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Deal Me In


Appearances can be deceiving

Dear Mark: I have been a long time, 20-year reader of your column. Your weekly column offers terrific material for us aspiring gamblers. I do strictly abide by your “make only bets that have less than a 2% house rule” with one exception. As you advise, I am always on the lookout for a single-zero roulette table where the house edge is cut in half. Where I usually play, the single-zero roulette wheel made its exit long ago; but just recently, I found a single-zero roulette video machine. As far as I can tell, the layout looks the same. Are the odds the same on this video version as that of a single-zero table game? Brad H.


Thank you, Brad, for your kind words, and certainly for being a loyal reader. As for my Deal Me In column, it started in April of 1996, so I am a year shy of that 20-year milestone.

As you stated, Brad, under normal playing conditions, a single-zero roulette table lowers the house edge to 2.7 percent in contrast to 5.26 percent found on double-zero games. Electronic versions of table games tend to have a variety of different paytables. I noticed that at a local casino where I live in N. Michigan, their single-zero machine only pays 33-for-1 on a straight-up wager versus 35-to-1. For starters, even the astute player had better notice the "for-1" and "to-1" alteration.

At 33-for-1, the machine keeps your original one-unit wager, and you receive only 33 units in winnings. Typically on a single-zero roulette table, you are paid 35-to-1, which is not only 35 units in winnings but you get to keep your initial one unit bet. With that 33 “for” 1 payoff, the house edge skyrockets to 10.8 percent.

By getting only 33 total units on a single-zero video machine, the “yippee” of your initial find will rapidly turn into a “yikes” as your bankroll quickly disappears.


Dear Mark: I have been playing video poker since its beginnings, recording to date well over 100 royal flushes. This weekend, I hit two consecutive Royals in a row, which was a first for me. What are the odds of this happening? I was playing on a 10-7 Double Bonus Poker game. Dave R.


Your video poker gaming timeline, Dave, must have begun in 1979, as that is when Si Redd, by combining a solid-state processing unit with a TV-like monitor, introduced Draw Poker.

I am partial to your game of choice, Dave, as a 10/7 (10 for a full house and 7 for a flush) "Double Bonus" machine not only offers a bonus payout for four aces, but this variation of video poker has a theoretical return of 100.2 percent when played with perfect strategy.

The frequency of Royal flushes depends on your playing expertise. If you are employing optimal play on a 10-7 Double Bonus Poker game, you will average, theoretically, a Royal every 48,048 hands.

Going all the way back to the game’s inception, back-to-back Royals is an event that the vast majority of video poker players have never witnessed and never will. With your example, you just multiply 48,048 X 48,048 and the odds of hitting back-to-back Royals are 2,308,610,304 to one. After your first, though, the Royal after that has the same one in 48,048 chance of hitting.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I don't eat peanuts at the card table. There's no reason in the world eating peanuts should affect the outcome of the game, but it doesn't cost me anything to observe the taboo against it, so I observe it.” – Doyle Brunson, How I Made $1,000,000 Playing Poker (1979)


Using this Lotto write-off ruse is ill advised

Dear Mark: I have a tax liability from a slot jackpot win from this past November of $20,000. Because I have never won any sizable amount in the past, I didn’t do what you have suggested multiple times, that is, keep accurate records of my play. All I have is the tax form from the casino and no documented losses to offset that win. On eBay, I have seen that you can buy losing lottery game tickets, good for a tax write-off on your 2014 gambling losses to offset your winnings. Is this legal? Tim H.

You’re right about one thing, Tim. I have harped incessantly about keeping accurate records so that you can counterbalance your tax liability on your wins by deducting your losses. When keeping law-abiding records while you play, the IRS will accept as documentation your written log detailing the date of your wagers, the location, amount of the bet, type of gaming, and wins and losses. That includes lottery play and losing lottery tickets which can also be used by a loss-claimant to substantiate their loss claims. However, these better be losses incurred by Tim H. of Scranton, PA rather than valueless scratch-off tickets from a party store in Escanaba, MI.

Now, Tim, accepting your query as you meant it, let’s discuss your contrived solution of showing increased loss totals by buying thousands of dollars worth of losing lottery tickets online.

Yes, you can go online and buy $20,000 worth of losing lottery tickets to cover your $20,000 jackpot win. From eBay to Craigslist, some sellers believe repurposed lottery tickets can serve as documentation if Uncle Sam comes a calling. These shady online ads tend to state, “Yes, you can use them for taxes.”

The problem with that is that every lottery ticket is coded with a date, time, and location. How are you going to explain to the IRS that you have thousands of dollars worth of losing tickets from some other state? Any IRS agent worth his salt can easily use his forensic CSI skills to determine that the losses you are claiming are not yours but someone else’s. You can try it, Tim, but I figure you are going to get into some deep doo-doo if you ever find yourself being audited.

Additionally, you really didn’t expect me to step into cow pie myself by recommending to you to buy boatloads of losing lottery tickets in a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did you?

Since you didn’t keep records and you are up against the clock, that being April 15th, you might check to see if – that is if you used a Player’s Card – you can get a win/loss statement from the casino where you hit that jackpot. Unfortunately, gambling losses can only be used to offset gambling winnings during that same tax period. Future losses, like those incurred this year, cannot be carried back to neutralize your November 2014 jackpot.

Oh, and one final thought, Tim. Figure Uncle Sam for having knowledge of your $20,000 score as the IRS also received copies of your W2-G’s from the casino.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” – Mark Twain