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Best of Mark Pilarski

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From sportsbook archeology to slots paranoia via the half point

16 May 2005

Dear Mark,
It wasn't for very much, but I just found a futures bet that I made two years ago that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl. How long do I have to collect on it before it expires? Warren M.

Boy, time really flies since the Janet Jackson malfunction. Anyhow, for those unacquainted with a "futures" bet, it is a wager on the outcome of a future event, such as — in Warren's case — the Super Bowl. Almost all sportsbooks offer futures bets for most major sporting events.

Though the house edge on a futures bet varies substantially from one sportsbook to another, payoff odds on these wagers are set to give the sportsbook a substantial edge when the betting action is proportional to the odds.

Most sports bettors believe that a futures wager is a sucker bet and should be avoided, except of course when a friend named McAvoy visits from Lake Tahoe and surprises you with a complimentary surefire: Detroit to win the 2005 NBA Championship at 4 to 1 futures ticket. Go Pistons!

I'm sorry to say, Warren, the casino gives you anywhere from 90 days to one year to mail in your winning ticket for payment. Obviously, you are well over that limit, so your ticket is reduced to an "I know how to pick future winners" wall decoration, suitable for framing.

The wild option, though, is just to mail your ticket in anyway and see if they will reward your soothsayer skills. I vaguely remember an e-mail I got from a gentleman a few years back that had a futures bet at the Club Cal Neva in Reno that had expired and they still honored it.

Dear Mark,
I am now somewhat afraid to use my slot card because I just recently heard that the casino adds up all my winnings and then reports them to the IRS. Is this true? Colleen D.

No it's not, Colleen. The casino does NOT collectively add up your smaller wins and report the total to the IRS. Likewise, the use of a slot card has no effect on your tax liability. If you win $1,200 or more in a single spin (including the original wager), along with issuing you a W-2G, only then does the casino report your win, whether or not you used a slot card. Apart from your individual slot wins over $1,200, you are on the honor system on whether to report a net win over the entire year.

Dear Mark,
In sports wagering, when is the best time to buy a half point in football? Matt M.

Those who dabble in sports betting could do with more than their own fingers and toes to count the times that an extra half point could have turned a draw into a win or a loss into a draw.

Hindsight aside for those above, some sportsbooks do offer the player the option to move the point spread a half point to his advantage. To buy a half point, you would need to lay down $120 instead of $110 to win $100. Because many football games end in a 3 or 7 point difference, the best time to buy a half point is when one team is favored by 2.5, 3, 6.5 or 7 points.

Gambling quote of the week: "The idea of watching large animals run in circles isn't exactly enthralling. Yet, when the element of wagering is added to the mix, horse racing suddenly becomes the most energetic form of gambling there is." —Mark Balestra

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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.