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Best of Mark Pilarski

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The casino advantage, and then there is the graveyard advantage

3 March 2003

Dear Mark,

If the casino advantage on a game like blackjack is under 1% for those of us who use perfect basic strategy, how come I have read the house "drop" is reported at around 15% at blackjack? Gary O.

The casino "advantage" in all games is correctly called the house percentage. The house percentage applies to each gaming decision in a casino, be it each roll of the dice, each spin at the roulette wheel, each pull of a slot handle, or each hand at blackjack.

The aptly named "drop" percentage is always much higher than the house percentage and refers to what the player will drop into the casino's appreciative hands. Most players play too long at their game of choice, allowing the house edge to gnaw away at their stakes. An obliging gambler who loses on average nearly 1% per hand will, if he sticks at it for an extended period of time, wind up dropping (there's that word) about 15% of all the money wagered.

Casinos dearly love players who Crazy-Glue themselves to the tables, and will happily offer lifetime supplies of the stuff for free. They know that you simply cannot play any casino game over an extended time period and come away a winner; they set the rules that way, you see. Their percentages — house advantage — will always methodically devour your bankroll. Why? You are always bucking a minus computation. Even the most favorable game, blackjack played with perfect basic strategy, is just the least favorable for the casino, eating you in nibbles rather than gorilla gulps.

Dear Mark,

Curious as to thoughts on playing blackjack on graveyard shift? I do OK with less quality players on the game (those that play poorly have already gone home); though, those free late night cocktails do more damage to my bankroll than even the hottest dealer does. Daniel F.

Love the question! Gives me a chance at etymology. With England being both old and small, there has been a persistent problem as to where to bury their dear departed. In days of yore, one solution was to dig up coffins, take the bones to a "bone-house," brush out the coffins and then reuse them. But oh-oh, on reopening the coffins, they found that 1 out of 25 had scratch marks on the inside.

Oops! To avoid burying people alive, they would tie a string to the wrist of the supposed deceased, lead it up through the ground to a bell, and then ... Someone sat in the graveyard all night long ("the graveyard shift") to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or be certified as a "dead ringer." Percentages of each never published. On the casinos' graveyard shift, they just bury drunken gamblers, lifeline unattached. Those literally saved by the bell avoid the intoxicant effect of free spirits. Plenty of dead ringers litter the shift by mixing alcohol and late night gambling. Any chance you're one of them?

Gambling quote of the week: "Slot machines are the cotton candy and the McDonald's of the casino. Everyone knows that they're bad for you, but few can resist their junk-food appeal." Andrew Brisman.

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.