The Best (and Worst) Prescriptions for Gambling Fever
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98
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NO. 1--Video Poker, Selected Machines: +100.17 percent to +100.7 percent
With perfect play, certain video poker machines return more than $1 for every dollar you wager. That makes them the rarest beast in the casino jungle: a positive expectation bet.
Unlike slot machines, video poker machines are completely random. The casino can't cook the results. In the long run, every video poker machine will produce the correct number of royal flushes, full houses and so on, that the odds say it should. The only way for the House to get an edge, therefore, is to tweak the payout schedule, returning, for example, five coins on a flush instead of the usual six. Savvy gamblers who find "full pay" machines will, in the long run, beat the House.
Dozens of different video poker machines exist, most of which operate with about a 1 percent casino advantage. Two types give the player the advantage: "Deuces Wild" (100.7 percent return) and "Double Bonus Poker" (100.17 percent return).
The casinos can afford to sprinkle these machines throughout their pits, since most gamblers don't play well enough to beat them, even with the built-in edge. To learn expert strategy for beatable forms of video poker, you can consult any number of guidebooks. Some of the best are Bob Dancer's Video Poker Reports, available from Las Vegas-based Huntington Press (800-244-2224).
To find a machine you can beat, you need to examine the pay tables carefully. A "classic" Deuces Wild machine pays as follows: 25 coins for a wild royal flush, 15 for five of a kind, 9 for a straight flush and 5 for four of a kind. Double Bonus machines that give an edge to the player are known as 10-7 machines: 10 coins for a full house, seven for a flush. Play these babies in combination with a slot club rebate and ultimately the casino will be paying you for the pleasure of your company.
THE HALL OF SHAME: THE FIVE WORST BETS IN THE CASINO
Not surprisingly, action-hungry gamblers can find far more bad bets in a casino than good ones. (That's how these places can afford to offer prime rib dinners for $4.95.) Even something as seemingly innocuous as the insurance bet at blackjack (-14.3 percent) is a horrible play. Remember this general caveat: any game that offers a large, sometimes life-changing jackpot, is without exception a terrible bet. Though not quite as kleptomaniacal as state lotteries, which often operate at a 50 percent advantage, most casino games that have an ever-climbing meter attached to them should be avoided. As the "Las Vegas Advisor" newsletter reported not long ago, some of the public's favorite "linked progressive" slot machines (where money from around a state or, in the case of the recently developed MegaBucks, the country, is pooled into a huge jackpot) are among the worst bets in the casino. But not, alas, as bad as our Top Five thieves.
NO. 5--Baccarat, Tie Bet: --14.4 percent
The tuxedo-clad dealers who shill for the tie bet--"Anyone betting a tie? Tie bet, anyone? Place your tie bet!"--are not paid a commission by the House. But they ought to be. This one is a huge moneymaker for the casino.
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