Henry Martingale

The gambling practice of “doubling up on a loss” had been around for at least half a century before it was given its current name. According to the memoirs of Venetian adventurer Giacomo Girolamo “Casanova” de Seingalt (1725~1798), this simple betting progression was in vogue at the original Ridotto Casino as early as 1754. Casanova wrote of doubling the size of his wager after every loss until his bet eventually won.
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Nevertheless, the betting system is not referred to as “Casanova.” Instead, it was named after “Henry Martingale,” the supposed proprietor of an 18th century British gambling house. Even though it is clear that the Englishman didn’t invent this system of wagering, he allegedly promoted its use among customers. As a result, the practice of “doubling up on a loss” has been associated with the Briton ever since.

A Product of the Times

Not much is known about “Mr. Martingale.” In fact, most historians believe that nobody by that name ever existed. Instead, they point to a Henry “Martindale,” who was rather prominent in London’s gambling circles, operating a West End gambling house during the late 1700s.

In those days, Britain’s passion for gambling was insatiable. According to Project Muse, the rage for playing games of chance “obsessed all classes of society, including men and women of the Whig elite, such as Charles James Fox and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire … who could bet and lose the modern equivalent of millions at a night’s play.” Of particular notoriety were the so-called “Faro ladies,” such as the Countess of Buckinghamshire and Lady Sarah Archer, who set up illegal Faro tables in the houses of prominent women of fashion. Martindale reportedly served the upper-class ladies as a “celebrated dealer.” He was known for urging losing punters to “double ‘em up” with their wagers.

According to one report, Martindale was an ambitious man, who deeply desired a seat in Parliament. He may have believed that his high-brow contacts could help him. However, concerns of gambling money being used to influence politicians and magistrates eventually resulted in a government crackdown on illicit games. In 1797, Martindale was arrested, tried and convicted of managing illegal gambling tables. After being fined £200, he was never heard of again.

Working the System

Just how “Martindale” became “Martingale” in reference to the betting system is not clear, although it could have something to do with probability theory, in which “martingale” refers to “a model of a fair game where knowledge of past events will never help to predict future winnings.” Whatever the case may be, easy math is the main reason the Martingale Betting System achieved such fame and has lasted so long.

If a player simply continues doubling a bet until it succeeds, all losses prior to the win will be recouped, yielding a profit equivalent to the amount initially wagered. The system can readily be applied to outside bets at Roulette, Pass/Don’t Pass line bets at the Craps table and Banker/Player bets at Baccarat. It even finds a place in sports betting, where markets offered at Evens are quite common.

Martingale betting increases from 1 unit initially to 2 units and then 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, etc., doubling up on a loss, until a winner eventually comes up. Since the odds of a winner are quite near 50:50 for most “even money” wagers, it should not take too many bets for success to be realized. Unfortunately, there can be no guarantee that nine consecutive losses will not occur, which could put the player at huge risk. In short, it is a progression that is as dangerous as it is easy to play. It typically results in big losses at some point if used exclusively as a primary betting strategy.

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