informal chiefly Brit: A person who gambles, places a bet, or makes a risky investment.

People-watching in a casino is endlessly fascinating. From the professional, to the rank amateur, to the desperate and the delirious, the heightened atmopshere of the tables and felt amplifies the traits of even the most extreme of characters.

Colin MacGregor, in more than ten years as a dealer and casino inspector, has seen them all. He told Casinopedia Content Editor Luke Page about the typical casino patrons – or punters – he came across in his years at the tables.

Colin has worked at the Sun City casino in South Africa as well as Holland Casino and Casino Copenhagen, among his many positions in the industry.

Colin MacGregor and the world famous Rod Stewart at Sun City, South Africa in the mid 1980s. Picture: David MacGregor
Colin MacGregor and the world famous rock star Rod Stewart at Sun City, South Africa in the mid 1980s. Picture: Colin MacGregor

Going pro

The casino punter obviously comes in all shapes and sizes, but they also come in different styles.

Let’s start of with the professional punter. He or she, you would think, is a big money high roller.

You would be about 90% wrong, as the professional punter is usually the most unassuming guy in the casino.

He is the guy who is usually sitting at a table, near a roulette table, drinking a cup of tea. He sits watching carefully all the numbers coming up on the board regarding red/black or odd/even. He’ll sit and wait till there is say five red numbers up in a row then he strikes betting on the presumption the next number surely must be black, likewise with odd/even.

The professional bides his time before aiming to rake it in.
The professional bides his time before aiming to rake it in.

Now what makes this punter the professional is the fact he has no other income outside the casino. The casino is his office and he is there every day from opening until it gets busy, as he likes it quiet.

This style of punter bets small. He’ll usually walk in with £40 to £50 in an attempt to just double his money, thus earning him hopefully £50 a day. If he wins his £50 he leaves, if he loses what he came in with, i.e £50, he leaves.

This is what I call a professional punter not the high roller who has an income and gambles more for pleasure because he can afford it. These guys are dedicated and stick to their exit strategy of not being greedy and not chasing their lost money.

Shaking my head at the chasers

There are some people who prefer to play the even bets like red/black, odd/even and high/low.

I have seen them chase the unpredictability of the roulette wheel. They will wait until about five reds are out in a row and will assuredly bet on black thinking it’s odds on.

But one punter I watched learned a harsh lesson. After six black numbers came up he bet on red and lost. He then doubled his bet to get his first bet back again plus a win. He lost. He then tripled his bet and lost. This went on as he added to his bet each time to compensate for his loses, each time thinking it must be a red this time.

After 15 black numbers in a row he was rushing around trying to borrow from anyone he knew to place on red for the next spin. No luck, it was now 16 black numbers in a row and also he had reached the table’s maximum for the even bets therefore making it impossible to get his money back with one bet.

It is not my day.
It just was not his day.

By 20 black numbers in a row, his source of funds was exhausted and he stared at the wheel with the look of frustration and bewilderment at what was happening. This style is called “chasing” and it’s a dangerous way to gamble. But lucky for him he didn’t raise more money as the overall count for black numbers in a row came to 26, the most I have ever seen or heard of in 12 years working in the industry. I did feel sorry for him though.

He had fallen for the old gambler’s fallacy – the notion that because, in this case, the wheel had turned red five times in a row, the next result must surely be black. He failed to understand the basic mathematics behind probability – that there was still just as much chance of landing on red as there was black.

Deep pockets, high rollers, and casino management in sweats

Then there is the other 10%, the big money punters.

These are such big spenders certain casinos will invite them to come and play. In Sun City (South Africa) we, every now and then, would invite a junket of these big money players from Argentina. We’d fly them in put them up in the hotel and also feed them.

High rollers don't mess around, which makes hosting them a nervy experience for casino management
High rollers don’t mess around, which makes hosting them a nervy experience for casino management

This junket was a group of about ten big money Punto Banco players (a variant of baccarat) and we would have a table for them roped off in the Salon Prive.

It was a huge gamble for the casino and the managers would sweat and constantly hang around waiting on news wither the table was up or down.

Now, most provincial casinos don’t worry about the local big money player. The reason being is that if they win the casino knows he’ll be back again and they will eventually recoup the money over a period of time, thanks to the laws of averages.

But Sun City was a holiday destination casino and this was a junket from Argentina. Any big winners among them would mean that the money was gone, and gone for good. So when these guys were in town the whole casino was nervous.

None the less it usually turned out to be a good call by the casino who reaped the benefits of such a, let’s say, business venture.

A wise young head

The best punter – and you could say wisest punter – I ever saw was a young blackjack player in Sun City. He would always sit at the blackjack table near the entrance/exit of the casino.

Now, the Sun City casino was in a hotel complex and right outside the casino were shops and one of these was an upmarket men’s clothes shop. This young guy would sit and play for a while waiting till he was up and winning.

When he was up he’d take the amount he was up, cash it and run out to the clothes shop and buy an item to that value. This he did throughout the day until the shop closed. Many a time I’ve seen him walk out the casino arms full of bags of clothes, ties and belts. Mind you I have also seen him walk out with nothing – but it was a way of locking in his winnings – and look good doing it.

The vagaries of roulette

I’ve always been fascinated by the roulette punter especially the ones that look demented as they spread their chips all over the table in a mad, non-formatted way.

Despite spreading their usually one number was left uncovered. So many times I’ve witnessed the number the ball falls into is that one number they didn’t cover and they lose everything.

Another type of roulette punter is the one that plays one chip on one number, usually their favorite number. They sit their waiting with anticipation for the ball to drop in that number, which is all well and good if it does after about the seventh attempt, but after 35 spins without a hit they are no longer in a winning position.

For me the best way to play roulette is to pick a 5,6 or 7 numbered section of the wheel where you think the ball will drop. This is how I play when I go to a casino. Do I win? What do you think?

The casino punter, God bless them all.

Colin MacGregor was speaking to Luke Page.

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