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Deal Me In: We're all just grinding it out

9 January 2015

Dear Mark: I agree with just about everything you write, especially making bets that have less than a 2 percent casino advantage. That said, I would not by any stretch call myself a successful gambler. It seems I am like every other want-to-be winner, just trying to grind it out. Is there something in the equation I am missing? Jimmy P.

Even for the canny blackjack, craps, baccarat or video poker player, grinding it out against the house is the best any gamester can hope for. Yes, Jimmy, two thumbs up for playing the best bets. However, the one thing that you are still up against is when the “low house edge” commingles with the “speed of the game.”

In gamblese, it is called "incremental game speed." What that means is the more often you are exposed to the built-in house edge, even with games or bets with only a 2 percent or lower casino advantage, your bankroll can be cannibalized when decisions come at a lickety-split pace.

The ideal game for the casino is one with a high house edge played at high speed. An example would be the one-armed bandit. For the player, the perfect game would be one that has a low house edge played at a turtle’s crawl. Smart video poker played at a leisurely pace, on the best-of-the-best paytables, would be a good example.

When it comes to slot machines, most players will play approximately ten decisions per minute, or 600 decisions per hour. Some of those machines, Jimmy, can have up to an 18 percent house edge.

Consequently, on a penny machine at $3 a spin, multiplied by 600 decisions per hour, and the house possibly holding an 18 percent edge on your play, you can expect to lose, theoretically, $324 every sixty minutes. No grinding it out here, Jimmy. More like a good old-fashioned whooping.

Now let’s take a look at a $25 minimum blackjack table, with five players, and each player averaging about 70 dealer-shuffled hands per hour. Here, each player would be placing $1,750 per hour at risk, approximately the same amount as our penny slot player.

If the dealer is squared off against the average player, the house edge could be as high as 5 percent. The dealer will pilfer their wallet for as much as $87.5 per hour.

Against the strong basic strategy player where the house would have a measly .05 percent edge, their expected hourly loss drops significantly to $8.75. Present an automatic shuffler into the equation, with players now averaging 90 hands per hour, the keen player’s expected hourly loss escalates dramatically from $8.75 to $11.25. Even with perfect play, Jimmy, the competitive player is still grinding it out against the casino.

When I write and recommend which games or wagers are the crème de la crème, those are bets with the lowest house edge. Nevertheless, gamblers must balance that against the speed of the game. Ignore speed, Jimmy, at your peril.

I recommend slowing down your play when possible. What’s the hurry? Chop-chop play can send you home empty-handed.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Speed can change a minor house edge into a major loss, just like speed can change a minor fender-bender into a major full-scale car crash.” – Frank Scoblete, 109 Ways to Beat the Casinos
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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.