Credit Card Roulette 101: How to Play and Win


If you haven’t heard of the fabled game of “credit card roulette,” it’s pretty simple.

When you’re dining out with friends, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, instead of paying for your fair share, you take an all or nothing gamble.

Here’s how it works. When the waiter or waitress brings the bill, diners must pull out a credit card (or debit card) of their choice. Each card is then thrown into the “pot,” aka the plush leather thingy that holds the receipt. Or silver tray. Whatever the vessel may be…

Anyway, it is then up to the server to decide who gets picked. The individual who gets picked is not the winner, but rather the person who will foot the entire bill.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate credit card roulette in action:

Number of diners: 7
Your fair share: $30
Total bill: $210

Instead of paying your $30 and walking off on your merry way, you decide rather imprudently to take a chance at paying absolutely nothing.

For the record, in the scenario above you’d have a 1/7 probability of losing, or roughly 14%. And you’d have an 86% chance of winning. So the odds are in your favor, so to speak.

But if you’re not prepared to throw down more than $200, it’s not wise to participate.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Roulette

As you can see from the preceding example, one major advantage is that the odds are in your favor to win, especially when there are more people involved in the “game.”

If you’re only playing with 3-4 friends, the odds will get quite a bit worse, though you will pay for fewer people if you lose.

Another advantage is that you’ll receive good karma if you pay for all your friends. Even though everyone involved may have “lost,” if it happens to be you, people will give you a lot of love, at least for an hour or two.

Conversely, if you win, and your friends lose out, they might be in a sour mood for a while, especially if they have a knack for losing.

And if you keep winning, you’ll probably feel pretty bad after a while too, so it’s probably not the best game to play on a regular basis.

Of course, if you only play once, the person who loses will harbor resentment for years to come. You’ll never hear the end of it.

Tips to Win the Game

If you’re cutthroat and don’t care how people will react, here are a few tips to maximize your value.

– Use a nondescript card that will fly under the radar
– Use a Discover or American Express card because not all restaurants accept them
– If you’re really shady, use an even more obscure card
– Use a rewards card, that way you’ll at least earn points or cash back
– Use a 0% APR card so you can amortize the costs if you lose
– Avoid high-cost games with few players
– Join low-cost games with many players
– Play during breakfast or lunch, when alcohol doesn’t pump up the bill
– Consider playing if you spent more than everyone else
– Use that one card of yours with the faulty magnetic strip (just kidding)

So there it is. A little rundown on how to play the game and increase your odds of winning without losing your shirt.

Remember, cheaters never prosper, so play nice. And if you lose, don’t take it personally. It just wasn’t in the cards.

(photo: Heather R)

By Colin Robertson

Colin created this blog after spending several years in a job that required him to scour credit reports on a daily basis. His goal is to help individuals better understand their credit and get the most out of credit cards.

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