Deal Me In: Player's recall might be slightly off

19 December 2008

Dear Mark: I like to play video blackjack on 25-cent machines. Do you know if these machines are dealt randomly from a deck of 52 or are they "fixed" to give me fewer blackjacks? It seems I never get my fair share of blackjacks compared to a table game, nor seem to win as much. Bill H.

Video blackjack, Bill, is dealt from a randomly shuffled 52-card electronic deck, and each card has an equal chance of being dealt. Cards are shuffled by a computer program called a random number generator, and hand probabilities are the same as if a live dealer were shuffling a physical deck of cards.

Yet, when it comes to gambling, human memory can be very selective. If you were to actually track your blackjacks over, say, 100,000 hands, you would find that you will have been dealt natural blackjacks on a video blackjack machine as frequently as in a live table game: 4.83% of the time.

The reason you might be a little lighter in the billfold is that typically rules on video blackjack can differ adversely from those of table blackjack. You want to make sure that blackjacks pay 3 to 2, and that the rules on doubling and splitting are equal to those of a live table game. Otherwise, plan on the casino's having a higher edge on your video play.

Dear Mark: They did it again. Here you have me trained to search out the best pay tables on video poker machines and they keep changing what a full house and flush play. I'll keep looking, but how much am I really giving up when they change from a 8/5 machine to a 7/5 one? Sue L.

Because it is illegal for casinos to fiddle with the relative frequency of winning hands, all they have to do in order to change payback percentages is to change the payoffs. If the game is a 9/6 Jacks or better (meaning full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes pay 6- for-1), the machines will return 99.5% over the long run with optimal play.

A Jacks or Better machine that pays 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes returns 97.3%, and what's the latest, NOT greatest at your casino, a 7/5 machine, returns only 96.2%.

Since all big cats look alike in tall grass, the tiger hunt is forever on you to locate and scrutinize each pay table and find which ones give you the lowest house edge. At least you're on the chase; most players, to their sorrow, are not.

Dear Mark: In my most recent escapade to a casino I hit a $1,655 nickel progressive while my husband won about $5,800 playing blackjack. I get hit with a W-2G while he walks out of the casino with nothing more than a smile on his face. I'm not complaining, but is that fair? Jan H.

Getting socked a W-2G for winnings of $1,200 while your husband gloats over his score just doesn't seem fair. For giggles though, you could wipe that smirk off his face and say that ALL gambling winnings are technically taxable, even if he wasn't issued traceable paperwork.

Even though table game players don't encounter any government paperwork until they hit $10,000, you're right, machine players do get whacked with paperwork for a whole lot less. According to Uncle Sam, the casino must issue you a W-2G form if a bingo or slot machine win is above $1,200, or the net proceeds from a keno win are greater than $1,500.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Many gamblers are actors. They consider the seat at the table their stage." --Mike Goodman, How To Win

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