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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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One oldie, one newbie — it's a great world

18 August 2006

Dear Mark,
Even though I left Detroit in 1994, I still go online to read the Detroit News and your column. One thing I do not understand is what the fascination with slot machines is. You insert coin, pull lever, insert coin, pull lever, insert coins, etc. It seems almost mind numbing. I only play blackjack because to me at least, I have more of a say in the outcome than just insert coin, pull lever, insert coin. Am I missing something? Am I mistaken or is blackjack the one game with the highest degree of self-determined outcome? Jim L.

Dear Mark,
I'm new to casino gambling and would like to find something in the casino that is very easy to play (where no brains are needed), and the house edge isn't sky-high. Is it slots, or is there something else? Kathy R.

For starters, Jim — I'll get back to you in moment, Kathy — blackjack isn't the only worthy wager the casino offers. True, games like blackjack or video poker involve some skill; but there are plenty of others, for instance craps, where placing the correct bet in the right place on the layout can give what you refer to as "the highest degree of self-determined outcome."

As for slots, besides the fact that little gray matter is needed to yank a handle, players like them because they are playing against a machine that doesn't talk back, nor snicker at shabby play, not give a hoot whether and how much you win or lose, oh, and I forgot to mention, give you a shot at those progressive bonus jackpots that allow you to fantasize of champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Casinos love providing those mind-numbing machines because they don't talk back to the management, they don't ask for Christmas week off, and they don't require medical and dental insurance, oh, and — how could I forget — they've got that cozy double-digit casino edge on most machines.

But not all slots, Jim, and you too Kathy, pillage your pocketbook. Casinos do offer "liberal" slot machines. What I mean by liberal slots are those in the casinos that advertise a higher payback percentage — like a 98.5% return-on selected machines. You'll need to find a casino advertising liberal paybacks, you'll then need to ask someone in slot personnel which machines those are. Sure, continually pressing a credit button might be monotonous, but you'll have to use your noggin for machine selection.

As for you, Kathy, a newbie with little or no casino gambling experience who wants something effortless to play, I would recommend baccarat. Baccarat is one of the easiest casino games to play (you don't even have to know the rules because correct hitting is predetermined), and the stakes are relatively low when you play on a mini-baccarat table. The house advantage is either 1.17% when betting the bank hand or 1.36% with a player hand wager.

Dear Mark,
When you see a video representation of cards for video blackjack or dice for video craps, are the odds the same as those of a live game, or are they altered to give the casino an even greater advantage? Jeff R.

It is a Nevada (and I'm sure most states follow suit) law that video representations of dice and cards follow the same odds as those in a real game with a human dealer. If the games, Jeff, are already profitable based on a fair play, the casino has no reason to swindle you.

What you need to concern yourself with is "altered" rules. For instance, in video blackjack, it's tough to find a machine that pays you the true value of a blackjack (3 for 2). Most video blackjack machines pay even money on natural 21s. The loss of that bonus is going to cost you an additional 2.3%. On these machines you are giving away a considerable amount percentage-wise, but the cards dealt, and dice thrown are random.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: Poker is the only game for a grown man. Then, your hand is against every man's, and every man's hand is against yours. --Somerset Maugham

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.