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Plastic or paper

14 April 2000

Dear Mark,
During conversation with one of the many rotating poker dealers at the Horseshoe in Boosier City, he mentioned that the cards they used for poker were essentially indestructible because they were plastic and theoretically can handle a lifetime of use. What is your experience in dealing them, and why are they not used in all table games as opposed to just poker? John R.

The United States Player Card Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio manufactures the majority of cards used in casinos across America. Despite the use of high quality paper, laminating and enameling, the life of these wafer-thin pasteboard products is quite short. On average, cards are changed on a table game every hour, double decks every two and on a shoe game every shift (eight hours). Even with this limited lifespan, paper cards are substantially cheaper than their plastic counterparts and would be cost prohibitive to put on all of the casinos blackjack tables.

In poker you need cards that stand up to wear and tear as the player handles the majority of the deck every hand. Additionally, concealment of your playing hand in poker versus blackjack is an issue, plus, plastic decks in poker rooms are seldom changed during a shift.

Though plastic cards are indestructible and their durability far surpasses that of a standard playing card, they do get dirty and need a regular cleaning. In the golden days of gambling, cards were washed by hand, by dealers, with seltzer water. Now they use card washing machines.

My experience of using plastic cards is rather limited — actually only twice — when a severe snowstorm in Reno cancelled a card shipment over the Christmas holidays. This depleted the pit's inventory, and blackjack dealers used the reserve from the poker room. Because I found them much slicker than paper cards, harder to handle because of their smaller size and flimsy when shuffling, I'm not an aficionado of plastic cards.

Dear Mark,
Over the last two years I have been on the losing streak from hell. Every slot machine I touch has been a loser. This past year alone I have lost $5,000, which I might add, is more than I can afford to donate to the casinos. My question is, when does a player finally decide enough is enough and quit playing slot machines? Anita J.

Because my rule #1 of gambling is "only bet what you can afford to lose," followed by, "the smarter you play, the luckier you'll be," NOW is that time. Consider in lieu of slots, making wagers, within your means, on some of the smarter bets I suggest weekly in this column.

Correspondingly, Anita, I would be remiss if I didn't recommend finding an alternative form of entertainment. I know of one player who when her slot play went sour, rancid to the tune of $10,000 in six months, quit gambling and became what she calls a lawn hobbyist.

Now that's exchanging one form of manure for another.

Dear Mark,
What are your thoughts on video craps? Michael P.

Called Live Video Craps, this electronic version of a dice game is offered by many casinos at 25¢ a roll. Cheap, yes, but don't expect the same thrill and camaraderie as its table-game cousin on a Saturday night. Plus the game has one expensive Waterloo. Excluding the 7, all numbers become the point. That includes the 2, 3, 11 and 12. This gives the house a 5% edge on your pass line bet. That, Michael, is notably higher than the 1.4% advantage the casino holds on a live game. For familiarity of the game of craps at 25¢ a pop, OK; but wager no more.

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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.