This list does not yet contain any items.

Deal Me In


Even at even-steven, the house still has an edge

Dear Mark: I got into a card cutting game with a friend with no distinct advantage to either side. We alternated going first. As the cutting of the cards ensued, we both concluded that with all 50/50 propositions, no one has the upper hand. Are we correct in this belief? We have no bet riding on this, just an inquiry. Jay M.

You would think, Jay, that the obvious answer is no. On a 50/50 proposition bet, neither of you has an edge. By going head-to-head cutting cards, each of you is just as likely to end up breaking even, or somewhere close to that based on random chance.

Now let’s mosey on over to the imaginary ABC Casino and hypothesize that they, too are offering the same card-cutting game without their accustomed mathematical built-in house edge. Will the casino over time make money against the player?

Actually, Jay, a distinct advantage now swings in the casino’s favor simply because they have a whole lot more ka-ching than you do. In the gambling business, it is referred to as “gambler’s ruin.” In essence, it is how long will it take you—with your meager bankroll—to lose it all to a casino, which has an infinite wad of cash. You come to the casino with X amount of dollars, and the casino retains a vault full of gold suitable for a Scrooge McDuck swimathon. Even if you were to have a short-term winning streak, when the house has a never-ending stake, they can, and will, outlast you.

Starting at $1 a cut, you do have some decent, but not unlimited, staying power against the house. When you extend your “time on device” (gamblese for the game) or get away from that buck wager, say to $25 a pop, it won’t be long before the casino has all your money. A few losses in a row and you could be tapped out eyeing the free popcorn machine. Do you know of anyone ever busting the casino?

As the saying goes, Jay, “never bring a knife to a gun fight.” Well, the casino always has a six-shooter holstered, and your penknife isn’t going to get it done.

Dear Mark: When you don’t play the full amount on a Megabucks machine, how much are you giving up to the casino? Rob D. 

Megabucks is a dollar slot machine where three coins ($3.00) must be inserted in order to win the progressive jackpot. The jackpot begins at $10,000,000 and is reset after a jackpot is hit.

A wide-area progressive slot machine like Megabucks has paid out some mega jackpots, but the long-term paybacks are typically the lowest in the casino. With “sketchy” odds of 30 million to one against you hitting the progressive, your chances of hitting a life-altering score near nil.

That said, the long-term payback does drop significantly when you don't play the maximum coin amount, and thus, your long-term payback is approximately 82%, which makes it one of the worst bets in the casino.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Almost all gamesters learn to control their faces. The Hand blabs secrets shamelessly.” – Stephan Zweig, Four-and-Twenty Hours in a Woman's Life (1926) 


Never busting never works

Dear Mark: What do you think of a blackjack player who always stands with 12 or more, no matter what the dealer is showing? The player therefore never busts and wins all of the times when the house does bust. You would still use basic strategy for splits and doubling. Since the only advantage the house has is the player gets to bust first, wouldn't this simple approach favor the player? Peter C.


I am glad, Peter, you mentioned those two words, “basic strategy,” since basic strategy advises hitting plenty of those stiff hands. When using a never‑bust strategy, you are giving the casino a 5% advantage, whereas when you use strict basic strategy, you are only giving the casino about a half of one percent edge.

Without considering depletion of the deck, let’s take the player 12 hand as an example. With a 12, you have a 9 out of 13 chance of not busting if you take a hit. Likewise, if you decide against hitting, your only chance of winning with a 12 is for the dealer to bust, and he has the same exact as you (69.2%) of not busting hitting his her hand. Granted, Peter, many times you will not win any additional money by hitting, but basic strategy does what it’s supposed to do. Keep you from losing more of your hard-earned cash than you should.

Losing players, Peter, employ a never‑bust strategy. The cost: the greenbacks in their wallets.


Dear Mark: After all this talk about getting thrown in jail for finding and using money and vouchers in a casino, IRONICALLY, I found myself in that same situation this past weekend.

I was walking thru the Ho-Chunk Casino in Wisconsin Dells, WI and noticed a cash-out voucher on the floor. I bent over and picked it up thinking it would be 5¢ or something similar. I was shocked when it said $65 on it! Now here I was holding a ticket that wasn't mine, and I had just read all this stuff in your column. I gingerly carried it over to the cashier holding it out in front of me -- in plain site -- the entire trip.  I got to the cashier and told her, “I found this on the floor. Maybe you can still find the rightful owner.” She then stated, to my amazement, “Nope this is a finders keepers casino. You're now $65 richer.” She then proceeded to count out the money to me. I was shocked! I guess it always pays to be honest. Jean H.


The deluge of feedback from my column “Finders Keepers” was overwhelming. Most went the other way. The wrist slap, plus, and plus more. No one ended up wearing orange, yet. The gist of the response was that those who had found and played lost winnings, and were subsequently caught, wrote that the hassle wasn’t worth it. Interestingly, Jean, the top amount stumbled upon was your $65, so congratulations, and as the winner, you get the ink.

Let’s get real here. There are plenty of 5¢ tickets that find their way to the trashcan or litter the floor. Furthermore, it is a rare occurrence for a slot player to leave umpteen credits on a machine or lose their grip of a $25 voucher on the way to the cashier’s cage. We need to ask ourselves if there is there a need for shackles for the 50¢ petty thief.

Where I do NOT believe in the “spirit of the law” is game integrity. The fairness of all games, played in any casino, should be above reproach. Players deserve an honest game.

No casino, Jean, is interested in exposing its gaming license to loss through any inkling of cheating. The gaming industry is probably the most-regulated business in America, chock full of rules and regulations that would close down a casino for defrauding, or appearing to defraud, the public. However, a shakedown over a found $3 voucher, to me at least, is unwarranted. Just sayin’.

So, folks, there you have it. It goes both ways, finders keepers or the hoosegow. Which is why, again, I highly recommend “you get to know the state law along with the temperament of casino management where you play.”


Gambling wisdom of the Week: “My old pappy always used to say "Don't put the chicken in front of"... no, wait "Never cut the cards before"... no, wait, "Don't put all you eggs in one basket" – Brett Maverick