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Deal Me In: Start off 2010 by making smart bets exclusively

28 December 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I'm new to casino gambling but like everyone else, I'd like to increase my chances of winning. What are the best games and strategies for me. Tami L.

Essential to every newbie's success is understanding two fundamentals that increase their chances of winning: They are 1) Sticking to bets that have a casino advantage of less than two percent, and, 2) Developing competence in games like blackjack or video poker and in selecting the right wager or slot machine. Doing so, Tami, you'll stand a good chance of turning the tables in your favor, staying in action longer, having fun, and yes, stopping the flight of your hard-earned cash into the casino coffers.

So why, Tami, is it so important to make wagers that have a house advantage of less than two percent? Because, as casino management knows, you do not play through your bankroll just once, but keep playing your coins, credits or chips again and again during the course of your stay. That's also why finding higher payback machines or smart table game wagers is so important.

Here's an example. Suppose you were playing on a slot machine that is pre-programmed to return 93% to the player. If you were to cycle through your entire $200 bankroll, you could expect back, "in theory," $186. Of course, the casino anticipates your re-playing the $186, so expect a return of $173 on it. Play the $173, and your return will be $161. Play through the $161, get back, $150. Can you see how the casino is grinding away at your capital?

Now, using the same example on a slot machine advertising a return of 98.5%, put in $200 and get back $197. Play that, and you'll get $194 back. Put in the $194, and expect a return of $191. Of course this is all based on a pre-programmed computer chip in the machine tuned to return a certain percentage back to the player, but you can see how much better it is to play the higher payback machines. It keeps you in action much longer, long enough, possibly, fingers crossed, to hit a decent jackpot.

So, Tami, here are some of my favorite casino wagers, ones that should increase your chances of winning. They are my favorite bets by the standard outlined above: They must have less than a 2% house edge and be played with some proficiency.

Slots: Yes, Tami, SLOTS. But only "liberal" slot machines. What I mean by liberal slots are those in casinos that advertise a higher payback percentage—like a 98.5% return—on selected machines.

Danger, Will Robinson. These high payback slots are found only where casino competition is fierce. And, when you do find a casino advertising liberal paybacks, you'll need to ask someone in slot personnel which machines those are.

Video Poker: The key to video poker machine is pay tables, and the use of basic strategy on a decent pay table. With machine selection and some video poker prowess, you can reduce the house edge to well under 1%.

Blackjack: Here's a skill game where you must employ perfect basic strategy. Basic strategy is nothing more than how you play your hand against the dealer's "up card." Playing it correctly will bring the house advantage down to well under one percent.

Craps: Stick to these three terrific wagers. The pass and come line bets, preceding wagers with odds, and placing the 6 or 8. All have a house advantage of 1.5% or lower.

Baccarat: Baccarat is one of the easiest casino games to play (you don't even have to know the rules because correct hitting is predetermined), so don't let the mystique of the game intimidate you. The stakes can be relatively low when you play on a mini-baccarat table and the house advantage is either 1.17% when betting the bank hand or 1.36% with a player hand wager.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "How the IRS views gambling is a murky, swampy, stinky cesspool, so wide that it's extremely difficult to maneuver around." --Jean Scott

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.