Q. I started going to casinos in 1986 and the federal threshold for making you sign a W2-G on jackpots was $1,200, just as it is now. Do you think the government will ever raise it to adjust for inflation? According to an inflation calculator I used, a dollar in 1986 is worth $2.13 now. Shouldn’t the tax point be near $2,500? Has any casino group ever tried to get it raised?
Q. I have a question about your “money management” column. If you were at a positive expectation game — a game with a positive pay table — and if you also had the benefits of cashback or some other comps from your play — would the advice in your article still hold? Or, can players who are playing a positive expectation game with additional benefits ignore the need and advice for win/loss goals?
Q. I teach statistics and probability at a community college, so my brother-in-law was asking me about betting systems. He showed me a book in which the author claimed the way to beat baccarat was by betting streaks. The BIL wanted to know if he could apply that to roulette, maybe starting to bet on black after it won twice in a row, then getting off after a loss and staying off until some other even-money bet won twice.
Q. I have a question about Ten Poker, and the others where you play more than one hand such as Five Play and Triple Play. I really like playing the three hands at once. It’s fun, and when you get winners on the deal and win three times over, the meter goes up fast.
Q: I’ve been going nuts trying to memorize penalty card exceptions in video poker. How important are they? Would I be just as well off to use a simpler strategy?
Q. You’ve said that two slot machines that look exactly the same can have different payback percentages. By exactly the same I assume you’re including the payoffs. If I look up the payoffs for one machine, they’ll be the same as the other. Then if both machines are using a random number generator, how can they have different percentages?
Q. On machines with different coin values, or with different games to choose from, does each game and each value have its own random number generator? Or can different games share the same RNG?
Q. I was checking out some online discussions, and someone had posted that they’d found an internet casino that offered “early surrender” in blackjack. From the follow-up posts, I gathered that was a good thing. Can you explain early surrender and the strategy for it?
Q. The blackjack rules I play under yield about a .38 percent house advantage.
Q. I make all the craps bets you say I shouldn’t. I know the percentages are lousy, but I play for cheap, never lose too much and when I get a little lucky, I have some big wins. I know I lose more than I win, but the excitement of the big ones does it for me.
Q. When is the right time to double for less? I was at a $10 blackjack table, and there was one big player, betting $50 or $100 a hand. Sometimes when he had a $100 bet, he’d double down for $50 instead of $100.
Q. I have a question about Deuces Wild. I love the full-pay game. It’s the one I first played in Las Vegas in the ’80s and it’s still the game I play whenever I can find it. I find it less and less, however.
Q. I’ve heard that 17 is the most frequently played number in roulette because that’s what James Bond played in the movies. Wouldn’t that be a danger to the casinos, if one number got more action than the others?
Q. I’d never played sic bo before, but it was only a dollar a bet at one of those new tables with the video dealers, so I decided to give it a try. Another player told me that the best bet was on single numbers, that a dealer had explained to him that with three different numbers on the dice, he paid half the numbers and took the other half. I tried it a while and didn’t really win much. Was he right?
Q. I’ve been playing blackjack for a long time, and recently encountered a situation I’d never seen. The first baseman hit a hard 17 against a 10. The dealer called out the play, and a supervisor came over to watch. The player drew a 6 and busted. The dealer turned up another 10 and finished the hand. Security then came over and told the player to pick up his chips, that he could no longer play there.
Q. On your recommendation, I’ve been practicing video poker on my computer, and looking at some of the stats for the different games. The software I use says royal flushes come up once every 40,391 hands on 9-6 Jacks or Better, but a little less often at once per 40,170 on 8-5 Jacks or Better. If you look at 10-7 Double Bonus Poker — pretty rare, but a game I love when I can find it — it’s once per 48,035.
I can understand the Double Bonus difference. There needs to be fewer royals to make up for the bigger pays on four of a kinds. But why the difference between 9-6 Jacks and 8-5 Jacks? We get less payback on the flushes and full houses, and we get royals less often, too. That hardly seems fair.
A. The difference isn’t about making up for other payoffs. It’s the result of player strategies.
In 9-6 Jacks or Better, flushes 6-for-1, and we’re a little more aggressive about pursuing flushes and straight flushes than in 8-5 Jacks or Better. A side effect is that we make plays that result in a few more long-shot royal flushes in the 9-6 game.
If you’re dealt ace of spades, king of clubs, queen of diamonds, jack of diamonds and 5 of hearts, then in 9-6 Jacks or Better you discard ace-king-5, hold the two high diamonds. Lower pays, especially high pairs, are more likely, but you leave an outside shot at a royal. Per five coins wagered, the average return is three coins when you hold queen-jack, and 2.98 for the next best play, holding ace-king-queen-jack.
In 8-5 Jacks or Better, the best plays are reversed. The lower flush return diminishes the value of holding two suited cards. The average return of holding all four high cards is still 2.98 coins per five wagered, but the return for holding queen-jack drops to 2.95.
Strategy adjustments such as that mean we give ourselves more chances to draw royals in 9-6 Jacks or Better than in the 8-5 game.
In 10-7 Double Bonus Poker, payoffs on flushes are kicked up another notch to 7-for-1. That enhances the value of flush and straight flush draws so much that we hold extra suited cards that eliminate some royal draws.
One example comes when we’re dealt four parts of a flush, including three parts of a royal If the deal brings 6, jack, queen, king of diamonds and 5 of clubs in 10-7 Double Bonus Poker, the average return for holding all four diamonds is 7.66 coins, and that beats the 7.59 for holding jack-queen-king and leaving open the royal shot. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, the average return is 7.41 on jack-queen-king, and only 6.70 if you hold all four diamonds.
You make more plays in Double Bonus that preclude chances of a royal, so royals happen less often. It’s your strategy that changes the frequency of royals, not any need for the game to make up for pay table differences.
Q. I recently found a strange variation on video poker. It was a quarter 7-5 Double Double Bonus Poker game, except with an eight-coin maximum bet instead of the usual five. At the top of the pay table, there was some serious weirdness. Royal flushes paid 250-for-1 and were a straight multiplier. Even with eight coins bet it paid only 2,000 instead of the 4,000 for a five-coin bet on most video poker games.
Q. How close to a 50-50 bet is blackjack? By that I don’t mean a zero house edge, I mean how close do players come to winning 50 percent of the hands. How does that compare to other casino games?
Q. I’ve noticed on a lot of video slot games that if I hit the button a second time while the reels are spinning, they stop right away. I was wondering if I could use this to my advantage. If I see the bonus triggers or the jackpot symbols at the top, should I quickly hit the button again and try to stop the reels?
Q. On my last trip to the craps table, the table was cold so I switched from playing the pass line to playing the don’t pass line. Of course, my friends hated me. When a point was established I did not lay the odds. My friends told me I was stupid for not laying the odds. I disagreed and gave them this reasoning:
Q. Please explain a piece of video poker strategy to me. I’ve heard that when you have a low pair and a high card, like two 6s and a Jack, you’re supposed to keep the pair and throw away the Jack. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Don’t you have a lot more chances to draw a winner if you hold the Jack? You get four cards, and only one of them has to match up to win. Would a reasonable compromise be to hold both the pair and the Jack, so you have a chance at the pair winners and the pair of Jacks?
Q. I miss the coins in the slot machines. There was nothing better than a big win and hundreds of coins pouring out. Is there any chance we could get those kinds of games back into casinos?
Q. I'm not sure if this is a casinos question or not, but here goes. In the solitaire game that comes as part of the basic software package on most computers, there's an option for Vegas scoring. Do you know of anyone who offers solitaire as a gambling game? How does it work?
Q. I found a casino where the dealer deals out one hand of blackjack then places the cards in an automatic shuffle. Does that increase the house odds versus dealing from a shoe? If so, how much? Would you recommend playing against a house that uses automatic shuffle?
Q. I was playing at one of those blackjack tables that you touch the screen to bet, but there’s a dealer with real cards. Even though the cards were real, the screen lit up with a total for the hand. How do they do that? I was talking with the dealer, and he thought they were a halfway station to fully automated games, and that one day he’d be out of a job. Do you think that’s what’s happening?
Q. I know that when I play video poker, I can’t expect the advertised payback percentage every time. Sometimes I’m going to hit some big hands and win, and sometimes I’m going to hit nothing and lose.
Q. You guys always tell people to use their rewards cards when they play so they don’t miss something. If I use a card, the casino has a record of everything I do in the casino. Wouldn’t they pass that record on to the IRS? It seems to me that if I use my card, I could wind up with a tax bill.
Q: I was playing Caribbean Stud, and people were looking at each others hands. The dealer warned everyone to stop. Then the pit boss came over and said that wasnt allowed, and if he saw it again hed void the hand and maybe even ask players to leave the table.
Q. What do you think of a system where you stick with the hot numbers in roulette? My friend likes to look at the boards at the tables where they post the last 18 numbers. If one appears three or more times, that’s what she bets.
Q. What can you tell me about Triple Trouble video poker, the one with the devils that multiply your wins? What strategy adjustments do you have to make? I really like the game, but I want to get the most out of it.
Q. On a recent Mediterranean cruise, along with the usual bad pay schedules for video poker, I encountered a variant of bonus poker new to me. Two pairs paid only 1, but a flush paid 8 and a full house paid 10 (40 and 50 with full coin). Other pays were at the usual 8-5 level.
Q. Please explain something to me about “choose your volatility” slot machines. You’ve written about them before, and from what I understand you can choose how often you win. What does that actually mean as far as the overall payback? Are you better off choosing high or low volatility?
Q. In Illinois or Las Vegas, is it legal for slot machine programmers to vary the odds that a machine will allow a player to reach the bonus round depending on how many credits per line they play?
Q. I can understand your warnings to blackjack players not to play when blackjacks pay 6-5 instead of 3-2. You don’t want to settle for less than the usual payoff. But what about a single-deck game? I had always heard single-deck was the best game. If blackjacks pay 6-5 but you’re playing with one deck, isn’t that a good tradeoff for players?
Q. Why does counting cards help a blackjack player? Does it help them to know what’s coming next?
Q. Betting the don’t in craps, is there ever a time when it’s smarter not to lay the odds? I heard 6 and 8 are shooter’s numbers and that I should back off on those points.
Q. If video keno numbers are generated by random number generators, why do some casinos believe they can get away with markedly substandard pay tables? Some slot technicians allege that low payout keno machines are somehow programmed to hit more often, a claim which (if true) means that RNGs are irrelevant or subject to programming.
Q. Can you explain why the payoff for a straight flush is less than the payoff for four aces, when in poker the straight flush beats the four aces? Regardless of whether the machine is Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, etc, the amount for the straight flush is always the same, even though those machines offer additional payouts with other fours of a kind.
Q. Didn’t there used to be more companies making video poker games? Is IGT’s control of the market the reason pay tables are going down?
Q. If the casino makes a higher percentage on slot machines rather than on blackjack, then how come when we get coupon books they always give coupons that can only be used for blackjack but not for the slots as well?
Q. What’s the worst bet on the tables? I’m thinking roulette, but my brother says some of the newer games are probably worse. What do you think?
Q. You say that with a strategy that’s not difficult to learn, I should get a 99.5 percent return on 9-6 Jacks or Better quarter machines, at $1.25 per hand. You are saying that for the $110,000 I bet last year, I should have got a return of $109,450, a loss of only $550. Last year I lost almost $5,000, a return of 55 percent.
Q. I regularly go to three casinos. Two of them have started to do some interesting things with comps. One has designated certain slot machines so you get 2x, 3x or 4x points every day. They’re not big themed games or anything, just regular video slots. Is it worth playing for the extra points, or do these games pay less?
Q. Can you settle something once and for all? My brother and I have argued for years over which casino game is best for players. I say it’s blackjack, he says it’s craps. We’re not talking about counting cards or being good enough to make money all the time. We’re talking about guys who know basic strategy in blackjack, who know the best bets at craps and are willing to stick to them.
Q. I’ve read several times that dollar slots pay more than quarters, and quarters more than nickels, and so on. My question is, why? And, if that’s the case, shouldn’t we all be playing dollar machines?
Q. My husband and I just starting going to the casino once a month or so. My question is, why aren’t there more roulette tables in casinos? We think it’s fun, and it seems like it gives you as good a chance to win as anything, especially when you bet on red or black. One’s going to win and one’s going to lose, so that’s pretty even, right?
Q. I read in the news about that roulette wheel that hit number 19 seven times in a row. What are the odds, and how much would you have won if you’d bet it and just let your winnings ride for all seven.
Q. I have a question about slots strategy. I went to the casino last night and got back a chunk of my recent losses. A little background: I’m very old-fashioned and only play the max (75 cents) on mechanical machines. There’s too much going on with most video machines, and I have no idea how I won or how I lost.
Q. I have just recently started playing video poker. I have one question that I can’t find the answer to. When I am playing regular slots and I hit a generous payout I usually move to another machine. I know that slots are really just luck of the draw and use RNGs, but I have yet to see two large payouts in a row.
Q. When I play video poker, why do I only get half the slot club points as when I play the slots? I’m betting just as much money — more, since I bet five quarters at a time on a video poker game, but only three at a time on a (three-reel) slot machine. But I get a point for every $4 I bet on a slot machine, but it takes $8 to get a point on video poker. Can you explain why? Am I better off just playing the slots?