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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 ( He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at your question to Grochowski at

Q. Since you're based in the Chicago area, is there anything you can tell us about the court case over Mississippi Stud Poker? Two men were charged with felonies when one could see the flop card and signaled it to the other.

A. On Dec. 9, a judge in Joliet, Illinois, gave a directed verdict of acquittal after the prosecution rested in a felony case where two Michigan men were accused of signaling face-down common cards in Mississippi Stud Poker at Joliet's Hollywood Casino. The men, who could have faced one-to-three years in prison and a lifetime ban from Illinois casinos, were represented by defense attorney Bob Loeb, co-author of "Blackjack and the Law."

Mississippi Stud involves each player receiving two cards face down, and three cards common to all hands also being dealt face down. There are rounds of betting after players see their own card, after the first common card - the flop - is turned face up, and after the second common card - the turn - is turned face up. The final common card - the river - is then exposed, and winners are paid according to a table that starts at a push on a pair of 6s.

The accusation was that one player could see cards as they were dealt, and was tapping his fingers to signal to the other.

Judge Edward Burmilla issued a directed finding of acquittal before the defense even began presenting its case. This is in line with the history of hole-carding cases in the United States, that it is the casino's responsibility to train dealers not to flash the value of face-down cards to players at the table. There have been no convictions for hole-carding in any court in the United States, even when players who can see face-down cards signal another.

The famous, precedent-setting case came in Nevada, with Steven Einbender and Tony Dalben accused of cheating at blackjack at the Golden Nugget in 1983. Einbender could see the dealer's hole card, and signaled to Dalben. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that their actions were not illegal.

Courts have held that casinos are private clubs and can bar players, and the more measured response of asking the players to leave would have been a better solution in the Illinois case. Arrest and prosecution, with the accompanying cost in time and money for both the accused and the state, shouldn't have happened.

For a more detailed view of the case, see Eliot Jacobson's A.P. Heat blog,

Q. Is there any guide to what you can and can't do in toking the dealer? In blackjack, if I split or double for myself, I split and double for the dealer too. But I was at a Three Card Poker table where they said I could only ante for the dealer, I couldn't add a bet.

A. Toking policies are up to the individual casinos. I've never run into the issue at Three Card Poker, but I ran into a similar situation at Caribbean Stud a number of years ago. I'd just learned about the game and was working on a magazine story about it, so I gave it a go at two casinos on the Strip. At the first, players who tipped the dealer were making both antes and bets wagers. At the second, I had a couple of nice wins, and put out an ante bet for the dealer. When I reached to make a bet, I was told I could only ante, not bet, for the dealer.

There is no hard and fast rule. It's one of those things you'll just have to learn at each casino as you play.

Q. My wife and I did an overnight at a casino near our home, and just played penny slots together. That's not what I usually play, but the idea was time together. She earned $25 in free play, I earned $20. She'll use hers on penny slots. If I want to convert to cash I can take elsewhere, what should I do?'

A. The key is your goal. I usually tell players to use the free play on the games they like. You can take a cash equivalent by shortening your bankroll for the day. If you're a low-roller who would normally bring $100 to play on slots or quarter video poker, and you have $20 in free play, then just bring $80 plus the free play, and leave $20 in your wallet.

However, if you're restricted to electronic games and want to start with the $20 in free play while giving yourself the best chance of leaving with almost that much in cash, then your best shot is at low-volatility video poker games such as Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker.

Even a so-so video poker game tops the 84-to-88 percent paybacks we see on penny slots. Maybe your casino doesn't have 9-6 Jacks or Better (99.5 percent return with optimal play) or even the 8-5 version (97.3 percent), but it's a rare casino that doesn't have games at least the quality of 7-5 Jacks or Better (96.2 percent).

Video poker also is a less volatile game than most slot machines. In Jacks or Better, more than 45 percent of hands at least get your money back. Some video slots have hit frequencies of more than 50 percent, but a large share of paybacks are for less than your wager.

Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker are particularly well-suited for converting free play into cash because those games pay 2-for-1 on two pairs, compared to 1-for-1 on games such as Double Double Bonus Poker that put more of their payoffs into jackpot hands. Taking more of your return in more frequently occurring hands lessens you chance at a big payday, but gives you a better chance of leaving with most of that $20 intact.

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