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Living in P.T. Barnum's world

17 May 2004

Dear Mark,
I recently visited an Indian Casino in Minnesota that offered 3-card poker. Every player at the table had to pay 50 cents just to play. I asked what the 50 cents was for, and was told that it is the only profit the casino has in 3-card poker. I find that hard to believe since I do not know of a casino game that does not have some kind of house edge. I rather think it's greed. Any comments other than to stay away. D.B.

In poker, the 50-cent juice per hand is called the rake; money that the casino charges for each hand of poker. It is usually a percentage or flat fee of the pot — in this case, 50 cents from each players hand — after each round of betting.

Normally, this fee is tolerable in poker because players do not bet against the house, but against each other. How else is the casino going to pay for their employees, playing tables and neon lights?

However, you were hoodwinked, OK, suckered, into giving up the additional 50 cents per hand because 3-card poker DOES have a built-in casino advantage.

Even if you were to employ a sound betting strategy like not making the "play" wager unless your hand consists of at least a queen, six, and a four in your hand, the house edge on the "ante" wager is about 2.1%, with the "pair plus" slightly higher at 2.3%. A bearable casino advantage, yes, but it does not merit you giving the casino an additional 50 cents per hand.

Giving them their supplementary 50 cents is akin to being suckered into making a sucker bet, which, if you do not know the difference, makes you the sucker.

Dear Mark,
Aunt Felicia was always going to teach me Panoochi, a card game that had brought her a tidy nest egg, but she died before she thought I was old enough to benefit from the knowledge. Can you explain the game? Aaron K.

At first, Aaron, I hit a wall finding anything regarding the card game panoochi, even with obvious resources like Hoyle, Scarne on Cards or a Internet Google search. So, I went to my ace-in-the-hole, Area 51's living legend, Blackjack Jack, who straightaway knew the skinny on panoochi.

Blackjack Jack, via snail mail (he rightfully believes his telephone is tapped) informed me that panoochi is a card game, a friendly scam if you will, invented way back when by Zeppo Marx and Benny Rubin, who instead of participating in general societal uplift, duped those willing to part with their money with this timekiller card game.

Panoochi has a vague resemblance to poker, in that the cards are shuffled, cut and dealt. Those in on the gag know that there are actually no rules or method of play, except for the rule that none of them can admit to the sucker among them that there are no rules. A panoochi player could do, play or say anything, so long as it made no sense. By the time their mark figured it out and wanted to join in on the fun, his wallet was noticeably lighter.

My first fleece of fortune was against Bob Orlowski (still the best bottom-of-the-deck dealer I've ever seen) when he swindled me out of my Detroit News paper route earnings teaching me his style of poker. Yours just happened to be against Auntie F.

Gambling quote of the week: "I hope I break even tonight," was the sucker's philosophy. "I need the money so bad." —Nelson Algren, The Man with the Golden Arm (1949)

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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.