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 email@example.com.
Q. In table blackjack games, the dealers fan out all the cards when they change decks, and you can see all the cards are there. There's no way to do that in video games. What's to stop the casinos and game suppliers from tinkering with the odds by using only three Aces per deck instead of four, or adding a few extra 5s?
A. It's up to regulators and gaming labs to protect players' interests.
As with all electronic casino games, the display we see on the screen is a user-friendly interface of the game that's really being played internally, with a random number generator selecting numbers that then are mapped onto cards.
Nevada regulations require games that depict playing cards to offer fair odds, so the odds of the electronic game are the same as if you were playing with physical decks of cards. Other states don't have to adopt Nevada's regulations, but Nevada is the trend-setter.
You and I can't see inside a machine, look at its programming or watch random numbers being run to determine whether the same proportion of random numbers are assigned to the Ace of spades as to the 6 of hearts. All we can do is trust that the regulators and labs have done their jobs and know that the games live up to the fair odds regulation.
Q. I have a streak story for you. I was playing blackjack in Laughlin a few years ago, there were four players, and we all get pat 20s. The dealer has a 10 up and turns over a face card, so a push, with 10 10-values in a row. The very next hand, we all four have pat 20s again and the dealer has a face card. I declared with confidence, "We have you this time!" But he turns over another 10! Amazing! Twenty 10 cards in a row!
A. I've been at tables where everyone had 20s only to let out a collective groan when the dealer turned up a second 10 for a push, but twice in a row for a whole table is painful. I checked back with Mike, who e-mailed the story, and it was a six-deck game, meaning 20 of the 96 10-value cards came out consecutively. That's a quick minus-20 and time for a breather or a table change.
Q. My dad and I just took our first trip to Las Vegas together. We took a side trip to the Orleans, and I was exploring the video poker. They had both 8-5 Bonus Poker and 8-5 ACES Bonus Poker, so naturally I played the ACES version. I noticed that there were as many people playing BP as ACES. Why? Is there a reason to avoid the ACES?
A. No, there is nothing in ACES Bonus Poker that would make it a bet to avoid. What you were observing were people who either didn't know there was a potential extra payoff on ACES, didn't care, or just felt luckier on the Bonus Poker machines.
For those unfamiliar with ACES, each Ace is marked with a letter - A, C, E or S. If you get four Aces in order so they spell ACES with no gaps, they pay 800-for-1. With a five-coin wager, that's a 4,000-coin bonanza, the same as you'd get for a royal flush, instead of the usual 400 coins you get for four Aces on Bonus Poker.
Starting from the left, the Aces have to be in positions 1-2-3-4 or 2-3-4-5. The non-Ace card in your final hand can't be in the middle. I once had a hand of A-C-9 of diamonds-E-S. The Aces were in the proper order, but with that 9 in the middle breaking up the spelling, my return was 400 coins, not 4,000.
It doesn't happen often enough to add much more to the payback percentage. With an 8-5 pay table, Bonus Poker returns 99.2 percent with expert play, while the ACES version returns 99.4 percent.
Still, that's a little extra return with no extra risk. It would seem reasonable for the ACES machines to draw more players than the Bonus Poker machines.
That they don't is part of a long-standing part of video poker. There are many players who don't know the difference between games, or at least don't know or fully understand the differences between different pay tables on the same games.
At the beginning of the 1990s, when I was first becoming aware of such things, the Tropicana in Las Vegas had a long bank of Jacks or Better machines. In my mind's eye, there are 16 machines in the bank, but this was a long time ago, so the memory may cheat a bit.
The games alternated pay tables, so that a 9-6 machine was next to an 8-5 that was next to another 9-6 that was next to another 8-5, and so on. My wife Marcy and I were on a three-night stay, and I played at that bank quite a lot. I observed that players seemed to be choosing games indiscriminately. There were as many players at 8-5 games as at 9-6 machines, even when there were spots open.
I finally broke down and asked a player next to my why he chose that machine when the one on the other side had a higher pay table. He said, "I was on that one this morning. Didn't win a thing."
Those who are interested enough and informed enough to read a publication like Blackjack Insider might always pick the highest pay table on their game of choice, but that's not the case with the general population of casino-goers.
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