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Deal Me In


Odd dollar jackpot avoids a W-2G

Dear Mark: Why do casinos have jackpots on their video poker machines that pay $1,199? That seems like an odd jackpot number. Trish H.


Think, Trish, of a $1,199 jackpot as the Lords of Chance doing you a favor.

A blast from the past typically on video poker machines, that $1,199 bonanza is $1 shy from you getting a mandatory tax form. At $1,200, the casino is required by the IRS to have you sign a W-2G before they can pay you. At $1,199, you avoid the paperwork. Although there is still a tax liability on all casino winnings, the $1,199 windfall is between you and the IRS.

Now for those of you might want to ask a slot attendant to be paid a $1 less on a $1,200 royal flush to dodge a W2-G, I’d say, “Not a chance.” Here’re two reasons why: accounting – the pencil pushers upstairs like things balanced – and collusion. Again, granting all gambling winnings are technically taxable, Uncle Sam getting wind of a publicly traded company on the NYSE in cahoots with players trying to avoid paying taxes would be jeopardizing a casino’s gaming license.

A little side note about “things balanced.” I worked for a time in the cashier’s cage, where at the end of a shift, you totaled out the casino cage. In essence, you count down every dollar within the casino walls. We’re talking millions here. If an incoming shift supervisor is $0.10 off, they can plan on running a tape until they find it. Yours Truly, being dyslexic, ended up acquiring blistering speed on a 10-key adding machine by forever searching for that dime.


Dear Mark: What do casinos do with the old slot machines they are no longer using? Steve H.


It depends on, Steve, if the casino bought them outright, the manufacturer placed them in the casino to share profits, or they are leased. If they come from the manufacturer or leased, both parties will come and scoop them up. If a casino outright bought the machine, the casino will sell the machine after its useful life to a slot wholesaler or distributor, or, it finds its way to the slot graveyard in the basement. 

If you were looking to purchase a particular machine, I would recommend searching for it on the Internet, especially on eBay.

One caveat, Steve. Many states do restrict private ownership of slot machines. You might want to check that out first. 


Dear Mark: On a Jacks-or-Better video poker machine, is it ever advised to break up a high pair? For instance, I have a pair of Queens, but I also have four cards to a Royal Flush. What is the correct strategy here? Also, how much am I giving away if I play three or four coins instead of the full five coin amount? Daniel L.


Basic strategy, Daniel, dictates that you should always break up a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces for a one-card draw in preference to a four-card straight flush, four-card inside straight flush, or a royal flush.

Players who play short of the maximum number of coins, be it one, two, three or four coins/credits, have a theoretical of 98.05%, considerably less than the near zero house edge you would have with perfect play and full-pay 9/6 machine.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “With the casino and the beds, our passengers (Virgin Airline) will have at least two ways to get lucky on one of our flights.” - Sir Richard Branson 


“I’ll do the thinnin’ around here – and don’t you forget it!”

Dear Mark: I was sitting next to a lady in a casino who was playing at a speed that I had never witnessed in the 30 years that I have been going to the casino. When she finally stopped to catch her breath, I had to ask her, “Does it help?” She said the faster she played, the higher the return on the machine. Is this true or hogwash? Sandy C.


My first impression from your question, Sandy, is that this lady perhaps is gambling far more than she should be, and that is a question/answer for another day, one she needs to ask herself first. As to “the faster she played, the higher the return on the machine,” unequivocally utter hogwash!

Faster play makes zero difference to the random number generator. Over the long run, she will get the equivalent payback percentage regardless of the speed of her play.

What is working against her and her Quick Draw McGraw speed is the total amount she is wagering, especially against any machine that carries a high house edge, which, by the way, is all of them.

If she is wagering $0.75 a spin on a quarter machine for 600 spins in an hour, she is putting at risk $450. If you, sitting next to her, are wagering that same $0.75 a spin, but spinning the reels only 150 times per hour, you are only risking $112.50. Faster play means more money exposed, and with the casino holding, for instance, a built-in 15% on quarter play, she’s donating far more to the casino's coffers than you are.


Dear Mark: Why does a player who is betting two spots in blackjack have to bet double the minimum? Ed P.


I learned the answer to this question, Ed, on the first day I dealt blackjack. 

Yours Truly thought dealer school was an inconvenience during ski season, so I self-taught myself by pitching cards across the room into a hat, practiced shuffling, dealing and the pay and take on an ironing board. I did have some tutelage from a dealer roommate who went on to become a gaming agent for the State of Nevada; but obviously, he couldn’t cover all the rules. One such overlooked tenet missed was the rules related to payouts for scoring 21 on split aces. I assumed that if you split aces and got two face cards, you just got yourself two blackjacks, so I paid accordingly. Yep, I paid them.

Another was the appropriate amount needed when playing two hands. An old-time pit boss named Dennis Healy at the Club Cal Neva noticed my error, among others, and corrected me on my break. Being the curious sort, I did ask why. Healy said the reason the casino requires a double-minimum bet to play two spots is that it doesn't want a player to tie up multiple spots with minimum bets. Leaving the spot open for another player who might bet several times the minimum will make the casino more money over the long run, hence, the double-minimum.

Incidentally, errors on my early shifts should have sent me down the road, but Healy and the Club Cal Neva let them slide. Ultimately, dealing there ended up being a terrific place to work for the break-in dealer. 


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Poker is a lot like sex, everyone thinks they are the best, but most don't have a clue what they are doing!” - Dutch Boyd