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Gotta get the right mix: Joint-day-hour and a jot of diplomacy

28 December 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: It never ceases to amaze me when I walk into a casino, see all the $5 table games packed with people waiting to play, then see $10 and $25 games empty. I realize casino managers aren't stupid, but wouldn't it make more sense to open another $5 table and make more people happy and make the casino more money? Skip W.

I concur with your point, Skip. Most solid citizens get a bit miffed when there are no blackjack games within their gambling budget. Nevertheless, from the casino's point of view, it makes fiscal sense to up the table limits when the casino has a decent amount of customers willing to surrender to a higher minimum.

A pit boss worth his salt is quite shrewd on timing table game increases based not necessarily on what you see, but on future traffic. They also know that the typical blackjack player will move up in denomination, so they set the proverbial hook by letting a dealer stand dead, knowing that by offering a $10 blackjack game as the stimuli, the response is probably not far off.

Certain casinos though, will maintain low-limit games more than others, so you will need to shop for value. In addition, generally, the casinos with the most tables keep low limit-games running longer. The same holds true for low-limit joints or casinos that cater to locals.

You might also want to avoid playing during, or just before, peak periods. A half dozen $5 blackjack games at 10 AM on a Wednesday when the casino is dead is altogether different from those higher limits that you see in the evening, weekends, or when the joint is packed.

All you can do, Skip, is to go window-shopping not only blackjack rule selection, but also table limits. Additionally, something that may work, and I am using the word "may" liberally here, is to ask for another $5 game. The policy I used in lowering table limits when the casino was slow was to give players a $5 game either for a specific period, say an hour, or so many runs through a shoe.

Oh, and for gosh sakes, don't play at a table you cannot afford. Of course, you knew that already.

Dear Mark: I love how you mentioned in a column how in Vegas they used to have a $3.49 prime rib buffet as a loss leader to induce gamblers. I have been gambling in Las Vegas since the late 50’s and remember when an all-you-can-eat buffet was $1.50. I just got back from Sin City and paid $50 for a dinner buffet. I sure do miss the old days. Earl B.

The all-you-can-eat buffet made its restaurant debut in 1946, when one evening Las Vegas El Rancho Hotel manager Herb MacDonald brought out a meat and cheese platter to the bar. Customers loved it so much, MacDonald then introduced the $1 "Buckaroo Buffet," and the all-you-can-eat casino buffet was born.

The buffet eventually became that mainstay entity that could lure gamblers into the casino, extend their playing time, and make more money for the house. Grazing and gambling, Earl, have similarities. They both exploit human greed. The casino buffet allows you to live a life of opulence; a machine jackpot offers you a shot at champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Yes, Earl, those el cheapo $3.49 prime rib buffets are long gone, and dinner prices pushing $50 can bust not only a player’s intestinal capacity, but their budget as well.

William Pearson, in his 1965 novel The Muses of Ruin, wrote that the buffet was the "eighth wonder of the world." Believable or not, that doesn’t mean that I, like yourself, wouldn't take those loss-leader Las Vegas buffet prices of yesteryear, any day.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The commonest mistake in history is underestimating your opponent; it happens at the poker table all the time." -- David Shoup
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.