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Deal Me In: Distrust any shuffling machine that smiles at you

9 July 2011

Dear Mark: I would like to know if the shuffling machines, specifically the Shuffle Master, could be programmed/set to deal out certain kinds of hands like straights, flushes, 4-of-a-kinds on table games such as four-card poker, crazy four-card poker, three-card poker, etc? I've been told by dealers yes and no. I would appreciate any kind of answer that you have. Rhonda W.

The Shuffle Master machine, specifically designed to increase a casino's productivity, profitability and security, gives you a random shuffle, as indiscriminate as Yours Truly hand-shuffling, hand-pitching the cards. Since the Shuffle Master machine doesn’t have the artificial intelligence to know the order or value of the cards inserted, it can't know the order of the cards coming out. Some of Shuffle Master’s newer shoes, like the MD2 batch shuffler, offer card recognition, but that is for minimizing dealing errors and cheating, not for predetermining the hands to appear.

Besides, Rhonda, the casino doesn’t have a need for a programmable shuffling machine, since its built-in advantage on the games you mentioned is high enough. The house edge will work its magic and take care of itself.

Dear Mark: Some casinos use a shuffling machine on three-card poker and some do not. Is there any difference in the odds of the game? Dale P.

There is no difference in the odds between a hand-shuffled and a machine-shuffled game. Some casinos just feel the investment in a shuffling machine isn’t worth the expenditure.

What you do get with a hand-shuffled game, Dale, is fewer hands per hour. With a shuffle machine, dealers do not waste time manually shuffling cards. From the casino’s perspective, shuffling is labor-time, and labor-time is money. The more hands you are dealt per hour at this faster clip, the more you are exposed to the built-in casino advantage, potentially wreaking havoc on your wallet.

Dear Mark: I play the don’t pass system in craps and back two bets. Your thoughts. Lew L.

First, Lew, if you are comparing it to a pass line bet, then yes, the don’t pass bet (seven rolling before the point) is a “marginally” better wager — a 1.4 percent casino advantage versus the pass line’s 1.41 percent, making it one of the better bets the house offers. Goosing your wager by "laying odds" for your don't pass bet can reduce the house edge down to 0.124 percent on a 10x odds game.

Because the difference in casino advantage between the two wagers is so minuscule, I have always advocated a pass line bet with odds, mostly because I enjoy peer play, where almost all the bettors battle the casino together, win or lose. But by all means, Lew, if you want to go to the don’t pass side, do it. There is nothing wrong with being a wrong bettor and laying odds.

Dear Mark: Is a buy bet at craps a decent wager? Mark S.

A buy bet, Mark, is pretty much the same as a place bet except that you pay a commission of 5 percent on the amount of your wager. If you win, the casino will pay you at the true odds, minus, of course, the 5 percent.

Since a buy bet does nothing more than give the house a 5 percent commission for paying you correct odds on a winning bet, I cannot affirm the ‘buy’ bet as recommended play. I suggest you stick with wagers that give the house less than a two percent advantage, like the place bet itself, a pass line bet with odds, or Lew’s favorite (above), a don’t wager and laying odds.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “We would sit there, growing filthy together, handing out cards and the dirty plastic chips, trying not to bite our nails for fear of what had lodged itself beneath them.” --Katy Lederer, Read'Em and Weep
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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.