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Deal Me In


Disclosure of slot return percentages not guaranteed

Dear Mark: Are casinos required by law to inform the customer what the slot return percentages are for their slot machines? Mary Ellen P.


Because slot machines hold some of the highest percentage returns for the casino, yes, Mary Ellen, consumers should be granted those numbers so they can shop for value by comparing percentage returns. Unfortunately, Mary Ellen, it strictly depends on the state where you are playing.


Disappointingly, some casinos are NOT required by their state to release information on slot machine percentage paybacks; other states break down casino returns by geographic area, and in some states, it’s easy to find out the average slot payback percentage on all slot machines for an individual casino. It’s posted right in the newspaper.


Nevertheless, no matter where you play, every slot machine has an accounting system built in that contains the data needed to make that hold percentage calculation. Whether the casino releases that information to the general public is based on whether the state requires it to, or not. 


Dear Mark: Basic strategy states that when you have a soft 18, and the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or an Ace, you are supposed to hit that hand. If I have more than two cards that make a soft 18, should I continue to keep hitting? Zach S.


You are correct, Zach, that when you have a two-card soft 18, basic strategy dictates that you stand against a two, double down versus a three through six, stand if the dealer is showing a seven or eight, and hit against a nine, 10 or ace. Having a soft 18 consisting of more than two cards doesn’t change that strategy. You should continue to hit it. 


Yes, Zach, it does seem odd, but you are still slightly better off by hitting a soft 18 with multiple cards than you would be by standing pat. 


Dear Mark: Based on your suggestion, I avoid machine-shuffled blackjack games. Fortunately, where I play, they still offer some hand-shuffled games; both cards that are dealt face-up and face-down.  What is the casino’s rationale for cards being dealt face-up? Rob B.


I am glad, Rob, that you are heeding my suggestion of avoiding automatic shuffling machines. Even though the built-in edge the casino holds on your play is the same whether shuffling is by hand or by machine, with machine shuffling the game is played at a much faster pace – more hands dealt per hour – to as much as 25% more hands per hour. Why give casinos those extra hands per hour when they already hold an edge on your play?


As for the rationale behind the cards being dealt face-up, once again, it speeds up the game. Dealers can instantly announce hand totals without themselves handling the cards. Another reason, Rob, is for security purposes, in that it eliminates the potential for cheating by a player marking or switching cards.


 Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Look high, look low, and we see that gamblers actually form the majority of the world's inhabitants.” - James Runciman, Side Lights (1893)


Odd dollar jackpot avoids a W-2G

Dear Mark: Why do casinos have jackpots on their video poker machines that pay $1,199? That seems like an odd jackpot number. Trish H.


Think, Trish, of a $1,199 jackpot as the Lords of Chance doing you a favor.

A blast from the past typically on video poker machines, that $1,199 bonanza is $1 shy from you getting a mandatory tax form. At $1,200, the casino is required by the IRS to have you sign a W-2G before they can pay you. At $1,199, you avoid the paperwork. Although there is still a tax liability on all casino winnings, the $1,199 windfall is between you and the IRS.

Now for those of you might want to ask a slot attendant to be paid a $1 less on a $1,200 royal flush to dodge a W2-G, I’d say, “Not a chance.” Here’re two reasons why: accounting – the pencil pushers upstairs like things balanced – and collusion. Again, granting all gambling winnings are technically taxable, Uncle Sam getting wind of a publicly traded company on the NYSE in cahoots with players trying to avoid paying taxes would be jeopardizing a casino’s gaming license.

A little side note about “things balanced.” I worked for a time in the cashier’s cage, where at the end of a shift, you totaled out the casino cage. In essence, you count down every dollar within the casino walls. We’re talking millions here. If an incoming shift supervisor is $0.10 off, they can plan on running a tape until they find it. Yours Truly, being dyslexic, ended up acquiring blistering speed on a 10-key adding machine by forever searching for that dime.


Dear Mark: What do casinos do with the old slot machines they are no longer using? Steve H.


It depends on, Steve, if the casino bought them outright, the manufacturer placed them in the casino to share profits, or they are leased. If they come from the manufacturer or leased, both parties will come and scoop them up. If a casino outright bought the machine, the casino will sell the machine after its useful life to a slot wholesaler or distributor, or, it finds its way to the slot graveyard in the basement. 

If you were looking to purchase a particular machine, I would recommend searching for it on the Internet, especially on eBay.

One caveat, Steve. Many states do restrict private ownership of slot machines. You might want to check that out first. 


Dear Mark: On a Jacks-or-Better video poker machine, is it ever advised to break up a high pair? For instance, I have a pair of Queens, but I also have four cards to a Royal Flush. What is the correct strategy here? Also, how much am I giving away if I play three or four coins instead of the full five coin amount? Daniel L.


Basic strategy, Daniel, dictates that you should always break up a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces for a one-card draw in preference to a four-card straight flush, four-card inside straight flush, or a royal flush.

Players who play short of the maximum number of coins, be it one, two, three or four coins/credits, have a theoretical of 98.05%, considerably less than the near zero house edge you would have with perfect play and full-pay 9/6 machine.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “With the casino and the beds, our passengers (Virgin Airline) will have at least two ways to get lucky on one of our flights.” - Sir Richard Branson