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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: But look at all the snow they got

28 January 2011

Dear Mark: An AP article reported that blackjack players at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, November 2009, bought $15.1 million worth of chips and lost $2.1 million to the casino for a casino "hold" of 13.9 percent. In November 2010, players bought $20.2 million and lost $6.4 million for a casino "hold" of 31.8 percent. If using perfect basic playing strategy, and the player is supposed to lose about 0.5 percent to the house, what do I not understand here? Ray F.

Those hold figures, the amount the casino held as profit, caught my eye as well, as they crossed the wire, and yet, that high hold number from one casino at blackjack was the only positive of an otherwise dismal month revenue-wise in Atlantic City.

Monthly revenues overall were down 12.5 percent from a year ago, and for the four Atlantic City casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp, they were down 26.1 percent. A national recession and casino competition from the contiguous states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York continue to be George Forman KO punches for the nation's second-largest gambling market.

Yes, Ray, the Tropicana Casino and Resort posted an 11.2 overall percent gain, but the tax documents filed with the commission credited much of the increase to an exceptionally lucky streak by the casino at blackjack. Fluctuations are inherent to gambling and swings that large do happen. A whale dumping a boatload of cash on a table game can also skew the hold number upwards, although that is usually with baccarat and not blackjack.

As for players losing only 0.5 percent to the house if they use perfect basic strategy, well, less than 1 percent effectively employs it. The average Joe or Josephine gives back 5 percent plus.

Then there's the grind down. This is where the casino eventually wins far more than 5 percent of the player's money, due to the combination of the built-in advantage it has at blackjack and the players' self-defeating tendency to churn their initial bankrolls.

The casino knows that typical players don't play through their money just once, but keep on playing their chips over and over again during the course of their stay.

For example, let's say you are the run-of-the-mill player and buy in for $100 worth of chips. With the expected loss of, "in theory," 5 percent ($5) over the course of your first hour, your original bankroll is reduced to $95.

Ah, but the casino looks forward to your playing that $95, so after another hour goes by you are sitting with $90 and change. Play the $90, and you'll have just $85. What the house is doing, Ray, is grinding away at your original Ben Franklin, and at the same time adding to its overall hold.

Now, just because any casino's drop has been reduced significantly, due to the current economic climate and/or competition, your chances of winning are not. Continue, Ray, to play perfect basic strategy and discipline yourself to pocket your winnings. Get those winning chips off the felt and out of play. Your windfall shouldn't be part of any casino statistical hold.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "A few wear mirrored sunglasses like the pros. At most tables in this room, that's like wearing driving gloves to pilot a station wagon." --Shea Dean, Reader's Digest
Recent Articles
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.