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Deal Me In


A freebie can be had just by asking

Dear Mark: About twenty-five years ago I met you when you were a pit boss on the South Shore at a Lake Tahoe casino. I remember asking you if I could have a deck of cards and you said, okay, just so long as you answer a trivia question correctly. I do not remember what the question was, but I do remember that I did NOT get it right. You said, “Close enough, no one ever does,” and you handed me a used deck of cards along with your casino business card. I have not been back to Nevada since until just recently for a bowling tournament in Reno. Low and behold, I pick up the local newspaper, the Reno Gazette Journal, and see that you now write a column on gambling. I kept the cards as a keepsake and recently found them in a drawer. I noticed when breaking the seal and opening the top, this was scrawled on the inside: VW, BF, 22:30, T3 and 6/26. What does all this mean? By the way, do you remember the trivia question you asked me that no one ever gets right? Randy M.


As I was always generous with the casino’s money, you never had to get any of my trivia questions right. A souvenir deck of cards could easily be had, or for that matter, from most pit bosses just by politely asking for one.

I have given away countless decks of cards over the years, but always preceded it by having the player attempt to answer one of my obligatory trivia questions, usually one of my go-to, three below.

Name the four founding members of Creedence Clearwater Revival: They were John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford. I can’t remember anyone ever getting all four.  

Who were the four 20-game winners for the 1971 Baltimore Orioles? The 1971 Orioles are the last MLB club to have four 20-game winners in a season. They were Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. Most trivia partakers usually missed either Dobson or Cuellar.

The third trivia question was how do you spell Albuquerque? A L B U Q U E R Q U E is one of those bar bets trivia questions that bar-stool regulars trying to snag someone for a free drink can spell, but in the real world, hardly anyone can.

If a player was stumped, as almost all were, one needed not fear. As long as a player knew how to spell his first name, I would still give him a complimentary memento to commiserate his gambling losses.

Breaking down the scribbling that you found on the inside lid, obviously, 6/26 was the date. 22:40 is military time for 10:40, and the log time when the deck came off the game. T3 denotes Table 3, which happened to be in the main pit right next to the crap table. VW and BF represents the current dealer and the pit boss who pulled the cards off the game. Because I worked swing shift, with those initials, I can identify VW as the dealer Victoria Walker, and BF being Boyd Frame, the pit supervisor, although the work designation of each that night might have been reversed as both were dual-rate employees. How’s that for a memory a quarter-century later?

Incidentally, both of the individuals mentioned above had a noteworthy background. Victoria was cast for an infamous role in the cult classic skiing movie, Hot Dog: The Movie, of which Yours Truly was an extra (skier) in the Chinese Downhill scene. Boyd Frame’s uncle, Fred Frame, was the winner of the 1932 Indianapolis 500, and Boyd, himself, played offensive line alongside John Madden at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Thanks for the memories, Randy.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Give me a deck of cards instead of a tax shelter and I'll take my chances.” – Mario Puzo, Inside Las Vegas


Wholesale payback alterations cost prohibitive, time consuming and labor intensive

Dear Mark: In your column last week, “Who watches them,” you stated “Some states do allow casinos to make variations to slot machines under that state’s regulations.” I play in Reno, NV. What variations can the casino make in Reno to their slot machines?  Nancy C.

As I stated in that column, Nancy, “Different jurisdictions have different rules regarding changing payback programs on slot machines.”

In Nevada, to change payback programs on a slot machine, you need a Manufacturer's License. Since every casino has a Manufacturer's License, each can change its payback programs at will. That said, I must also state that it is hardly ever done, especially across-the-board.

For a Nevada casino to alter the percentage return, the casino must swap out an internal component, the ROM portion of the microprocessor chip. ROM, or read only memory, is a chip the slot manufacturer provides to the casino. Besides being both time consuming and labor intensive, it is very costly for a casino to have two payback chipsets for each of their slot machines. After all that, every change would also need to be reported to the State of Nevada so they, that being the government, can get their share of the slot win.

Dear Mark: When the casino is not too crowded, I will usually play two 25¢ slot machines at once. I will usually put between $20 and $40 in each, and when one machine dries up on credits, I stick with the remaining credits on the second machine. On my last casino outing, and the first machine out of credits, I got lucky and hit for $500 on the second machine. I decided against putting another $20 in the machine I had been previously playing. Maybe I should have. A young gal sat down and within a few minutes hit a $4,000 jackpot. I told her I had just been playing that machine, and she responded, sympathetically, “Had you kept playing it, the $4,000 would have been yours.” I believe that you disagree with that statement and have written so in the past. Could you please reaffirm my reservations that the $4,000 was not really mine? Joyce K.

You might have nailed the casino for 500 buckaroos, Joyce, but that particular $4,000 was never to be yours, even if you had continued to play on that machine all along.

For you to reap that 4K jackpot, you would have had to push the spin button at the same micro-second
that the play who won did. Any change in your timing would yield an entirely different result.

With the RNG (random number generator) always crunching possibilities, with millions of numbers polled every second, the result is calculated at the exact millisecond that you press the play button. That information is then sent to an electronic chip to synchronize a particular halting point for each reel. 

Almost certainly, Joyce, you would have started your spin nowhere near the same instant the young gal did, so the $4,000 jackpot would not have appeared, hence your results would have been completely different.

You did pocket the $500 and walk, right!


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Percentages are sticklers for the truth.” – Nick "The Greek" Dandalos, Nick the Greek: King of Gamblers (1969)