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Best of Mark Pilarski

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The legacy of The Gambler

17 December 1999

Dear Mark,
Were you surprised when the Navajo Indians recently voted against casino gambling on their reservation? I thought that every tribe wants casino gaming. Why didn't the Navajos jump on the wagon train (pardon the pun). Brady M.

If you believe in the Navajo legend, of The Gambler, you would know that gambling has a deep cultural resonance for the Navajo. Their oral tradition has many stories warning against the dangers of overindulging in gambling. Also, tribal president Albert Hales opposed the measure because federal law requires the Navajos to negotiate a casino agreement with the states. Hale believes that such an agreement erodes the tribe's status as a sovereign nation. Plus, the tribe voted against casino gambling on their reservation just three years ago. So, Brady, for the above reasons, particularly the traditional myth of an out-of-control gambler who goes out and wins-and then loses-everything, I was not surprised by the Navajo's rejection of casino gambling.

As legend has it, the tale begins when the Spirit of the Sun, a gambler himself, wants a large piece of turquoise held by a Pueblo tribe. The sun sends his son, The Gambler, to Earth to wager for the invaluable sea-green stone. The Gambler is unbeatable.

He wins the rain, snow, plants and flowers, and everything else in sight, leaving the tribe impoverished. Eventually The Gambler wins the turquoise but wants to gamble against his father for it. So the Spirit of the Sun teaches his other offspring how to gamble and win the turquoise back from his brother. The second son is victorious and ultimately he shoots The Gambler into the sky with his large bow.

So, Brady, you decide. Was it being at the states' mercy, a rebuff three years earlier, or folklore that tells its people to be very cautious when it comes to gambling? Myself, I believe in ni'hwiilbiihi, "the one that wins the people."

Dear Mark,
I got into a beef with a pit boss over picking up my pass line bet after the point was made. Can a pass line bet be taken off the table once a point has been established? Don D.

A pass line bet is a contract wager committing your participation until an eventual outcome. Sorry, Don; it lays, it plays.

Dear Mark,
In past columns, you've stated the benefits of playing slots that advertise returns of 98.5% versus machines that pay back 93%. Come on, Mark, we're talking just a few dollars difference. What's the big deal? Noreen D.

The "big deal" is that the casino knows the average Joe and Josephine don't play through their money just once but keeps playing their tray (credit) return over and over again during the course of their stay. That's why finding higher payback machines is so important. Example: On a 93% return machine if you were to play your entire $100, you can expect back, "in theory," $93. Of course, the casino anticipates your playing the $93, so expect a return of $86. Put in the $86, and your return will be $80. Play through the $80, get back, $74. Can you see, Noreen, how the casino is grinding away at your crispy Ben Franklin?
Now, using the same example on a machine returning 98.5%, put in $100 and get back $98.50. Play that, and you'll get $97 back. Put in the $97, expect a return of $95. Of course this is all based on a pre-programmed computer chip in the slot, but see how much better it is to play the higher payback machines? It keeps you in action much longer, long enough possibly to hit a decent jackpot.

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.