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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Those due slots, soft 17s and plugs

25 May 2005

Dear Mark,
Are slot machines programmed to pay off a particular percentage of money bet? What I’m trying to say is that after a jackpot is hit, will the machine tighten up to get back into balance, and when a jackpot has not been hit for a long period of time it is overdue and more likely to hit? Dan H.

I get the gist of what you're asking, Dan, but they are two separate questions. You get one aye and one nay. The one holding water is that of all wagers bet, slot machines are designed to pay off, over time, a specified percentage of the wagered money to the players.

As to a jackpot's "due" factor, a jackpot is equally as likely to be hit on every spin, regardless of past outcomes, because every spin is random and independent of all past trials.

Dear Mark,
Can you please tell me if the odds are better for me when the dealer must stay on all 17s or if the dealer must hit soft 17? David H.

It is slightly better, David, to play on a game where house rules let the dealer stand on a soft 17 rather than hit on a soft 17. On a game where the dealer hits a soft 17, you give the house an additional two-tenths of 1% advantage, because when a soft 17 is showing, an ace, 2, 3, or 4 improves the dealer's hand and a 10, jack, queen or king leaves it of equivalent value. Thus, eight of every 13 cards either improves the dealer's hand or keeps it the same. If any of the other five cards are drawn, the dealer still has a chance to enhance his hand with another draw.

Dear Mark,
I have always been fascinated with the shuffling techniques employed by casino dealers. I am curious as to one technique used by the casino where I normally play. When the cut-card is reached, why are the remaining undealt cards inserted into the middle of the cards that have already been stacked up in the discard rack? Why not on just on top? Jason C.

Card shuffling procedures used by a dealer to prepare a deck or a shoe on a blackjack game generally employ a combination of mixing techniques that may differ from casino to casino. These may include "washing" or "stripping" the cards, as well as "plugging," "boxing," "riffling" and other sundry techniques with much sexier names. The objective of such shuffling procedures is to achieve a high level of randomization of the cards.

What you described in your question is called "plugging" the deck. This shuffling technique is employed in card games like blackjack where the game is often dealt from a multi-deck shoe.

Once the dealer reaches the cut card (the cut card marks the place where play will be stopped and the cards reshuffled) the game is stopped, and the remaining undealt cards are inserted somewhere into the middle of the cards that have already been stacked up in the discard tray. The cards so inserted are referred to as a "plug," and the action is called "plugging" the deck.

Gambling quote of the week: "Poker is good for you. It enriches the soul, sharpens the intellect, heals the spirit, and — when played well — nourishes the wallet." --Lou Krieger, author.

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.