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Deal Me In


The Price of Your Free Lunch

Dear Mark: In general, how much money has to be gambled to earn enough points for complimentary meals and hotel rooms. I've always gotten vague responses from the casinos and gamblers.  Morris R.

The reason for the elusive replies, Morris, is because the formula for getting the goodies differs from casino to casino, even between contiguous casinos. 

For slot players, many of the Player’s Club brochures describe your rewards by points accumulated. When you insert your slot club card into a slot machine, the magnetic strip enables the casino to know exactly how much money you are actually betting. The slot machine tracks your coin-in play, then funds your slot club card with comp points. The greater the coin-in, the more compensation the casino is willing to part with. But again, Morris, side-by-side casinos have different point totals to justify their freebies, so refer to your Player’s Club brochure or slot host to see what you need to play for a hot and a cot. 

The pit may use a different criterion to assess your rating and eligibility for room, food and beverages (RFB s). In the casinos I worked in, we considered your average bet, how many hours you were possibly going to play, speed of the game, and the casino advantage. This, in theory, computes essentially your expected loss to us over a certain period of time. 

Here’s an example of that formula: Suppose you are betting $10 a hand for three hours, averaging 100 hands per hour, saddled with a house advantage of five percent the casino holds over the average blackjack player. We could predict that you should lose $150 ($10 X 3 hrs. X 100 hands X .05 = $150). Since you were putting a decent chunk of change ($3,000) “in action” over a calculated stretch of time, yes, Morris, a free trip to the chow line, that really cost you $150, might be warranted.  

Dear Mark: Per your “curious as to why casinos do not give you any $10 bills when you cash in a ticket at the cashier cage or the ticket redemption machine” question last week from Stan, I would like to comment. I work in a cage on the Strip. The ticket redemption machines have room for only four canisters; so, ones, fives, $20's and $100's are carried in them. There is no room for tens. I'd be curious where this casino is that does not give out tens at the cage? Never heard of that on the Las Vegas Strip. There are currently two problems with currency put into the slot machines. The 100's issued in 2006, for which they have been working on a fix for many months, and certain new fives do not work well. Have not heard if they have a fix for either of these yet. Will keep you informed. Steve S. 

Last week I tossed that question out to the Standing Committee (our readers) to see if and why it is happening where they play. I received lots of e-mail, yours, Steve, giving a good descriptive reason as to possibly why. I also received emails from just about every geographic area where the column runs stating that no such problem regarding tens exists. Then there’s Sparky, from Reno, NV, claiming he has never gotten a ten-dollar bill from a ticket-cashing machine, to which Nelson, from Torrance, CA, believes like ATM’s that only dispense $20’s, thinks it is a space and cost issue. As to why a cage cashier isn’t handing out $10’s where Stan plays, that’s still an unsolved mystery.  

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: It would appear that gambling in the betting sense is a thread in the pattern of social evolution – a thread that has remained unbroken since the dawn of time. - J Philip Jones Gambling Yesterday and Today 1973


R stands for Right, Rong, or Ravishing

Dear Mark: I read one of your columns online where you wrote; “speed kills in a casino environment.” You were talking about the differences in blackjack between a dealer hand shuffling and machines that shuffle the cards. Here is where my question comes in. I play a decent game of quarter video poker at a pretty good clip whereas my wife plays quarter slots at a leisurely pace. Although I’m playing faster, at a game with a lower house edge, does my speed offset that lower house edge compared to my wife, who thinks she is actually playing smarter by playing quarter slots, at a much slower pace? We argue over this every time we play together. Frank R.

Yes, Frank, speed kills in a casino, the zinger fact being: the more hands or handle yanks either of you play per hour, the more your gambling funds are subjected to the razor-sharp edge of the house knife. With the limited information in your question, Frank, I’ll have to make a few assumptions, like how fast is a good clip and how good is decent? The fast-fingered can be clocked at 750-800 hands an hour at video poker. But for argument’s sake, I’ll assume that you employ basic strategy and play at a pace of 500 hands/hour. Also, without knowing which quarter machines your wife enjoys or her pace, I am going to figure her play at six spins a minute on a three-coin machine. You first, Frank.

With canny machine selection and some video poker prowess, you can reduce the house edge to one half of one percent. So, risking the maximum coin amount on a quarter machine of $1.25, at a steady pace of 500 hands per hour, you will put into play $625 during those 60 minutes, creating an hourly loss of approximately  $3.

Pretty sweet, Frank, but the minuscule 0.5% casino advantage includes the likelihood of your hitting a royal flush. If you don’t, the house edge would be considerably higher. Even with your keen eye identifying machines with a decent payback and employing perfect play, the house edge without hitting a royal flush on a quarter Jacks-or-better 9/6 machine is 2.5%. So, Frank, while you hanker for that royal, expect an hourly loss of $15 and change.

Now let’s figure your wife’s play.

Characteristically, a player pushes a button once every ten seconds. On a 3-coin quarter machine, wagering 75 cents per spin, that’s $4.50 per minute, or $270 per hour. Since the average quarter machine returns approximately 92% to the player, over the long run, your wife will lose around $22 for every hour of play. So, Frank, minus a jackpot, and neither of you playing Speedy-Gonzales-fast, a four-hour session is going to cost you $60, your wife, $88. 

Now you could sweet-talk her into playing video poker instead, but there is the fun factor of playing slots for her, and possibly the lack of desire to educate herself on video poker basic strategy. Therefore, it’s an argument you could win mathematically, but only you will know if you win or lose elsewhere in the household, if you know what I mean.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: Every bet represents an artificially induced crisis. Life squeezed down to a moment of all or nothing. You oscillate from feelings of wild abandonment to icy fear and back again within an instant. - Mark Cotton, One Hundred Hints for Better Betting (1994)