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by Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze write's the weekly "Player's Advantage" gambling column for the Pittsburg Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania. His columns are online at He has been a skilled recreational player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-Mail questions or comments to

Editor's note: This report is based on casino observations made in March 2015.

Casinos covered:

Gold Strike






Sam's Town



After a six-day Tunica visit crammed with standout blackjack hands, timely comps and an unwanted trip to a medical clinic, the most memorable tidbit is a recording of two off-key voices caterwauling a made-up blues tune.

My wife and I have made a spring trip from our home outside Pittsburgh, Pa., to Tunica for about 15 years. The chief attractions: handheld double-deck blackjack, easy comps for red-chip players, and decent - at least by Pennsylvania standards - video poker payouts. Typical blackjack rules include H17 and DAS; the resplitting of Aces varies by casino. Most casinos pay 3-to-2 on naturals, although all Roadhouse pitch games are 6-to-5.

For this trip, we stayed all six nights at Gold Strike, with four weekday nights free through mail offers. We covered the cost of another night through player's club points. Gold Strike charges a $9 resort fee for each uncomped night.

Once ranked the country's No. 3 casino destination, Tunica is feeling the effects of the nationwide expansion of gambling. Gambling revenue is down, the sprawling Harrah's complex closed in July 2014 and the nearby outlet mall has numerous vacancies.

The number of $5 and $10 pitch games has dwindled over the years as well.

GOLD STRIKE (100 Casino Center Drive)

Unfortunately, our favorite playing spot - the year-old non-smoking table game pit on the second floor - was open only a couple of days during our stay. On Friday and Saturday, it was used for a blackjack tournament. A pitch game was open there on Sunday, with a $10 minimum compared with a $25 minimum at the one or two pitch tables on the first floor. The non-smoking table game area was open for public use only one other day. Naturally, the slot and video poker portion is open around the clock.

The first-floor pitch games had a $25 minimum on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Six-deck shoes were available at $5 and $10 minimums. Penetration on the pitch games was about 60 percent, with dealers using a notch in the discard tray to insert the cutoff card. Penetration at the shoe games was about 70 percent.

One memorable hand: My wife split...

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