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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 recently made my first trip to Atlantic City, and at the urging of friends, I played a lot of Joker's Wild, two pair or better, with the big jackpot on five of a kind. The natural royal, wild royal, and straight flush all paid 500, and the 4,000 payout was on five of a kind. What does that do to jackpot frequency? Is this a good game to play?

A. That version of Joker Poker has had a long run in Atlantic City, though itís not as common as it once was. A quick check at vpfree2.com shows it is still on the floor at Resorts in 25-cent and 50-cent games.

The top jackpot hits more much often compared to getting royal flushes in non-wild card games such as Jacks or Better or Double Double Bonus Poker. With expert play, youíll get five of a kind about once per 10,994 hands, compared with once per 40,000-plus for royals in other games. Top jackpots account for 7.28 percent of the overall payback, compared with roughly 2 percent for royals in most other games.

Thatís the upside. The downside is that with the pay table starting at two pairs, 69.9 percent of hands are losers. Compare that with 54.5 percent losers at 9-6 Jacks or Better.

Given an 8-5 pay table, where full houses pay 8-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, this version of Jokerís Wild, two pair, returns 97.2 percent, about the same as the 97.3 percent on 8-5 Jacks or Better. Itís not a moneymaking opportunity by any means.

Q. My buddy and I were talking blackjack, and he said in this day and age counting cards is useless. He said player tracking is all computerized now, and they can spot an advantage player's patterns right away. Is that right? Can they spot that in real time? Do they?

A. Software does exist to analyze your play in real time. I saw a version being demonstrated a couple of years ago at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) by Douglas Florence of The Florence Group. Florence spent five years as director of security at the Mirage and also headed security operations at the Hard Rock and M Resort, as well as working for several security systems providers.

Many casinos are not yet using such software. The potential gains in curtailing advantage play have to be weighed against the costs of such systems. Even at properties that do spend the money to have the systems installed, itís not going to instantly mark you as an advantage player. It will alert security more quickly than a human observer could that youíre a player to be watched.

As more casinos adopt analytical software, itís going to become more important than ever for advantage players to hit and run with short sessions before moving on.

Q. My usual spot is slot right of stickman and I try to kerplunk the dice in the same area on the right side of the back wall. Same arc, same drop, every time. So I'm hitting all sorts of numbers (I had my 6 up to $180) and the pit boss comes over and says, "We have a policy here of hitting the CENTER of the back wall." I didn't want him to get into my head, but I still said, "Really? Is the center part of your policy in writing?" (He was dumb enough to say it was.)

So I shift my body a little bit and start throwing to back wall CENTER, but it's too strong, dice off table. Next toss 7.

I took it up with him after, not pleased at the cooling. I left about $400 on the table. Have you heard of this before? What do you do?

A. Iíve not had this happen to me personally, but I have witnessed hot shooters have conditions layered as they rolled. "You need more arc." "Thatís too high. Not so much arc." "Speed it up, no dice setting." And my favorite, when a shooter was on a roll: "Gotta be the wall and two bounces here, or no roll." No one had mentioned that until the shooter made his first three or four points.

All you can control in the situation is yourself. Neither the pit boss nor his supervisor is going to drag out the written internal controls to show you this was the actual policy. You have to keep calm and relaxed, and try to give it as natural a roll as you can with a different target. Afterward, you can express your displeasure to somewhere higher up, and if you get no satisfaction, make an informed decision about whether to return.

I had a further email exchange with this player, and was told the incident occurred at Binionís in downtown Las Vegas. He wrote a letter and received a response from an exec, who said, "I am sorry that you had such a difficult experience but I would like to assure you that I have reviewed the surveillance video of your play and have spoken with the supervisor from the game that evening. My review reveals that the supervisorís actions were in concert with all of our procedures and protocols. That being said, as an experienced dice player, Iím sure you know that not every caveat in a table games policy manual is posted throughout the casino."

That response essentially says the exec is backing his on-the-floor team and hopes the customer will buy it. It does not say, "Yes, we have a rule that requires hitting the center of the wall," nor does it quote the policy manual on the rule.

Let the buyer beware.

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