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 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 athttp://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. A person I know goes to the Hard Rock Seminole casino in Tampa; she plays the $10-a-pull Wheel of Fortune slot machine. She claims she can tell when the machine is going to hit. I disagree; I say that the random number generator has already determined the outcome, so nobody knows when a machine is going to hit.
I know the machines at the Indian casinos are different, but how are they different from the Las Vegas machines? I don't know what a bingo-type machine is. I am guessing even if the type of machine is different from Las Vegas machines, a person still CANNOT tell if a machine is going to hit.
A.Most tribal casinos today, including the Hard Rocks, have Class III slot machines. Those are the same games as you'd see in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Mississippi, Illinois, Colorado - just about any of the commercial casino jurisdictions in the United States. On those games, results are determined by a random number generator, and there is no way to tell what is coming next.
Some tribal casinos have Class II games, which are bingo-based. That includes some casinos that have Class III slots with RNGs, but also have Class II games. At some, the Class IIs are holdovers from before Class III games were permitted. At others, tribal compacts with the host state limit the number of Class III slots and Class IIs are added to bring extra games to the floor.
You can recognize Class II games by a bingo logo on the screen or machine glass. Instead of each machine having its own RNG, Class II games get a bingo pattern from a central server, and then translate that pattern into slot symbols, video poker cards or some other player-friendly display.
When the server is drawing the numbers, you can watch the pattern being built on the bingo display. If you play long enough, you can get to where you recognize which patterns are going to bring you winners before the reels stop spinning.
So if what your friend meant is that on Class II games, she can push the button to start play, look at a bingo logo and know the result before it shows on the reels, then yes, this is possible. If she meant she can know what's coming before pushing the button to start play, or that she knows what's coming on a Class III, RNG-based machine, then no, that is not possible.
Q. I was playing on an electronic roulette table game machine. On one spin I made three outside bets totaling $745 and winning $1,240. After state and federal tax I got $821.11, a $76.11 profit. What's up with that!
A. The federal government requires casinos to have you sign tax form W-2G on any win of $1,200 or more on electronic games. Whether the casino deducts taxes on the spot is up to state and casino policy - that is not a federal requirement. However, the IRS does collect taxes on the entire amount of the win, without a deduction for your wager. Regardless of whether your bet is $745 or 40 cents, the IRS just sees it as a $1,200-plus win.
Provided you keep adequate records, the IRS does allow you to deduct gambling losses up to the amount of your winnings if you itemize deductions on your return. If you plan to itemize, you should keep a gambler's log, noting casino name and location, date, time, game played, amount of buy-ins, amount of cash outs, and net win or loss on each game you play. Some casinos will provide you a record of your wins and losses for the year through their player rewards systems, but it's best if you have your own detailed records.
Q. You've written that you should avoid blackjack games where blackjacks pay 6-5 instead of 3-2. I was at a church casino night, and they set up so that blackjacks paid even money. How much worse is that?
A. When I see blackjacks paying even money at charity games, my personal rule of thumb is that I'll play if I'd be willing to make a donation to the charity, and if not, I won't. Even-money payoffs add 2.3 percent to the house edge against a basic strategy player when compared with a game where blackjacks pay 3-2.
That's one of the reasons video blackjack has never achieved massive popularity. At most casinos, you can get much more favorable rules at the tables than at the machines, though there are multiplayer electronic blackjack tables with 3-2 payoffs. On single-player video blackjack, all early machines and many modern versions pay 2-for-1 - the same as even money - on blackjacks. Players who know the game are turned off.
Still, there's an attraction to being able to play for $1 a hand, or even 25 cents a hand on quarter machines with a blackjack option. The even-money blackjack payoffs lead to a game where the full house edge is about 3 percent, if you know your basic strategy. That's the same as saying a 97 percent payback, which is higher than you'll get on slot machines and about the same as low to mid-tier video poker games such as 8-5 Jacks or Better (97.3 percent with optimal play), 6-5 Bonus Poker (96.9 percent) or 8-5 Double Double Bonus Poker (96.8).
I have occasionally seen single-player video blackjack games that pay 3-2 on blackjacks. Should you find one, be sure to bet in even numbers of coins, regardless of whether the denomination is quarters, dollars or something else. That's to facilitate the 3-2 paybacks.
If you have a $2 bet on a dollar game, a blackjack will pay you $3. Bet two quarters, and a blackjack pays three quarters, or 75 cents. But a 3-2 payoff on a $1 bet is $1.50, and on a 25-cent bet it's 37.5 cents. Instead of dealing in the change, most machines will revert to even-money payoffs on one-coin bets, and that increases the house edge.
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