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CASINO ANSWER MAN

by John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. My brother-in-law says he played at a blackjack table with video cards, but with real chips. Iíve played with real cards, but video betting, and with all video. Do you have any idea why the differences, and how much difference it makes to players?

A. One of the leaders in electronic versions of table games is DigiDeal. Among its first products was Digital 21, with real chips but cards dealt on a video screen, with a random number generator. It blurred the lines between electronic game and table game, and was licensed for play in some jurisdictions that did not permit table games, or did not permit house-banked table games.

DigiDeal still distributes table games with video game play and real chips. Instead of a dealer, such tables have a "game host" who makes payoffs and serves as the casinoís point of contact with its customers. However, DigiDeal today also distributes games with real cards and electronic betting, and fully automated games in which both game-play and wagering are electronic.

Other companies have chosen not to follow the real chips, electronic play model. Shuffle Master, the United Statesí largest distributor of proprietary table games, uses electronic wagering but real cards on its iTable, and has other product lines of fully automated electronic table games.

For advantage players, tables that use real cards can be counted like any other, though the iTable uses a card-reading shoe that has the potential to allow surveillance to rate play more accurately. If the cards are dealt by an RNG, on the other hand, the effect can be like a fresh shuffle on every hand, with no card count possible. There have been electronic table games with "cards" removed from play between shuffles, but operators can offer a fresh deck with every hand with no time for shuffling necessary.

Q. On an 8-5 Bonus Poker game, I was getting 150 coins on every four of a kind. There was no 400 on the Aces, but they all paid more than the usual 125. How does that affect the payback percentage?

A. Iím seeing more and more of that version, in several jurisdictions. There's no 400-coin jackpot on four Aces, or 200 coins on four 2s-4s. The "bonus" is just a 25-credit increase from Jacks or Better quad payoffs.

Classic 8-5 Bonus Poker pays 99.2 percent with expert play. With all quads paying 150, 8-5 Bonus Poker pays only 98.5 percent. If you go down a level, to the 7-5 game, where full houses pay 7-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, the classic version that includes the 400- and 200-credit levels on quads returns 98.0 percent, while the 150-for-all-quads version pays only 97.3 percent.

It seems as if "Bonus Poker" is becoming a catch-all title, instead of one with any real definition. It originally rose to popularity in the 1980s because of that 400-coin bonanza on four Aces, worth $100 on a quarter machine --- a nice win to walk away with, rather than the $31.25 on a Jacks or Better quad.

The classic version is still around in some places, but the 150-coin quads version you mention has become a common offering. Even thatís better than a version Iíve seen that leaves the four-of-a-kind bonuses intact, but reduces the two-pair payoff to 1-for-1. The first time I saw it, it looked enticing because of its 10-8 pay table, returning 10-for-1 on full houses and 8-for-1 on flushes. That didn't come close to offsetting the drop in the two-pair return. It still was labeled "Bonus Poker," but returned only 94.2 percent with expert play.

Iíve even seen a version that drops the payoffs on three of a kind to 2-for-1. It leaves intact the 400-coin quad Aces and 200-coin quad 2s, 3s, and 4s. Moreover, the machines I saw paid 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes. Iíd have sat down for a session but I noticed the 2-for-1 payoff on three of a kind. That short payback costs 7.5 percent of the expected return, and takes this version of 8-5 Bonus Poker all the way down to a 91.7 percent return.

It's a let-the-buyer-beware situation that goes beyond the simple full house-flush check we need to do at most video poker games. If you're going to play Bonus Poker, check to make sure the bonuses are intact, that two pairs pay 2-for-1 and that three of a kind pays 3-for-1. What you see is what you get, but make sure you're seeing all that's there and not just the name.

Q. Betting the donít in craps, is there ever a time when itís smarter NOT to lay the odds? I heard 6 and 8 are shooterís numbers, and that I should back off on those points.

A. The 6 and 8 are the most commonly rolled numbers other than 7, but there are still more ways to make a 7 than there are 6 and 8. If youíre on the donít and the shooter establishes a 6 or 8 as the point, you have six ways to win --- the six ways to make 7 --- and only 5 ways to lose.

Once a point is established, the donít bettor is always the favorite to win the bet. Youíre a bigger favorite if the point is 5 or 9, and an even bigger favorite if the point is 4 or 10, but I wouldnít call any number a "shooterís number."

You lay 5-6 odds to back a donít pass bet when the point is 6 or 8, and that accurately reflects the odds of winning. There is no house edge when laying the odds, just as thereís no house edge in taking the odds when youíre betting the other side.

When I play the donít, I keep my bet at house minimum. That minimizes losses on the come out, where the donít bettor is the underdog. Then I lay the odds, no matter what the point.

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