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Gaming Guru

Larry Mak


28 October 1999

Here are the origins of some casino gambling terms:

During the American colonial period, a "house" referred to a merchant's place of business. And a customer who could talk a merchant into giving him a better price could literally boast that he had "beaten the house." In today's usage, "house" refers to a place of business (on the house), a place of entertainment (bring down the house), and a gambling establishment.

Name of the ultra-luxe 1.6 billion dollar megaresort located on an 8.36 acre lake on the Las Vegas Strip. It was modeled after the tourist/resort town of Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy.

The management interprets Bellagio as Italian for "elegant relaxation." But the true derivation is from the Italian bello = nice, beautiful + agio = comfort.

Builder of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Born in 1906 in Brooklyn as Benjamin Siegel, he became a grammar-school dropout, petty thief, and a full-time mobster with his own gang. He was known for flying into an insane rage at the slightest provocation and would beat up or kill anyone who threatened or angered him in any way.

In the 1930's, insane asylums were called bughouses and their inmates bugs. Hence the nickname Bugsy. Siegel hated the name Bugsy and no one dared call him that to his face. "My friends call me Ben," he would caution. He was slain on June 20, 1947, by a 30-30 carbine fired through a window of the rented Beverly Hills mansion of his girl friend, Virginia Hill, known in gangland by Siegel's pet name for her--Flamingo.

It was rumored that Siegel was downsized by East Coast mob investors, who suspected that he was using the massive cost overruns in the construction of the Flamingo to cheat them. The estimated cost was $1.5 million. Final cost was $6 million (about $22 million in 1999 dollars).

The word "casino" is from the Italian meaning "little house." In Italy, it is also used to refer to a gambling house and to a house of ill repute. Probably in the belief that the end result in either place is the same.

A favorable margin or advantage. In a casino, the house edge refers to the small advantage (expressed in percentage) the casino has on every bet made. The higher the house edge, the lower the chances of winning.

A simple example. A and B decide to flip a coin. Each time A loses, he gives B $1.00. Each time A wins, B gives him 90 cents. So B has a 10% edge over A. This basically is how a casino stays in business. It takes in more money than it gives out. So it's easy to see that if you keep playing a slot with a 92% payback (8% house edge) you'll eventually lose all your $$$.

In math parlance it's called a "negative expectation" game. You can occasionally win in a negative expectation game. But the longer you play, the more likely you're going to end up losing. The house always wins in the long run.

Literally, a four flusher is a poker player who tries to pass off a four-card flush as a winning hand. Say a player is dealt three hearts, a spade and a club. He discards the spade and the club and draws two more cards, a heart and a diamond.

When he shows his hand, he calls it a flush and lays it down without spreading it out completely. The four hearts show, but just a comer of the diamond. He can get away with it if the players aren't alert. If he's questioned, he can pass it off as an honest mistake.

The lake was discovered in 1844 by soldier-surveyor, John C. Fremont, while on a government surveying mission. It was called by several names before finally being named Tahoe - from an Indian word meaning "big water.

In the 1830's, Las Vegas served as a watering stop and comfort station for Spanish pack trains along the Old Spanish Trail (Santa Fe, NM, to Los Angeles). It was prized for its lush meadows, watered by a creek that rose from a series of bubbling springs. Las Vegas in Spanish means "the meadows." From the full Spanish place name, Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas (Our Lady of Sorrows of the Meadows).

The gambling industry's term for the steel tray at the bottom of the slot. The loud chain-like rattle of coins dropping into it is meant to remind everyone within earshot that money does indeed talk.

In Greek, the word megas has two meanings: (1) of large size as in megaresort and megajackpot. And (2) one million. Ed Rogich, an executive director of International Game Technology, maker of Megabucks, said that the original Megabucks machine was so named because the top prize was one million dollars. But with today's multimillion-dollar jackpots, the first meaning of large size applies.

Refers to gambling on the Internet. An acronym derived from Network gAMBLING. It brings gambling into the home via a computer screen. It's also called cyberspace gambling.

A Spanish word meaning "snow-capped." The name Spanish explorers gave to the snow-capped mountain ranges in the northern part of the state.

A term that refers to the ratio of losses to wins. Example. In a game where the odds are expressed as 7 to 1, you have 7 chances to lose and 1 to win. Not a good game to play.

In the Old West, two professional bandits were playing a rigged slot machine. After losing heavily, one crook said to the other, "Boy, with a machine like this, you don't need a gun to hold up anyone. "Yeah." replied the other crook. "And it only has one arm too!" --Apocryphal.

Here's another apocryphal but more plausible origin. In the 1930's, a slot machine operator was arrested and tried for operating a gambling device. The judge, when sentencing the man, referred to the slot as a one-armed bandit. And the name stuck.

The city of Reno was founded in 1868 during construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. It was named after Jesse Lee Reno, a Union general killed in the Civil War.

The French word for wheel is "roule." By adding the diminutive suffix "ette," you get "roulette" or "little wheel."

The slimy grime that blackens your hands after 20 minutes or so of coin play.

In Latin, "video" is a verb form meaning "I see." Its use in a video game refers to the computer-generated images of cards, cartoon characters, ghostly hands, etc., a player sees displayed on a viewing screen. The sound and musical effects produced by a slot are referred to as "audio." From the Latin "audio," meaning "I hear."

Larry Mak
Larry Mak is a former science writer at the California Institute of Technology and he is currently a freelance gaming author.

Books by Larry Mak:

Larry Mak
Larry Mak is a former science writer at the California Institute of Technology and he is currently a freelance gaming author.

Books by Larry Mak: