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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. I saw something weird at the blackjack table. The dealer accidentally, or absent-mindedly, flipped up both his cards. Everybody at the table could see she had a hard 19. I was sitting there with hard 18, ready to hit rather than just take the loss to the 19. She called over the pit supervisor, and the supervisor voided the hand. That upset a couple of players. One had a blackjack, and another had a 20, so Iíd have been pretty mad, too. Did the supervisor handle it correctly?

A. Iím not sure Iíve seen that happen, so I asked a casino table-games director, who is a longtime source of mine. He said that it depends on both jurisdiction and internal controls that the individual casino files with the state gaming board.

In most jurisdictions, casinos must file voluminous internal controls with the gaming board that details situations that can and do crop up in casinos. One casinoís internal controls might say the hand is voided if the dealer exposes both cards. At another casino in the same state, the internal controls might say the exposed card is replaced with a new down card.

In some cases, voiding the hand will help players. In other cases, it will help the house. Whatís important to the gaming control board is that there is a clear policy and that it is enforced exactly the same way every time the situation occurs.

My source said heíd like to have the option to do something creative, like "semi-voiding" when the dealer has a standing hand, paying players who have him beat on board and ruling no bet on those who donít. However, he said thatís not practical because he is required to follow the internal controls the gaming board has on file.

Q. Iím seeing a lot of video roulette games around, with betting on screens. Some have real wheels, some are on video, and multiple players can bet on the same spin, just like at regular roulette. I donít play roulette a lot, but like it as a little change of pace. Does the format change the odds at all?

Also, my wife plays more slots than I do, and she likes the one-player Roulette games. How do they compare to regular roulette?

A. The odds of the game on systems such as Rapid Roulette and Vegas Star are the same as on regular roulette tables. If youíre at a double-zero wheel, the house edge is still 5.26 percent on all bets, except the five-number wager at 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3, where the edge is 7.89 percent. There are some added features, such as on Novomaticís game, where you can touch the screen for different views to check game history, numbers that have come up frequently, or numbers that have not. Nevertheless, the game is still roulette.

Players do need to be cautious, however, because electronic wagering means the dealer doesnít have to take time to pay winners, or clear away and stack losing chips. The game moves faster than old-style roulette, which means more exposure to the house edge and higher average losses per hour.

Beyond more bets per hour, the games benefit the casinos in that more betting positions can be linked to a single wheel. Rapid Roulette, which uses a dealer with a physical wheel, can serve 100 betting terminals from one wheel. Paying one dealer to spin for 100 customers means significant savings on wages and benefits.

As for the single-player Roulette game manufactured by Bally Technologies, the house edges are variable. Both single-zero and double-zero versions have a small niche on video slot floors, and often have payback percentages similar to penny slots. Some versions of Roulette return 36-for-1 on a winning single-number bet --- the same as saying 35-to-1, as you would on a table game.

To make Roulette work on a low-denomination slot format, some machines have lower payoffs, as low as 32-for-1. At 32-for-1, the house edge on a single-number bet on a single-zero game is 13.5 percent, for a payback of 86.5 percent. With a double-zero virtual wheel, that house edge rises to 15.8 percent, or a 84.2 percent return. If the return rises to 33-for-1, paybacks go up to 89.2 percent with one zero, or 86.8 percent with two. At 34-for-1, it's 91.9 percent with one zero, 89.5 percent with two, and at 35-for-1 it's 94.6 percent with one zero and 92.1 percent with two.

Those are slot-like paybacks designed for slot players.

Q. Now that everybody seems to have gone to free slot play instead of cash back, whatís your best play if you just want to cash out and use the money to buy lunch, or just take it home?

A. Iíd take it to one of the least volatile video poker games, such as Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker, meet the wager requirement, and then cash out. With free play, youíre required to bet all the money once, so if you have $20 in free play, then making $1.25 max bets on a quarter poker machine means 16 hands before you can cash out.

The key is the 2-for-1 payoff on two pairs in Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker. In Jacks or Better --- with some variation according to pay table --- we draw two pair nearly 13 percent of the time and it accounts for more than 25 percent of our payback. That smoothes out the rough spots compared with Double Double Bonus Poker, where two pairs still account for more than 12 percent of our hands, but less than 12.5 percent of our return.

There are never any guarantees in gambling, but if your goal is to get out with something close to your free play amount in cash, the games that give you the best chance of accomplishing that are Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker.

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