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Deal Me In: Michigan gamblers out of luck on info

6 November 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Is it my imagination, or have the casinos in Detroit tightened up the percentages won by them? Before building the new casinos, my husband and I seemed to have more luck than we do in their newer ones. Not only that, but they didn't bring over some of our favorite quarter machines. Dorothy D.

Dear Mark: Could you please supply me with a figure as to the return on slot machines on Indian reservations in Michigan? Robby B.

Unfortunately, Dorothy, and you also, Robby, I can't provide you with percentages won or return figures for Michigan casinos, because no public information is available regarding payback percentages on Detroit's gambling machines, and the Indian casinos of Michigan are not required by law to release information on their slot machine percentage paybacks. Nonetheless, according to the Michigan Racing Commission, which is responsible for regulating the tribes' slot machines, the casinos must meet the same standards for machines as in New Jersey or Nevada. In New Jersey the minimum return is 83%; in Nevada it's 75%. Thus, Michigan Indian casinos must return at least 75% in order to comply with the law, which, at that rate of return, suggests you might as well mail in your money and save the travel costs. Luckily, what cures minimal returns is a dose of healthy competition. With Detroit's three casinos, Caesars Windsor and tribal gaming throughout the state, there is some, but with competition today being so fierce for your entertainment greenback, it really is a shame that Michigan doesn't allow you to compare returns from Casino A versus Casino B.

Moreover, Michigan just so happens to be one of the few states that doesn't report returns. For example, in Nevada, they break the returns down to geographic areas, like the Strip whose quarter machines return 91.09% versus Downtown's higher return of 94.42%. In states like Illinois, figures from the Illinois Gaming Board tell me the average slot payback percentage on all slot machines for individual casinos. For instance, the Alton Belle averages 93.61% a year.

So folks, for those of you who gamble outside the Great Lake state, percentage returns are public information and can usually be found in your local paper, so, let me scream here, SHOP FOR VALUE!

Back to you, Dorothy, and where did those favorite quarter machines of yours go? Well, in the eyes of the Casino Wizard, aka the slot manager, slot machines need to show reasonable results or their replacement is inevitable. A slot machine's performance is measured in two ways: the value of coins wagered daily ("coin in") and the value collected daily by the casino ("win"). Possibly the performance of the machines that you enjoyed playing was not up to par, or, they simply weren't the newest, latest greatest, one-armed bandits, and the slot manager decided a change in the slot mix was needed.

Dear Mark: My wife and I are headed back to Las Vegas in November. I usually play video poker and craps. I'm going to play some three card poker during this trip. I've been practicing playing on a web site, but your insight on some basic strategy would definitely help. I'm not sure if always placing a bet on the "Pairs Plus" spot " is the smart play. Craig L.

Stick with this simple betting strategy, Craig. Only make the "play" wager if you have at least a queen, six, and a four in your hand. By using this approach, the house edge on the "ante" wager is about 2.1%.

Although placing a bet on the "Pairs Plus" has a slightly higher casino edge of 2.3%, it's tolerable, and worth an occasional play.

Oh, and while I'm at it, Craig, don't forget searching out the best paytables for video poker and use basic strategy. With craps, limit your play to a pass line bet with odds or placing the six and/or eight. All the wagers recommended won't necessarily guarantee you'll leave Las Vegas with a small fortune. For that you'd start with a large one. But it should keep you in action longer, and yes, give you some fun while you're there.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." --Winston Churchill

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.