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Deal Me In: Slot players butter casino's bread

11 September 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: The casino where I play has curtailed not only the amount of blackjack games now available, but also the comps they give to their blackjack players. I've inquired to as why this is so, and their response is that we are now catering more to slot players than we have in the past, and he said it was at the expense of the table games. Does this make sense to you? I might only be a nickel ($5) player, but I still give my fair share to the house, even when playing smart by using basic strategy. Gerald C.

Truth be told, Gerald, slot players yanking handles is now the butter for casinos' bread. Slot machines don't take sick days, need vacation time, and their health care coverage consists of a slot mechanic with screw driver. Oh, and they don't whine when you work em' overtime on weekends.

Let's do the math, Gerald, to see why casinos think the way they do, by you going toe-to-toe, mano-a-mano against Geraldine, a nickel (in her world a nickel is five cents, not five dollars) slot player.

For starters, the casino is going to get a lot more action out of Geraldine at 500 spins per hour than the 50 hands of blackjack you might play at a full table. But it's not just because of the hands per hour that they're grinning ear to ear when Geraldine sits in front of a nickel machine, but the savory scent of the much higher house edge that slots carry over blackjack. The casino is going to keep something like 12 percent of every nickel Geraldine inserts, while keeping only a half of one percent against you, a basic strategy player at blackjack.

So there's you, a $5 blackjack basic strategy player at a full table, betting $250 per hour, averaging roughly $1.25 in losses.

Then there's our nickel slot player, Geraldine, who bets one coin per line on a five-line game -- 25 cents a spin -- wagering about $125 an hour and averaging approximately $15 in losses. As you can see, Gerald, Geraldine's losing action blows yours away. And yet, she's rejoicing, because she is finally being appreciated where you play.

Dear Mark: Perfect basic strategy at blackjack tells you to hit a 12 against a two or three. Yet when you do, especially when playing third base, you can get a lot of grief from fellow players. How come most players don't know the difference between hitting and not hitting on this hand? Ned F.

I know that you know, and most of those reading this column know, the difference, so what follows is for those other people who don't. To clarify, far too many players blame the anchorman (third base) for giving the dealer an advantage by hitting or standing in the same manner they would. But hitting 12 against 2 or 3 is mathematically the correct move no matter where you are sitting at the table.

Without considering depletion of deck, your chances of not busting when you HIT a 12 are 9÷13, or 69.23076%. So why stand on that 12 when you know that if you hit it, the odds significantly favor an improvement of your hand? But you already knew that, and you also know that if you do not HIT, your only chance of winning with a 12 is if the dealer busts, and he has that same 69% plus chance of making his hand as you did.

Just block out the grumbling, Ned, from players who think that you are "taking the dealer's bust card." You don't have, nor do they, any control over the order of cards in the deck, and by hitting the 12, you are just as likely to take a card that would have benefited the dealer's hand as one that would have busted it.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The first time I looked at a video poker strategy chart, I thought I'd accidentally been given the one written in Greek." --Angela Sparks

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.