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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Windfall or downfall?

6 July 2007

Dear Mark: I finally hit my first royal flush in over 20 years of playing video poker, but first, my confession. I didn't play — as you always recommend — the full amount required. I lost out on a 4,000-coin payout and received just 500 coins because I only played two dollars. I just wanted to share what happened to me with your readers so that others will not experience my win/lose event. Anita R.

It's hard to fashion a graceful way to put congratulations and condolences in the same sentence, but I suppose you deserve both.

Correct you are, Anita, that I have always recommended that you should play the full amount, but it's still the player's responsibility to eyeball all the posted information concerning the number of coins to insert, lines needed to be lit, prizes or awards to be had.

Had Anita looked at the pay table that was smack dab in front of her, one small though not infinitesimal caveat should have set off pre-jackpot bells and whistles. She should have noticed a non-symmetrical progression on the royal flush payline.

A typical royal flush payline looks like this: 250, 500, 750, 1,000, 4,000. She missed the jump in payout when a fifth coin is inserted. That royal flush is so dominant in the casino payout calculations for video poker machines that not playing that fifth coin not only cost her champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but by playing the machine short, it will cost her 12% over the long haul. Hey, and you slot players, listen up.

For almost all multiple-pay and multiple-play slot machines, playing the maximum coin level also yields the best percentage payback. Again, note the proportional differences among payoff categories. For example: One coin inserted pays 500 coins, two coins 1,000, and three coins a tidy 4,000. Pay dirt comes when you play three coins, but play fewer, your payback spirals south.

My parting thought is that if you can afford to play the maximum coins allowed, do so. If you can't hack it on a one-dollar one-armed bandit, switch to a lower denomination machine.

Dear Mark: In a recent article, a writer asked about blackjack where the dealer does not take a hole card until all hands have been played. I got on a cruise ship in San Juan, PR, and was introduced to this game. I watched a few hands and ran like hell. All the casinos that I could find played with this same rule. What a license to steal! Charlie L.

Living here in the States, I'm no expert on Puerto Rican blackjack (yep, I know people born in Puerto Rico are statutory U.S. citizens), but looking down on it from 36,000 feet, there is no need to go into a sorry Charlie tizzy unless the player loses their entire wager on splits or doubling against a natural.

As I have stated before, the casino advantage remains the same whether the dealer takes a hole card and peeks, or waits until play is complete.

Here's the deal, Charlie. If a player does split or double, and only the original bet is swept into the tray when the dealer has a natural, then the casinos don't have your called "license to steal" over a player.

The abracadabra black magic the casino does possess over all players is that you must act on your hand before the dealer takes action on his or hers. That is where their advantage lies.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "It's not whether you won or lost, but how many bad-beat stories you were able to tell." — Grantland Rice, Sportswriter

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.