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.As a green chip blackjack player, I used to get comped pretty well. Now, not so much. I thought comps might come back after the recession, but they really haven't. Are there reasons besides casinos making less money than they used to? You'd think they'd want the players they have to keep coming back.
A.Comp levels always come down in casino marketing goals and how much operators want to invest in enticing players to return.
One thing that has happened is the use of analytics to evaluate not just how much your play is worth on a given casino visit, but how much your play is likely to be worth in future visits. There's an interest in developing customers that the analytics show are likely to spend more. If your demographics and spending patterns indicate a player who is not likely to increase your spending, then casinos that use sophisticated analytics will not spend as much on the player who bets at the same level as you now, but who might spend more in the future.
On a more basic level, casinos evaluate their edge against blackjack players differently than they used to. Information about basic strategy is everywhere, and casinos believe the caliber of play has risen.
When I started writing regularly about casinos in the early 1990s, a table games director told me his casino assumed a 2.5 percent edge against average players, but would adjust down when the pit spotted a basic strategy player. I asked a different exec the same question about 10 years later, before the recession when casino play was booming, and he told me he assumed only a 1.5 percent edge.
In the last couple of years, a couple of table games execs have told me the assumed house edge is now 1 percent or less. Even absent the evaluation of advanced analytics or a general reduction of spending on comps in the wake of the recession, that assumed house edge would lead to a much smaller evaluation of player worth and, therefore, smaller comps.
Q.I've been playing a lot of Super Times Pay lately, usually for quarters on Five Play. Do you know, is there any change in the odds of drawing a royal flush in regular games, on Super Times hands without the multiplier, and on Super Times with the multiplier?
A. The odds of drawing royal flushes are the same in Super Times Pay as in any other video poker game, with or without a multiplier.
If you're playing 9-6 Jacks or Better strategy, you'll draw a royal an average of once per 40,391 hands, regardless of whether you're playing one hand a time or more, and regardless of whether a Super Times multiplier has appeared in the hand or not.
If you are playing a single hand and dealt four parts of a royal and draw one card, your chances of drawing a royal are 1 in 47 - the one remaining royal card vs. the total 47 cards available after the first five have been dealt. If you are playing Five Play, the chances of completing a royal with a one-card draw are 1 in 47 for each of your five hands. And if a Super Times multiplier as has appeared during the initial deal, your chances of completing royal still are 1 in 47 in each hand.
Multipliers do not change the odds of drawing winning hands in video poker. Those odds change only with your playing strategy.
Q.This doesn't happen as often as it used to, because $1,000 jackpots like a royal flush on a video poker game are just added to the credit meter instead of being paid by hand. That started when ticket printers came in, right?
But for years and years now, whenever I have won a hand-paid jackpot, the attendant has asked me to spin-off the winning combination.
I feel like I'm being required to make a bet that I otherwise might not make. I don't mind doing it, but what if a player refused to make that one, last, final bet to spin-off a winning combination? Does the player still get paid? Does the casino employee do it? What happens?
A. To answer your first question, yes, hand pays did become less frequent when slot and video poker machines began to be equipped with ticket printers for payoffs. In the past, a $1,000 jackpot had to be paid by hand because the coin hopper didn't hold enough coins to make the payoff at the machine.
Today, hand pays usually are reserved for jackpots of $1,200 or more where the player must sign a tax form before being paid.
As for spinoffs, the casino still has to pay you if you refuse to spin off the winner. When a player refuses, a casino employee usually spins once so the jackpot combination no longer shows on the reels or screen.
Before ticket printers, when most payoffs came through coin drops, hand-pays came on smaller amounts. In the early days of nickel video slots, players sometimes accumulated thousands of credits without big wins. Sometimes, they'd lose a few $20 bills' worth of credits before a nice bonus round brought them back close to even.
They'd have 1,000 or more credits on the screen, and rather than triggering hopper fills or risking down time during jams - hopper jams were frequent on nickel slots - casinos would pay by hand. Many also would ask the player to spin once more, even if there was no winning combination showing on the screen.
At that time, I often saw players who'd had modest wins or even lost money refuse, and the slot attendant would take a few nickels out of the hopper and spin.
Today, the spin-off practice persists on big wins. That's because some players refuse to play a game with a jackpot combination showing. Casinos don't want to discourage the play of customers who read jackpot combos as "keep away" signs.
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