NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - "Place your bets. Place your bets."
It was an odd roulette wheel. Labeled "S&P," it had 500 slots. There were others nearby that were even larger. It was a strange casino I was in.
But, hey, here to play, right?
I moved my chip toward Red 19 -- an old favorite play of mine.
"Psst, not that one," the croupier said.
The croupier responded, smiling in his white shirt and black vest. "The ball hasn't been hitting in that area all night. It's in a slump. We'd advise a higher number for your current portfolio. Perhaps something in the mid-300's, based on our research."
"Ah, aren't you just supposed to be taking my chips if I lose and giving more back if I win? A go-between for me and Lady Luck?"
"That's just one service I provide," said Smiling Croupier. "But we feel it's important to provide research and advice with our basic, ah, brokerage services. After all, you want to make an informed choice, right?" He leaned close. "Hey, 10 years ago I'd only be giving the real high-rollers this advice. But with so many people coming into the casino these days, well ... share the wealth, right?"
I shrugged and put my chip on Black 358. I lost.
"Your advice wasn't too good."
"Well, unfortunately there is an element of risk. But if you want more research, aside from mine, you might want try the new independent research we provide." He pointed at a far corner of the casino. "Those folks don't work the tables. They just provide picks." I wandered over. There were several women sitting at tables. Some had crystal balls in front of them. Others had tarot cards.
"Would you like a research reading?" asked the nearest one.
"Does it cost anything?"
"Why no, dear," she smiled. "The casino provides this service free of charge. It's part of making sure that bettors have different sources of information." She started shuffling. "It was part of some sort of agreement with the local law." She began dealing.
"What do the cards say?"
"That you should bet on winning numbers."
"Uh-huh. A quick question. Does everyone use you guys?"
"A fair number do -- those on a budget and whatnot. But a few well-heeled folks just use that gentleman over there." She pointed at an older man walking among the tables with an abacus.
I caught up with him.
"Hi, I hear you're the man when it comes to figuring out what to bet on."
He kept his eye on the tables and his fingers on the abacus.
More oddity? Click above
"Yes, maybe ...," he mumbled. "You keep track of probabilities and percentages. Cycles. You can make educated guesses." He glanced sideways at me. "You bet on Black 358 not long ago, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah ..."
"That was silly. You knew high numbers had been on a tear, so a low number was due," he chided. "And a small bettor like you is foolish to make single, long-shot bets anyway. Better to make broad, sector plays. Like colors, even and odd, number ranges. More diversified that way. Better chance of winning no matter what comes up. Not guaranteed, mind you, but safer."
I thought about it a minute. He made sense.
"Hey look, can you give me some advice about what to play next?"
"Sure, do you have $10,000?"
"That's how much I charge."
"I wouldn't make that much if I won the bet!"
"At your level -- a chip here, a chip there -- probably not. If you were a bigger bettor though, it might pay off. Or if you made smaller bets simultaneously in a variety of ways -- by colors or ranges -- as well as individual numbers, it could pay off as well. Believe me, while I don't have a lot of customers, I have some very satisfied and well-paying ones."
He started to move off then stopped and leaned back toward my ear. "Including, I may add, him." Abacus man was pointing at the pit boss. "Anyway, my customers don't like to share what they pay for. They especially don't like to give it away for free."
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn. He can be e-mailed here.