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 at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at email@example.com.
Q. I was surfing the web for blackjack insights and I came across this on video blackjack. "Look for games with progressive jackpots on specific hands, and play when the jackpots are big enough." Is this sound advice? Can you really get an edge, or do they put bad rules on those games so the house makes its money?
A. I don't see a lot of progressive jackpots on video blackjack, and when I do, they're on multiplayer games that offer side bets.
The same caution that applies to side bets on table games applies to the video versions. House edges are very high at rollover values, and even if you find a jackpot that gives the bet a positive expectation, the hands required are extremely rare.
Take Progressive Blackjack, a game I observed several years ago at Global Gaming Expo and which has occasionally been sighted in casinos. It's designed for a six-deck game, which some multiplayer electronic tables use, but isn't found on single-player video blackjack. The big jackpot is on four Aces of the same color. That happens only about once per 391,191 hands.
There are other payoffs for the $1 side bet, ranging from $3 on a single Ace to $2,000 on any four Aces. Still, the return is low. At wizardofodds.com, Michael Shackelford calculates the payback at 47.01 percent plus 2.56 percent for each $10,000 on the progressive meter. If the table, video or physical, starts the progressive meter at $10,000, then the house edge is a whopping 50.43 percent at rollover.
The bet doesn't reach break-even level until $207,287.85, and even if it does exceed break-even, you're an extreme longshot to win it.
There's no need to put bad rules on the basic blackjack game to fund bets like that. The wide wagers are easily self-funding, and the big-money progressives are there for jackpot hunters, not advantage players.
If anyone sees a video blackjack game with progressive payouts that does not require a side bet, please alert me to the game and manufacturer so I can check it out.
Q.Last year, there were reports the IRS was considering requiring tax forms on $600 slot and video poker wins instead of $1,200. Has a decision been made?
A.There has been no formal announcement, but in an article in CDC Gaming Reports, BJI contributing writer Mark Gruetze reported the IRS appeared to be backing off the plan. American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman spoke at a conference in Pittsburgh and said, "My understanding is that they have taken a step back from their proposal. They're going to look at alternative ways and ultimately work with us to solve the problem that they think exists."
There may still be changes in the way casino players are taxed, but a lowering of the W-2G threshold appears not to be among those changes.
Q.We just returned to the U.K. from a two-week casino vacation. One morning, quite early, there was quite a stir, we were told just about every bank of video poker machines was paying out massively, on hand pays. There were guys sitting around just waiting to be paid out. We actually watched one young man get FIVE hand pays in the same morning. Later that day we learned a group of nine men (no couples) had won multiple hand pays. They did not seem to be guests of the hotel, none of them drank more than one soda apiece, and they left as quickly they appeared. Without seeming too judgmental, they all looked very techie. They were not dressed like men on holiday. The casino does not seem to be boasting about any of these big wins. My wife said she saw one payout was $5,000. Could this have been some sort of hack?
A. The extreme likelihood is that the flurry of hand pays was just a coincidence. The chips that go into gaming machines are tested very carefully in gaming labs before they are certified by state gaming commissions for release to casinos.
If the casino suspected any kind of hack, it would have shut down the machines immediately. No one else would have been allowed to play them.
Very rarely, there is a flaw in programming that allows players in the know to gain an advantage. About 15 years ago, there was a multigame machine with a programming flaw that enabled players to force mid-level winning hands. The flaw didn't force big jackpot hands, and it took some time for anyone in charge to notice the error was there. Once it was discovered, the machines were pulled from distribution.
A flaw that enabled players to force jackpot hands would be discovered very quickly. If the casino suspected anything, it would close down its machines and alert both the gaming commission and the manufacturer.
But that is extremely rare. The gaming labs do their job well.
Q.This past year I received tax forms for casino winnings in excess of $30,000. My losses were in excess of this. No tax effect, right? Wrong! I wound up paying several thousand more due to more of my Social Security being taxed as well as the loss of some deductions. I am also told that my Medicare premium may go up, all due to playing in a casino. I do not think this is fair. Is anybody doing anything about this?
A.As much as I'd like to help, this is a matter to talk over with a tax professional. How gambling income affects your federal benefits is serious business and should be discussed with a tax attorney or accountant.
The IRS regards gambling winnings as ordinary income. Casino winnings are taxed in the same way as money earned on a job. There has been no discussion about changing that, or making any other changes in gaming taxes that would be in players' favor.
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