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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Of gaffes, goofs and gains

4 October 2004

Dear Mark,
You had a very interesting column last week. You stated that you have seen your 5-spot appear only four times, and fortuitously you were on it once for $5, and it paid four grand, far more than you have ever spent, or will spend, playing keno. What was worthy of note was the fact that you play keno, especially since it's doesn't, as you preach, have a 2% or less house advantage, and for $5 a ticket no less. Did I read it wrong? By the way, how much do you tip on a win like that? Matt. M.

In spite of keno's terrible odds, which at a minimum offer a house edge of 25%, even I've been known to play an occasional ticket, usually at the counter of a coffee shop while dining on a casino loss leader, the 99-cent breakfast special. Because of keno's leisurely pace, and the appeal of a large return for the minimal investment of a buck (more on this later), yes, I confess, the game can even grab my interest. Besides, my keno coup happened in 1984, while still an amateur combatant against the casino.

Now as to how a certified and decorated cheapskate like me, could be caught playing a $5 ticket, well, here I was, shoveling down my second 99-cent breakfast, when a keno angel, circulating through the casino to find players for the next game, asked if I wanted to play. Well sure, I replied, hastily filling out a blank keno ticket, handing it and a fin to Miss Keno Runner, who then took my ticket to the keno counter, where a keno writer accepted my bet and issued my official ticket that the runner was to bring back to me.

What I failed to communicate to the runner was that I wanted to play a five-spot straight ticket for a buck. I marked my numbers correctly, but failed to put $1/5, alongside those numbers. She, her name was Debbie, took it upon herself to play it $5/5, signifying that I was playing a $5 five-spot, straight ticket. I didn't even realize I was playing for $5 until long after the numbers were called, since as long as the writer gets your ticket to the counter before the game starts, your bet is down, regardless of when the keno runner brings the ticket back to you.

The serendipity lay in the fact that the keno runner assumed that I had wanted to play a $5 five-spot; otherwise, my payoff would have been only $800 for a one-dollar ticket, and four dollars change.

As for the tipping part of your question, although you are not required to tip keno runners, since their service is considered a casino courtesy, it is still customary to tip them, especially if you win. The amount is totally up to you; however, a standard tip should be between 5-10% on any win over $100.

You ask, how much did I tip? Well, considering that the keno runner was the actual, though accidental, cause of my winning an additional $3,200, I graciously gave her half of that part of the win. It still left me with enough ($1,600) to get a season pass at my all-time favorite ski area, Alpine Meadows (Tahoe), new skis, boots, bindings and plenty of $$$ left for plenty of $1 drafts. Nonetheless, Matt, players should realize that if they play keno long enough, it will eventually eat through their bankrolls; however, thanks to dearest Debbie, I am ahead of the casino, and I plan to keep it that way.

Dear Mark,
On one of the televised poker tournaments, the announcer said, "He just made a Post Oak Bluff." Huh? Gary A.

A Post Oak Bluff is a bluff from a tight player who tries to make a small bet into a big pot in hopes that the other player has zilch, and will just give up on the pot.

Gambling quote of the week: "Chance, luck, random occurrence — these are not the stuff of reason." -Neil D. Isaacs, You Bet Your Life

Recent Articles
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.