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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Sure thing isn't so sure

21 December 2006

Dear Mark: I received an offer in the mail that if I use this person's strategy at video poker, and play on machines that hypothetically return close to 100%, that I will be a winner every time, GUARANTEED! What is the deal here? Ken G.

GUARANTEED? Ah, another swindler scamming their system.

Before you get sucked in, here's the real deal. True, by always playing perfect basic strategy you can achieve any video poker machine's maximum payback. If you have knowledgeably selected a machine that offers a potential return very close to, or even exceeding, 100%, then, technically, you could have an edge over the house, and probably a winner over the long haul, but guaranteed? Not so.

Even the casino, Ken, isn't guaranteed winning against every gambler's play, though they do just happen to have an edge on nearly all the games, and on the wagers on those games. In a house holding such a guarantee, and never paying off, there'd be very few and only rather sleepy gamblers, wouldn't there?

Yes, Ken, I've written plenty in the past to the effect that video poker is one of the only games where the smart player can get an advantage over the house, but there is a difference between playing with an advantage, and always being a winner. The one doesn't necessarily GUARANTEE the other.

Dear Mark: I'm making my first trip to Las Vegas. Blackjack is the game I normally play. How would I go about getting comps? All tips would be appreciated. Rick D.

You start by asking, Rick, because if you don't, how in the heck can they, the pit boss, say yes. Second, you will need to be rated. They — this time "they" is a computer — will assess your rating and eligibility for comps. To get your goodies, you will be expected to bet a decent chunk of change for a calculated stretch of time. Then they, casino management, will base your room, food and beverage goodies on what you are probably going to lose. Huh? On what I "lose," and not what I show up with, you ask. Yep.

They, the computer again, now considers your average bet, how many hours you were possibly going to play, speed of the game, and the casino advantage. This, in theory, computes essentially your expected loss to the casino over a specific period of time, and suggests to the management how much to give back to you in the form of comps.

Quick example: Suppose Joe Six Pack is betting $20 a hand for three hours, averaging 100 hands per hour, coupled with the usual house advantage of 5% the casino holds over the average blackjack player. The casino's evil wizard can predict in advance that Joey will lose $300 ($20 x 3 hrs. x 100 hands x .05 = $300).

So what will losing $300 get him? Well, if he were to ask up-front about some freebies, and they rated him, he should get at least a feeding frenzy at their buffet.

Nuts to that, you say. "I ain't gonna lose no 300 buckaroos just for a trip to the chow line." Well, you could use some comp chicanery by initially betting more when the pit boss starts watching and rating your then-play, and less when he isn't. What you're doing would be making the pit boss think you're a high roller. The computer knows only what is keyed in, and it rations out gratuities accordingly.

Speaking of buffets, how about a Buffet Wisdom of the Week: "If you eat well you can eat more." Rachael Ray

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.