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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Anything can and will happen

21 September 2007

Dear Mark: During a recent trip to Tunica, I played extensively on a $1 video blackjack machine (max bet $5). As long as I bet $1 and used basic blackjack strategy, I did fairly well. The moment I bet $3, $4 or $5 (but stayed with the same playing strategy), my percentage of wins plummeted and the dealer's natural blackjacks increased exponentially. Are video blackjack machines programmed to recognize the larger amount bet for the purposes of increasing the prevailing house edge for that hand? R.C.R.

Can video blackjack machines be programmed to recognize a larger amount bet and then stiff you accordingly? YES. Are they on the casino floor as we speak? NO!

Technology does exist for machines to be set to act other than randomly. Such machines can be programmed to avoid giving you those elusive blackjacks, giving the house a much bigger advantage. But those machines are illegal in Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi, where you played, and most other gaming jurisdictions that pattern their gaming regulations after the above-mentioned states.

Like all of today's cybernetic slots, video blackjack machines use a random number generator (RNG) software algorithm to determine the game's outcome. The number of coins played cannot influence the end result.

What I would like to discuss is your gambling timeline. Your gambling timeline was possibly limited to maybe hundreds of hands of blackjack, not millions, so any percentage return, can, and will happen. The Law of Averages does not have time to work during such a brief casino visit. That said, you should never put your faith in the heady fantasy that happy aberrations in gambling odds will happen, even in games that carry the smallest house edge, like blackjack with your crafty play.

Dear Mark: If I were to insert a $100 bill in a dollar slot machine where they advertised a return of 98%, how much on average would I have to run through the machine before I would go totally broke? I ask because this past weekend I played through $100 in less than 10 minutes. Marty C.

First, Marty, see above where I talk about a gambling timeline as to why your billfold took a lickin' lickety-split; then here's the simple formula for your question. Take your initial investment ($100) and divide it by the house edge (2%). In this case the answer is $100/0.02 = $5,000. But due to the high volatility of slot machines and your gambling timeline being so short, apparently anything DID happen.

Dear Mark: On a lot of video poker machines, four deuces through four fours pay higher than four fives through four kings. Why would lower hands pay higher? Aren't the odds of getting a four-of-a-kind the same, and kings worth more than deuces? Jan L.

Yes, Jan, with a 52-card deck and four of each card, the odds are the same for any four-of-a-kind appearing.

The reason that four threes pay more than four queens is presumably because a lot of players don't keep their low cards as often, therefore, four threes will come up less frequently than four queens. They're banking on your behavior of discarding those lower cards to make it easier for them to pay a bigger bonus for those low fours-of-a-kind.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Once the courts decided it was legal for Indians to build casinos on their lands, Indians have been gleefully making Mr. Paleface pay for the wrongs he's done to native people over the years." --Barry Meadows, "Blackjack Autumn"

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.