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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Friend should try Shuffle Master's leg

16 May 2008

Dear Mark: I was sitting at a casino bar in casual conversation with another player who said that he was a card counter. I asked him why play here since this casino uses only continuous shuffle machines. He replied that he liked to play on them because it drew less scrutiny versus a hand- or shoe-dealt game. Funny thing was that he was broke and couldn't even buy a round of drinks. Was he pulling my leg? Tom D.

So let me get this straight, Tom. Here's a guy bellied up at the bar, tapped out and unable to by you a dollar draft, telling you he loves continuous shuffle machines because they draw less heat from pit bulls. Huh?

I remember reading a few years back that Shuffle Master, one of the manufacturers of continuous shufflers, offered $100,000 to any player who could show that a continuous shuffle machine could be beaten by either shuffle tracking or card counting techniques. What I haven't read is anyone ever collecting on that $100,000 challenge.

But thwarting card counters isn't the only reason casinos love continuous shuffle machines. What they like best about a constant shuffle machine is that dealers do not waste time manually shuffling the cards. From the casino's perspective, shuffling is time, and time is money -- their money.

The more hands you, the player, see per hour, the more you are exposed to the house edge, which allows the built-in casino advantage to eat away at the chips in front of you. It's for this reason, Tom, and not the ability to count down a deck or two that I'm no fan of continuous shuffle machines.

Dear Mark: If as you say, all spins are random, then how can a machine be set to return a certain percentage back to the player, especially machines that "supposedly" are advertised to return 98% back to the player? Tracy H.

Let's start with the premise that when a slot machine displays the outcome of any one particular spin, it hasn't been picking and choosing; it displays at a mechanically dictated moment, a randomly arrived-at member of a pre-defined pool of possible outcomes.

Now, Tracy, to guarantee a 98% return on a select machine, all the casino has to do is add up all the money the player could win on all of the equally likely outcomes, then divide that by the total number of all those possible outcomes, and out pops the payback percentage of that particular machine.

To radically simplify matters, imagine an undernourished, underprivileged machine with only 100 possible outcomes – although today's electronic gizmos actually have millions and millions – and the total amount of money you can win when you've hit them all is 98 dollars. Divide 98 by 100, and there's your 98% payback machine.

What happens over the long haul is that the odds of getting any particular outcome will get closer to 1 out of 100, and the amount of money the machine pays back will get nearer to 98% of the money wagered. But when you're dealing in real world slots, with millions and millions of possible outcomes, it doesn't necessarily mean that every time you sit in front of a slot machine and play through $100, you should expect to end up with 98 credits.

Dear Mark: Why shouldn't I insure my twenties against a dealer ace? It's darn near a guaranteed winner, so why not protect it? Zell R.

Who's holding at least two of the cards the dealer needs to make blackjack? YOU, Zell. When you insure a hand composed of two 10 cards you're giving the house a huge edge, up to a 14.3% edge on a single-deck game, making this one of the worst bets you can make in the casino.

Granted, when you do insure a pair of 10s, 30% of the time you'll save your wager, but 70% of the time you'll be throwing half that bet away. To me, that's a losing proposition every time.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "What's a whale?" he asked finally. Martinez clinked his glass against the window. "A whale is someone who can lose a million dollars at cards -- and not give a damn.' " --Ben Mezrich, Bringing Down the House

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.