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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Las Vegas Shakedown (1955)

Julie Rae (Coleen Gray) is on a bus to Las Vegas, and is talking to the woman in the seat next to her about the new book she is about to write.
WOMAN: And the new one. Is it a novel?
JULIE: No. It’s technical. You see, I’m a mathematics teacher.
WOMAN: Oh. What’s the name of the new one?
JULIE: “Why You Can’t Win”.
WOMAN: Don’t you dare breathe a word of that in Las Vegas.

Julie is talking to Joe Barnes (Dennis O’Keefe), the owner of the casino El Rancho Vegas.
JULIE: Well, I was going to tell you I was here to study the arithmetic of gambling odds.
JOE: Well, that would be a pretty stuffy reason for coming here, wouldn’t it?
JULIE: In certain quarters I’m considered to be a fairly stuffy person.
JOE: I was sent here to do research for a book. It’s something technical, to be called “Why You Can’t Win”.
JOE: Well anyone can win. If you try.
JULIE: But I don’t think you understand. I am trying to prove to the public, mathematically, that over a period of time, there’s a fractional percentage in favor of the house.
JOE: Oh, you can say that again.
REMARKS: The mathematical point behind Julie’s book is of course well known.

Ernest Raff (Charles Winninger), is gambling with a system at craps, and is looking at his notes. He is beign watched by another gambler, Wheeler Reid (James Millican).
CROUPIER: Would you like to make a bet, Mr. Raff.
MR. RAFF: Yes, uh two hundred on the line, and um one hundred each on six and eight. Give me insurance against craps. And a fifty dollar flier on odds for eleven.
CROUPIER: How about your place bets, Mr. Raff?
MR. RAFF: Oh. Yeah. Place bets. He looks at his notes. Off on the come out.
WHEELER: Gimme more chips. (To Mr. Raff). I don’t know how you do it.
MR. RAFF: Oh, it’s very simple! Mental tabulation of the calculated risk from one throw to the other, compounded by existing odds, and allowing subtraction quota for the marginal percentage that inclines towards the house. Now for instance …
WHEELER: Never mind, Einstein. Wheeler throws the dice.
CROUPIER: Eleven a winner. Mr. Raff wins and Wheeler loses.
REMARKS: The mathematical expressions Mr. Raff uses make some sense, but his system is of course complete nonsense.

Mr. Raff is talking to his wife (Elizabeth Patterson) about their unwanted winnings.
MR. RAFF: What goes up, must come down. I’ll gamble a few more hours and I’ll lose.
MRS. RAFF: Are you sure?
MR. RAFF: Why it’s mathematical breakage, the laws of economics.

Mr. Raff and Mrs. Raff have come to talk to Mr. Barnes about their winnings.
MR. RAFF: It’s about a system of mathematical computation that I’ve devised to strengthen the player risk against the house percentage. A little flaw here and then, but I won consistently. But when I wanted to lose, I reversed the system.
MRS. RAFF: And that’s where the whole thing broke down. He just went right on winning.