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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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With one lonely Ben Franklin left, I would . . .

27 October 2003

Dear Mark,
If you had just $100 left to bet in a casino, how would you wager it? Doug D.

You should have asked me earlier, Doug. The casino's mission is twofold: first, to empty your wallet, and second, to keep you smiling. This was best described by Bob Stupak, a former casino operator in Las Vegas, when he told U.S. News and World Report: "It's our duty to extract as much money from the customers as we can and send them home with a smile on their face."

If you are down to your last $100, the casino's goal is accomplished. Except, Doug, I hardly think that one of sane mind would be smiling about it.

Realize that casinos are green felt jungles and you're playing war. The gurus of guerrilla gambling will tell you that you fight back only by making bets that have a 2% house advantage or less. If you do, you'll stand a better chance of: turning the tables back in your favor, staying in action longer, smiling, and yes, stopping the plinking of your hard-earned cash into the casino's piggy banks.

So, here you stand, near insolvent, with just $100 remaining, and quite possibly someone near and dear saying, "I told you, but you just won't listen." Here is what most, if not all the gaming experts, Yours Truly included, would recommend you play:

Blackjack: Played with perfect basic strategy.
Craps: A pass line bet with odds or placing the 6 or 8. A pass line bet and placing the 6 or 8. Both have a house advantage of less than 1.5%.
Video Poker: Good machine selection, and again, perfect basic strategy.
Baccarat: Betting either the bank or player hand. The house advantage is 1.17% when betting the bank hand or 1.36% with a player hand wager.

I have just mapped out the avenue most experts would take with their last $100. Nevertheless, if you are down to your last $100, one of two things has probably happened. Either your evening's allotment of luck has gone way south, dooming even your last $100, or your play has been so apocalyptically bad, despite the advice of gurus, that nothing can come out of it but a postmortem.

So, the $64 ($100) question remains. If I personally were limited to making just one play in a casino and had just $100 left, what wager(s) would I make?

Too easy! Whether or not a professional sporting event is preceded by the national anthem, by golly, you can get action on it in the Silver State. And since one of my passions is open wheel racing (IRL), my one wager would be on the Indianapolis 500, sitting in a sportsbook for three hours sipping free cocktails and watching grown men (and woman, Sarah Fisher) making left-hand turns while wasting methanol. Yet, the gambling public may not share my fixation for boredom, so here's plan B, a point-spread wager on your favorite sporting event. Now park your tail end in one of their cushy chairs and enjoy the game.

Whenever you place a point-spread type wager, you lay 11 to win 10. That means if you want to win $100, you have to wager $110 (borrow the extra $10 from your spouse who is probably winning, or, just bet the $100) no matter which team you are betting on. If you win, you will collect $210 — your $110 wager plus the $100 winnings. The 11 for 10 commission, also called a vigorish (aka vig), is the compensation taken by the house on every sport bet wagered. You might need to scrounge about in your lint-filled pockets for a couple quarters to enjoy the $1 hot dogs, or those denizens of the deep, 99-cent shrimp cocktails.

Then there is plan C: Betting the ponies. A $2 wager on an equine long-shot overdue for the glue factory can be an inexpensive diversion when the casino is pounding the hell out of your bankroll. How hard is it to spend 10 minutes with a racing form, and then guess? Giddy up!

And who knows, Doug, you might actually calm the near-and-dear, put an extra $100 in your hip pocket, enough to put you back in action to fight another round guerrilla style, making ONLY those bets that have less than a 2% house edge.

Gambling quote of the week: "I wouldn't put a red cent in a slot machine, and the only time you'll see me at a craps table is when I'm running it." Amarillo Slim

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.