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Deal Me In: The sticky thing about your gambling timeline

21 October 2011

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Even when I get decent hands at blackjack, I can never seem to get ahead. My high teen hands (17’s -19’s) can’t beat a hot dealer who gets more than their fair share of 20’s, or their uncanny ability of drawing to it. Help! Bill W.

Suppose I decided to open up a casino, Bill, fittingly calling it, Pilarski’s Grind Joint. My grand opening offerings, besides 9/6 video poker, single zero roulette, and a $3.49 prime rib buffet, would include that all patrons at blackjack are automatically issued a blackjack hand with a total of 18. Would you, Bill, be a taker of that wager?

If you answer yes, you’d end up losing 60 cents for every $100 you bet. Infinite 18’s will NOT make you a long-term winner at blackjack.

Even your 19’s will lose more than they win when the dealer’s upcard is a 10 or an ace. So, what constitutes a strong hand? Well, it is those 20’s, which you were not getting during your recent gambling timeline. With a 10-10 against any dealer’s upcard, you will make money over the long run. In point of fact, Bill, approximately 70% of your overall winnings at blackjack result from these two hands: 10-10 and an A-10. If you were not getting these power hands, along with your fair share of blackjacks, double downs and split possibilities, I can see how going home light in the wallet was a real probability.

Dear Mark: You, along with other gambling writers always suggest to play on slot machines that advertise specific returns on machines. Well, I was in Nevada, playing on advertised machines that were supposed to return 99%, and, to say the least, I got crushed. Any chance you want to retract that statement. Jason F.

Every slot machine, Jason, is meticulously designed and tested to assure the casino a specific happy end result. The “payback percentage” is the portion of the money put into the slot that is eventually paid out to the player.

The reason I, and others, recommend playing an advertised 99% payback machine in contrast to, say, an 86% payback machine, is that a casino will hold, over the long run, one percent of the money played through a 99% machine versus 14% of the money played through the 86% machine.

That doesn’t mean you can expect 99¢ to drop into the tray for every dollar’s worth of handle yanks. The percentage return is a long-term concept, and your gaming timeline is possibly limited to hundreds of yanks of the handle, not millions, so any percentage return can, and will, happen.

I regret to say that in your case, the Law of Averages did not have time to work during your trip to Nevada. Your gambler’s timeline (slot time) was still relatively short, be it three hours or three days, so anything can happen—yes, even in the land where dreams are made – getting crushed.

Payouts can, and will, be volatile. I have witnessed players play for hours and win on some of the worst machines the casino offers, and dare I say it, other players getting crushed on a 99% return machine quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

What you don’t want to do, Jason, is to ignore the mathematical odds that are working for or against you. Long term, or even on your next trip to Vegas, you will see a different, hopefully better, outcome.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Everybody gambles in one way or another—for love, for poorer, or as in my case, for the excitement of gambling.”--Major A. Riddle, The Weekend Gambler’s Handbook
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.