Deal Me In: This virtual table game has one big drawback

23 August 2013

Dear Mark: Here in Reno, several casinos have blackjack machines where the "dealer" is a video of an attractive, young lady. Are the cards dealt randomly the same as would happen on a live table game or are these machines programmed to pay out a predetermined percentage? The machines have player favorable rules, including surrender allowed. So, am I wrong to think this is a better place to play than a live dealer game? Alan C.

I believe the machines you are speaking of, Alan, are called Table Master, and they use a video representation of a cybernetic life-sized dealer, or as you described, an attractive, young lady, placed at the center of a fully automated blackjack game.

These games give you a realistic live table-like performance of not only Blackjack, but also Three-Card Poker, Let It Ride, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, Royal Match 21, and Dragon Bonus Baccarat.

As to your first question, Alan, yes, all hands are dealt randomly. Table Master blackjack machines are not programmed to return a set percentage as would, say a slot machine. Your play, along with favorable rules like surrender, doubling and split variations that favor the player, will dictate your percentage return.

The best feature of these avatar machines is that, at least in my gambling locale, the game is offered for as little as a buck a hand. Likewise, in most gaming jurisdictions you will find a decent-sized gap between a Table Master wager and that of a live table game.

All is good, right? Well, Alan, not necessarily.

On average, Alan, Table Master games nearly double the number of hands played per hour. In "gamble-ese" this is called "incremental game speed." Although the payoffs are the same as those of a live table game, you need to take into account that increase in speed. With the advantage of more hands played per hour, that attractive young lady can draw down the contents of your billfold faster than the dealer at a live table game.

The game plan here, Alan, is to slow your play, especially when playing alone. Take your time to study each hand. Because you are playing against a machine, no one is going to intimidate you if your play is at a leisurely pace. Additionally, because the payoffs and rules are effectively the same as those of a live game, basic strategy is the smart play here against a computer-generated dealer.

Also, if you are a novice player, play on the lowest denomination machine until your level of expertise rises. Oh, and one more thing. Don't forget to use a Casino Player's Card so you can be rewarded with some goodies for your play.

Dear Mark: Could you please give an example of what you mean by "expected value" on a bet where you recommend only making bets with a casino edge of less than 2 percent? Chase D.

Astute gamesters making bets that have less than a two percent house advantage are giving themselves a fair chance of winning, and a fair chance, Chase, is all that any gambler should ask for. So matching "expected value" with that nugget of advice, expected value (EV) is how much you can expect to win (positive) or lose (negative) from your bet. For example, the expected value of betting the Bank hand in Baccarat is -1.17 percent. This means you can expect to lose 1.17 percent of every dollar you wager. Another example would be European (single-zero) roulette. Here, the expected value is -2.7 percent, which means you can expect to lose 2.7 percent of every dollar you bet.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold." -- Yiddish Proverb

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