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BLACKJACK ON THE HIGH SEAS

by Jean Scott.

Jean Scott is the author of the best-selling book " The Frugal Gambler," a casino guide for thrifty low rollers, plus the sequel, " More Frugal Gambling." She has also written " Tax Help for the Frugal Gambler," a practical guide to help gamblers cope with the complex regulations of the IRS. Her most recent book, " Frugal Video Poker," is a complete how-to guide for video poker players at all levels, from beginners to the experienced, and it is the perfect companion to the " Frugal Video Poker software program." A helpful companion to that book is " The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide." Jeans books and software are available at a 10 percent discount in our BJI Store.

 

Many people who have been following Bradís and my gambling adventures for the last 23 years know that we started on the path of advantage play at the blackjack table. But around 1990 our gambling took a different direction. Brad retired and we had more time to spend in Vegas and other casino venues, and the casinos were beginning to reward machine players more liberally than table players. So, we switched to video poker and earned comps at a much faster rate with less risk to our bankroll. We pretty much relegated blackjack to coupon runs and the occasional social game on a cruise ship when there were no other gambling choices in the shipís casino that were even halfway good.

That was, in fact, the situation we found on a cruise we took this last month. Although we had been on many cruises through the years (including a couple on the Mediterranean), we felt a little "cruised out," but this particular Mediterranean cruise interested us because it included some ports we had never visited, including a couple in Turkey. Plus we had good friends who were going on this cruise (they had earned this free cruise at Treasure Island) and they wanted us to go along with them. Unfortunately, we had not played much at TI in recent years so we didnít qualify for this high-level free-cruise comp. We thought about playing a lot of video poker at TI in a short time to qualify for the cruise, but felt that we would be risking more money than the trip was worth. Besides, we had old Station points that would cover the cost, so it would still be "free."

Since we live in Vegas, we spend most of our vacation time in non-gambling activities for a "rest." After all, a vacation usually means a change from your regular schedule. And since we had planned tours 6 out of the 7 days that we were on the Costa Serena ship, gambling was not on the top of our to-do list. However, we still like blackjack for the social atmosphere, and we knew a number of players in the TI contingent. So most evenings after dinner, it was fun to go down to the shipís casino and play an hour or two of blackjack at tables full of friends and new acquaintances.

The BJ rules were pretty good for a ship casino. Although the shoe had eight decks, the dealers stood on a soft 17, you could double-down on any two cards, and you could split up to four hands and double down after pair splitting was allowed. This would make it a playable "social" game for small stakes, $5 and $10, even though it had a small negative expectation. However, a bonus provided by Treasure Island turned it into an exciting and slightly positive game. You were given a ticket every time you got a blackjack hand and they were put in a drawing drum. And every night they drew for prizes that ranged from $250 to $3000, given as free play when you came back to TI. This was quite an unexpected but good promotion.

We had one other gambling activity in Europe. We spent three days in Venice before our ship sailed and we and our friends visited the Casino Municipale. The men put on their sports jackets (a requirement in most European casinos) and we paid the 10 Euro admission charge. We got to go in the machine part of the casino and check out the video poker machines Ė not good paytables Ė but we were disappointed that it was too early to go into the section with table games. It does not open until late afternoon and we didnít have the time to wait.

After the cruise, we took a train from Venice to Rome, where we spent three days Ė but we didnít visit any casinos. Good thing because our old bodies were now feeling the effects of two weeks in strange beds and far too much walking! We barely survived the 24-hour journey from our Rome hotel to our familiar comfortable bed in Vegas. It took us a full two weeks to recover from two weeks of too much fun!

Happy New Year!

Editors Note: There is a great web site that focuses on gambling on different cruise ships. Check it out at www.cruise-ships.com. The host of the site is Milton Benjamin, and he wrote an article on cruise ships and gambling in issue 99 of the BJI.

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