Updated April 3, 2013

Credit Card Roulette: How to Play and Win

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Want a chance to win a free meal at a restaurant? If you like games of chance, credit card roulette offers both a rush and potential savings. It's a simple game that ends in almost everyone eating for free. That is, everyone but the person who loses, the one who gets stuck with the whole table's bill.

Here are the rules of the game, some best practices for playing, and a few tips to increase your odds of winning.

The Rules

The only common rule in credit card roulette is that the “loser” must pay the entire bill, while everyone else gets to eat for free. Two variations exist on how that unlucky person is selected.

In the first variation, a group of credit cards is handed to someone not involved in the game. The selector is usually the waiter or waitress, or possibly someone from another table. That person randomly selects one card, whose owner must pay for everyone’s meal.

The second variation involves more suspense. One by one, the cards are removed from the pile until just one remains, as everyone anxiously awaits the outcome. Again, the owner of that last remaining card foots the bill.

Selection is usually blind, meaning the person choosing the card either reaches into a hat or chooses a card from the pile without looking.

Best Practices

Credit Card Roulette
Credit Card Roulette © CreditDonkey

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re playing credit card roulette:

  • You should never risk more than you’re willing to lose: If you know the bill is going to be too expensive for you to pay, don’t play. Take yourself out of the game by offering to cover your own meal and then let everyone else play to see who’ll pay the balance of the check.

  • Play at lunch: A lunch check is likely to be much cheaper than a dinner check.

  • Use a rewards card: If you do happen to lose, try to pay with a rewards card that gives you cash back or other benefits from making purchases. This will decrease the amount you end up spending.

  • Don’t be a sore loser: The excitement over thinking you’ll get a free meal can quickly wash away if you see your credit card is the last one standing. Despite any sinking feeling you may get from being the loser, act cool and pay up – and know you’ll have some time before you really have to pay the bill, when your credit card statement comes due.

How to Win

Here are some tips to increase your chances of winning credit card roulette:

  1. Use a plain credit card: Even though most games of credit card roulette involve blind selection, it’s a good idea to enter a card that looks like everyone else’s. A colorful card or one that has a personalized image is more likely to catch the attention of the selector – even accidentally – and is therefore more likely to be picked.

  2. Play with a lot of people: The more people who play, the better your chance of winning. Playing with only one other person means there is a 50% chance you’ll lose – with 20 people you’ll lose only 5% of the time. In other words, you chance of getting a free meal goes from 50% to 95%. With more people, there’s an important downside, however – a bigger bill. Your chances of losing in a game with 50 people playing may be very small, but you could have to pay a bill costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

  3. Order the most expensive meal: Ordering the priciest meal at the table means that if you win, you get more food for free than the other people at the table. It also means that if you lose, a larger percentage of the total bill would have been yours to pay anyway. “Winnings” in credit card roulette are measured by the amount you pay vs. the value of the food you ate, so in the long run consistently ordering the most expensive meal will increase your chances of having a positive winnings total.

Odds and Statistics

For frequent players, credit card roulette could, in theory, even out the cost paid by everyone in the long run. If the same group of people plays the game repeatedly on bills that stay fairly same in price, it’s possible that everyone will lose at some point. This means that the cost, over time, to every player won’t be much different than if each person had just paid his or her share of each bill. Unless you have a tight group that dines out regularly, however, you’re unlikely to see this turnout.

If blind selection is used, credit card roulette truly is a game of chance. This means that your chance of losing can be found by dividing 100% by the number of people playing. Your chance of winning is 100% minus your chance of losing. For example, in a game with four people, you have a 25% chance of losing and a 75% chance of winning.

Like any form of gambling, credit card roulette has a great upside if you win but can be costly if you don’t. For people who enjoy risk, the game can be a fun way to possibly get a free meal. But before you agree to play, make sure you can afford to lose.

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