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Gaming Guru

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Deal Me In: R stands for right, rong, or ravishing

5 November 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I read one of your columns online where you wrote; "speed kills in a casino environment." You were talking about the differences in blackjack between a dealer hand shuffling and machines that shuffle the cards. Here is where my question comes in. I play a decent game of quarter video poker at a pretty good clip whereas my wife plays quarter slots at a leisurely pace. Although I'm playing faster, at a game with a lower house edge, does my speed offset that lower house edge compared to my wife, who thinks she is actually playing smarter by playing quarter slots, at a much slower pace? We argue over this every time we play together. Frank R. Yes, Frank, speed kills in a casino, the zinger fact being: the more hands or handle yanks either of you play per hour, the more your gambling funds are subjected to the razor-sharp edge of the house knife. With the limited information in your question, Frank, I'll have to make a few assumptions, like how fast is a good clip and how good is decent? The fast-fingered can be clocked at 750-800 hands an hour at video poker. But for argument's sake, I'll assume that you employ basic strategy and play at a pace of 500 hands/hour. Also, without knowing which quarter machines your wife enjoys or her pace, I am going to figure her play at six spins a minute on a three-coin machine. You first, Frank. With canny machine selection and some video poker prowess, you can reduce the house edge to one half of one percent. So, risking the maximum coin amount on a quarter machine of $1.25, at a steady pace of 500 hands per hour, you will put into play $625 during those 60 minutes, creating an hourly loss of approximately $3. Pretty sweet, Frank, but the minuscule 0.5% casino advantage includes the likelihood of your hitting a royal flush. If you don't, the house edge would be considerably higher. Even with your keen eye identifying machines with a decent payback and employing perfect play, the house edge without hitting a royal flush on a quarter Jacks-or-better 9/6 machine is 2.5%. So, Frank, while you hanker for that royal, expect an hourly loss of $15 and change. Now let's figure your wife's play. Characteristically, a player pushes a button once every ten seconds. On a 3-coin quarter machine, wagering 75 cents per spin, that's $4.50 per minute, or $270 per hour. Since the average quarter machine returns approximately 92% to the player, over the long run, your wife will lose around $22 for every hour of play. So, Frank, minus a jackpot, and neither of you playing Speedy-Gonzales-fast, a four-hour session is going to cost you $60, your wife, $88. Now you could sweet-talk her into playing video poker instead, but there is the fun factor of playing slots for her, and possibly the lack of desire to educate herself on video poker basic strategy. Therefore, it's an argument you could win mathematically, but only you will know if you win or lose elsewhere in the household, if you know what I mean. Gambling Wisdom of the Week: Every bet represents an artificially induced crisis. Life squeezed down to a moment of all or nothing. You oscillate from feelings of wild abandonment to icy fear and back again within an instant. - Mark Cotton, One Hundred Hints for Better Betting (1994)
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.