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Deal Me In

Monday
Jan032011

That skinny path on the up ‘n up

Dear Mark: Since big jackpots seldom hit, when you play a three-reel mega-jackpot progressive like Megabucks, can you really be certain that each reel has the top symbol for the biggest jackpot, and if so, can it be programmed to never land on that symbol? Jenny D.

Rest assured, Jenny, that if a combination is listed on the pay table, it has to be possible for you to hit it on that machine, or on any other machines wired together on a network. Also feel comfortable that each machine’s payback percentage, while admittedly extremely low because it is a monster progressive, is the same as the payback percentage of all the others that it is linked to. 

Here’s the deal, Jenny. Casinos are not interested in exposing their gaming license to loss through any inkling of cheating, which would be certainly the case if they eliminated an Eagle Megabucks logo from the third reel, or jimmy rigged the machine so it would never land three Eagles across. The gaming industry is probably the most regulated business in America. State gaming regulatory agencies would close a casino down for defrauding, or appearing to defraud, the public by having machines that can’t hit the top jackpot because of a top symbol missing from a particular reel, or a stop position inserted for that icon.

Dear Mark: A bus takes us senior citizens to the casino once a month and I budget my play to what I can afford, which is $100. With that amount, what denomination slot machine should I be playing on? Will it be enough to get some perks? Ruth M.

I’m glad to see, Ruth, that you are prudent player, with a budget, and only gambling with money that you can afford to lose. As for which machine denomination, you need to keep your slot machine selection proportionate to your bankroll. With a $100 bankroll, obviously you shouldn’t be playing dollar slots. A few unlucky pulls and within mere minutes, you’re parked on a stool, sipping free coffee – there’s your freebie – waiting for the motorcoach to take you home.

I would recommend starting off on quarters, tops, and being willing to move down a denomination to nickels or even to pennies if your bankroll falls below $50. But watch out for penny slots. Penny machines should be just that, penny machines. Not a buck a spin when betting ten pennies a line times ten lines.

As for some goodies, Ruth, absolutely. Casinos give away over a billion dollars in comps each year, and as a slot player, you deserve your fair share. You have the ability to “comp yourself” by using one of their player’s club slot cards.

Sign up for player rewards cards wherever you play. They're free, and they should bring you a little something extra, whether it's just a 2-for-1 buffet or possibly cash back. Comps are awarded based on the number of coins you cycle through a machine, so you might as well get credit for all those quarters you are going to be inserting. Besides earning rewards while you play, you will also get offers in the mail for comps designed to attract a return visit. You always want to treat “freebies” as a form of profit, but you never want to gamble just to receive them. I recommend you learn to play video poker, where – even with poor play on a video poker machine – you will have a better payback than you’d get on most “reel” slot machines. Remember, Ruth, that you are there to stay in action longer and possibly win, not to lose your whole $100 for a free trip to the chow line.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: When I was young, people called me a gambler. As the scale of my operations increased I became known as a speculator. Now I am called a banker. But I have been doing the same thing all the time. - Sir Ernest Cassel, Private banker to King Edward VII

Monday
Jan032011

The right to resign Scowlee status

Dear Mark: Why is it that every time I get a few dollars ahead in blackjack, the pit boss stands over the game and watches my play? Jeff K. 

Fair enough, Fred; yes there are some pit bosses who stand guard over a blackjack table like the German Shepard in front of Col. Klink’s office. They sweat the money as if it were their own spoils. But pit bosses know, or at least ought to know, that the casino will suffer short term losing streaks, and that the players’ winnings more often than not will flow back the casino’s way over time, simply because the longer folks gamble with the house's money, the more exposure they have to the casino’s edge. 

When I pit bulled, if the game was on the up-and-up, I wasn’t on pins and needles when a player won decent chunk of money, even on a meager bankroll. It is not all that rare for a player to unleash a hundred dollar bill and run it up to four digits, or even higher. Plus, the house guards against financial ruin during your winning streak by setting table-betting limits. It is the "house limit" that protects the casino bankroll against your lucky assault. 

Being that there are plenty of pit bosses who don’t sweat the money, I would suggest that you move to another table, pit or casino where they actually prefer a few winners, because winners, Jeff, tell the 90 plus percent who lose where they won. PR like that just can’t be bought. 

Dear Mark: I read a column of yours where you talked about offsetting gambling winnings with gambling losses. Can I also offset gambling winnings with stock losses if I sell them in the same year at a loss? Earlier this year, I won a slot jackpot of $18,000. I have collected a few hundred dollars worth of lotto tickets, but I could include some stocks that I can take a loss on. James B.

Reportable gambling winnings reported on the Other Income Line (1040) can come from lotteries, bingo, raffles, horse and dog racing, online poker, casino table games, and of course, your slot jackpot win. You can, though, offset the taxes on your winnings by reporting your gambling losses. Unfortunately, gathering up a couple hundred in lottery tickets or scratch-offs isn’t going to cut it, James, nor will your market losses.

As a loss-claimant, you must substantiate your loss claims with a flawlessly documented, descriptive gambling diary, but what you are not able to do is include your stock losses against your jackpot win. Only gambling losses can offset gambling wins. Uncle Sam won’t let you counterbalance a stock market loss against a gaming windfall.  

And there’s more, James. Besides verifiable records necessary to support your losses pertaining to gambling, you can only deduct them if your deductions are itemized, and they must be deducted in the year of the loss or they are forever departed as deductions.

Oh, and if I haven’t ruined your day yet, James, be aware that now that you have won a jackpot and received a W2-G, don't imagine that Uncle Sam doesn’t know of your tax liability. The IRS also receives a copy of your W2-G from the casino, and their computers are acquainted with your payday before, dare I say, you give it all back.

Gambling Wisdom of Week: “Next to the pleasure of winning is the pleasure of losing; only stagnation is unendurable.” ­–Hubert Howe Bancroft California Inter Pocula 1888 US historian