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Top 10 Don Catlin columns

18 January 2016

Casino City was sad to learn that one of our own Gaming Gurus, Don Catlin, passed away last week.

Don was a monthly columnist for us. A professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Don knew the odds of any given casino game better than nearly anyone — and he wasn't afraid to show it. He peppered his columns with mathematical formulas that were far beyond this English major's comprehension. But his straightforward, in-depth approach won him plenty of fans, including me. While I may not completely understand the calculations, I do appreciate that he "showed his work" and I knew I could trust his conclusions.

His monthly column was of course, just a small part of Don's very full life. Our condolences go out to his children, grandchildren, and other friends and family.

This week, we dedicate our top 10 to the memory of Don Catlin with a look back at some of his most popular columns.

10. $3 craps versus $5 craps
In 2010, a craps dealer from Nevada wrote Don asserting that a $3 craps table actually stands to produce more revenue than a $5 table. You might be surprised by Don's assessment of the situation.

9. The Liberty Bell and the Liberty Belle: An interview with Marshall Fey – Part I
Don sat down with Marshall Fey, whose grandfather, Charles Fey, invented the modern-day slot machine, to talk about his grandfather's legacy. This story was the first of a two-part series published in 2007.

8. All Small, All Tall, All or Nothing
In 2011, when Don received word that there was a new wager on the craps table at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Resort, he couldn't resist running a simulation to figure out the house edge.

7. Non-random randomness – Part I
Don wrote this fascinating history and analysis of random number generators in 2002. Given how frequently our gurus are asked about RNGs, it's no surprise that this column stands the test of time.

6. Is there a true winning betting system for craps?
In one of his last columns for Casino City, Don says that while craps can offer some of the best bets in the casino, players should avoid thinking there's a system to win, and those who "insist on believing this fallacy" will "have to learn the hard way."

5. Blackjack variance
When you write a column that includes mathematical proofs, the questions you get from readers will end up being pretty advanced. In 2007, a reader asked Don how standard deviation in blackjack changes when a player bets multiple hands. Don does his best work getting to the answer, and as always, he shows his work every step of the way.

4. Taking odds in craps
Don details how taking odds in craps can reduce the house edge. This column from 2003 is full of charts to illustrate the point.

3. Calculating a hold percentage
Don goes deep into the math to show that while you can't change the house edge on a bet in a casino, the hold can be changed by altering your level of play and goal. Published in 2000, this story continues to be one of Don's most popular articles.

2. The end of a story
In this column from 2009, Don provides a fascinating account of a man who tipped a waitress with a lottery ticket that turned out to be a $10 million winner. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it didn't quite turn out like the Hollywood version, It Could Happen to You.

1. How long is a craps roll?
Written in early 2000, Don puts his extensive mathematical knowledge to good use in this column, explaining how long the average roll on a craps table takes.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.