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Deal Me In


Player questions if he is a freak of nature

Dear Mark: I am a freak of nature. Of the 50 times that I have played slots, maybe twice I left with $20 to $40. All the other times I have lost big. One time, I went with a lucky elderly teacher friend of mine and she won $300. I lost $50. So, she gave me another 20, and again I lost. She then gave me yet another 20, and again I lost. She got tired of giving me 20s And who can blame her. Another time, I had spent an hour on a machine with no luck at all so I moved over to the next machine. Along came an elderly woman who sat down at the machine I had previously been playing on and within 20 minutes she won a $400 jackpot. The casino Gods just refuse to let me win! Mark G.

I begin with casino secret #1: Slot machines can have such a bloodthirsty appetite that they can attack your bankroll with ferocity akin to a school of piranha consuming a cow.

Now let’s move to your playing timeline, the “50 times that I’ve played slots.” Well, Mark, that is relatively short, especially against slot machines, which are notorious for being the toughest game to beat in the house.

Which leads me to what I believe your problem is. It is called, The Grind.  

For example, suppose you are playing on a slot machine that is pre-programmed to return 88% of wagered money back in wins. If you were to cycle through a $200 bankroll, which you can easily do in mere minutes, you can expect back, “in theory,” $176. Now here’s dirty little casino secret #2. The casino knows full well that “you ain’t goin’ nowhere.” 

The casino anticipates with almost 100% certainty that you will be re-playing that $176 and they will happily give you, in return, $155 for doing so. Play the $155, and your return will be $136. Playing through the $136, will get you back $120. Against that kind of math, Mark, you’ve got some nerve trying to be a winner.

It’s understood/assumed, this is based on a pre-programmed computer chip in the machine tuned to return a certain percentage back as wins. But, Mark, can you see how the casino is grinding away at your capital?

Now here’s casino secret #3. The casino is NOT in the gambling business. It is in the math business. On pre-programmed slot machines that give the house a certain percentage return, you are the only one doing the gambling here. Granted, you may happen occasionally to be the one who gets well over an 88% return, but in all probability you will be among the countless who are contributing the 12% to the casino.

Casino secret #4: Casinos LOVE winners. Winning customers are the most important asset in the world to someone involved in selling chance. Winning players tell future losers of their good fortune. Hope, Mark, springs eternal. Alexander Pope (An Essay on Man, 1732)

The huge house advantage on slot machines will always grind away your bankroll at a lickety-split pace. The more time you spend front and center in front of a slot machine, the better the casino’s chances of liquidating your bankroll.

Consider your play normal, Mark, and not some unusual, unexpected natural phenomenon.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: It is not uncommon to see a lady in her bridal gown, married moments ago by a minister in full Elvis regalia, furiously working the slots with a Marlboro clenched between her teeth.” – Rod Wiser, Casino Player


Decent game, for those running the casino

Dear Mark: I happened to come across a game called 3-5-7 Poker. Could you please share some information regarding this game, and, if it is a reasonable game for the player who follows your rule of “only make casino bets that have less than a 2% house edge.” Jeff J.


The game 3-5-7 Poker is a simple poker-based hybrid found both in table and video poker form in many casinos today. It is centered on a three-game structure where the player bets on both the 3-card and 5-card hands, plus is given the opportunity to make an optional wager on the 7-card poker hand. Essentially, Jeff, you are not playing 3-5-7 Poker in opposition to any individual opponent, but against a standard pay table with the typical payoffs listed below.

Play begins with each player making at least two wagers; the 3-card and the 5-card hands, with the 7-card hand being optional. Players can bet varying amounts on each hand, which, of course, is subject to the casino’s table minimum and maximum limits.

Each player then receives three cards, with the dealer dealing him or herself four cards to be used as “community cards.” Next the player reviews his or her three cards and then considers the option of surrendering the seven-card poker hand or letting it stand.

The first portion of this game within a game is 3-Card Poker, and it revolves on your first three cards that you are dealt. At this juncture, you will need to have at least a pair or better to win.

3-Card Hand Pay Table

Hand                           Pays

Straight flush             40 to 1

Three of a kind           25 to 1

Straight                     6 to 1

Flush                         4 to 1

Pair                           1 to 1

Next up, you play the mandatory five-card round, where the dealer will expose two of the four community cards, which makes for the five-card game. To win, you will need a pair of 6’s or better.


5-Card Hand Pay Table


Hand                           Pays

Royal flush                  500 to 1

Straight flush             100 to 1

4 of a kind                  40 to 1

Full House                  12 to 1

Flush                           9 to 1

Straight                      6 to 1

3 of a kind                  4 to 1

2 pair                         3 to 1

Pair (6’s or better)    1 to 1


Finally, the dealer reveals the final two cards, and you are now playing seven-card poker with only the best five of seven cards being used. With this game, you will need at least two pair with at least 10s high or better, or you lose.


7-Card Hand Pay Table


Hand                                       Pays

Royal flush                             100 to 1

Straight flush                         20 to 1

4 of a kind                              7 to 1

Full House                              5 to 1

Flush                                     4 to 1

Straight                                 3 to 1

3 of a kind                             2 to 1

2 pair (10’s or better)          1 to 1

As for a summary of the casino advantage, while playing 3-5-7 Poker, it is 3.49% of the three-card share, 4.12 percent on five cards and 3.28% on the seven-card hand. Obviously, Jeff, all three games have a threshold higher than my “only make casino bets that have less than a 2% house edge.

Although, Jeff, I do not recommend the game, for those who decide to disregard my advice, a simplified playing strategy for 3-5-7 Poker is to never surrender a 7-card hand since the house edge is lowest on the seven-card portion.

Additionally, because you are allowed to wager any amount on any hand, you should bet the most on the 7-card hand, with the least on your 5-card hand because of the casino advantage of each.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “If I won, I felt as if a constellation in my image should appear in the morning sky.” – Jack Richardson, Memoir of a Gambler (1979)