In this series, I’m compiling some of the quips and one-liners that I’ll use with my students to hopefully make my lessons more memorable for them.

This is a story that I’ll tell after doing a couple of back-to-back central limit theorem problems. Here’s the first:

The chances of winning a column bet in roulette is 12/38. The bet pays 2 to 1, meaning that if you lose, you lose $1. However, if you win, you get your $1 back and $2 more. If this bet is made 1000 times, what is the probability of winning at least $0?

With my class, we solve this problem using standard techniques with the normal approximation:

.

Next, I’ll repeat the problem, except playing the game 10,000 times.

The chances of winning a column bet in roulette is 12/38. The bet pays 2 to 1, meaning that if you lose, you lose $1. However, if you win, you get your $1 back and $2 more. If this bet is made 10,000 times, what is the probability of winning at least $0?

The last three lines of the above calculation have to be changed:

.

In other words, the chance of winning drops dramatically. This is an example of the Law of Large Numbers: if you do something often enough, then what ought to happen eventually does happen.

As a corollary, if you’re going to bet at roulette, you should only bet a few times. And, I’ll tell my students, one Englishman took this to the (somewhat) logical extreme by going to Las Vegas and making the ultimate double-or-nothing bet, betting his entire life savings on one bet. After all, his odds of coming out ahead by making one bet were a whole lot higher than by making a sequence of bets.

Naturally, my students ask, “Did he win?” Here’s the video and the Wikipedia page:

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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