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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Negative expectations we cherish and suffer

24 October 2008

Dear Mark: Although I seldom win anything, I do enjoy playing video keno. Is there any advice you could give me to improve my chances of winning? Kaye S.

The reason you seldom win anything, Kaye, is because keno is a negative-expectation game that has a higher casino edge than most games the casino has to offer. On the plus side, with video keno, the medium house advantage compared to that in a live keno game is much lower. For a live keno game it's 28%, whereas with video keno it is 7.5%.

Why lower you ask? Video keno simply has better pay tables, but that doesn't necessarily mean video keno is a better entertainment deal for the evening. At $1 a ticket, the most you could lose on a live game over an hour is about $15, that being the average number of games called per hour. A typical video keno player can burn through $15 worth of quarters in mere minutes.

Which leads me to my first bit of advice. Only bet what you can afford to lose. And just as important, the slower you play, the less hard-earned money you'll put through the shredder.

Also, Kaye, hunt for the highest-paying pay tables. Scrutinize each pay table to find which one gives you the lowest house edge. Oh yeah, and don't forget to use your slot club card to offset the losses you can, no, will, experience on such a negative-expectation game.

As for strategy, sorry, Kaye, but like the emperor's new clothes, there isn't any. The numbers are chosen at random and each draw is independent, so playing providential numbers you think are lucky, or numbers you feel are "due," just doesn't work. (A friend of a friend uses the numbers out of fortune cookies, but he borrows bus fare to go home.)

Dear Mark: Between these three games, three-card poker, Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride, which game offers the player the best bet? Tom G.

Although it lacks a progressive jackpot, as does Caribbean Stud, or decent-sized payoff for a royal as in Let It Ride in a casino environment, I would recommend of the three, three-card poker, simply because the casino advantage is lower on select bets among the three games you mentioned.

With Caribbean Stud, the best you can hope for is a casino edge of about 5.2% based on the player's ante wager, or 2.6% based on the ante and call bet. As for the progressive wager, the average house edge is over 26%, depending, of course, on the size of the jackpot.

As for Let it Ride, even if you played the game flawlessly, the casino's edge on Let-It-Ride is 3.51%. And, oh! let's keep track of those Let It Ride side bets where for $1 you are offered an additional payoff with certain paying hands; those bets carry a double-digit casino advantage.

As regards three-card poker, it depends on whether you like your cards or not; I'll rephrase that — on whether you should like your cards. The house edge is 3.37% against the Ante alone, but only 2.01% against your queen-6-4, if you decide to make the Play bet. With a Pair Plus wager, the casino advantage is slightly higher at 2.32%.

As you can see, Tom, three-card poker offers better wagers for the player, and although the casino advantage is above my suggested "never make a wager that has higher than a 2% house edge," it is tolerable and easy to learn, and plenty of players find it fun to play.

However, you knew this was coming, didn't you? … You might want to think about giving mini-baccarat a try, or even blackjack, using perfect basic strategy. Each has a house edge well under 2%, beating the bejeebers out of all the table games mentioned above.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "No matter what our character, no matter what our behavior, no matter if we are ugly, unkind, murderers, saints, guilty sinners, foolish, or wise, we can get lucky." Mario Puzo, Inside Las Vegas (1976)

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.