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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

6 October 2011

Q. We just returned from a cruise and spent a limited time in the casino. One question I have is about playing video poker. When I place my bet, they take that amount from my bankroll. If I lose, the money has already been taken, OK. But, if I win, and the odds were 1-1, I get my money back, hence I haven't won anything. If the odds were 2-1, and I win, I get only the half of what they show for the win. I really don't understand that. If you are playing blackjack at the tables, they only take your money if you lose.

A. Think of the lowest paybacks in video poker as the equivalent of a push in blackjack. You get 17, the dealer gets 17, you just get your money back. It's not a winner, but it keeps you in the game longer than if it was a losing hand. Same thing with a high pair in video poker. It's designed to give you your money back so you can stay in action longer.

If they didn't have these hands that are really pushes in video poker, they'd have to start eliminating paying hands in order to keep the percentages right. If you got to keep your bet AND got the same amount in winnings, the pay table would have to start at a pair of kings instead of a pair of jacks to keep the percentages equivalent. You'd get nothing on queens and jacks, and there would be more fast losing sessions in a much more volatile game.

A 9/6 Jacks or Better game that gave you your bet back plus winnings instead of just giving your bet back would pay 121% if no other changes were made to the pay table. A casino that offered that game would go broke. Having hands that just push is a compromise that leaves a more playable game than you'd get if they just started eliminating paying hands.

Just as a point of interest, video poker games pay "odds-for-1" instead of "odds-to-1" If a wagers pays 5-for-1 and you win, you wind up with five units in front of you — the one you wagered, plus four in winnings. If it pays 5-to-1, a win leaves you with six units — you keep your bet and you get five units in winnings.

Mostly, it's a concept we see on electronic games. If you hit a slot combination that the pay table says pays 40 coins, you just get the 40. You don't get your bet back, too. Same thing in video poker. If the pay table says you get five coins, what you see is what you get.

Electronic games take our money before the outcome is determined. On table games, it's different. Our wagers can just stay on the table until bets have been decided. There's a dealer to take away the losers. Most table games pay odds-to-1.

There are exceptions on the tables. A minority of craps tables pay odds-for-1 on one-roll propositions. I've seen tables that pay 30-for-1 on 12, for instance. Bet $1 on a 12 on a 30-to-1 table, and after a winner you have $31. On a table that pays 30-for-1, the win leaves you with only $30. At 30-to-1, the house edge on 12 is 13.89%, but at 30-for-1 it's 16.67%.

Q. I went to Las Vegas for the first time with some buddies, and we spent some time hanging around the sportsbook and watching the games. Just to make it interesting, I decided to bet $20 on one of the games. I was told I needed to bet $22. Why the weird number? I suppose it's to give the house an edge, but aren't edges usually built into the odds?

A. I'm going to assume that you were just picking a winner, and there was a point spread on the game. The only edge the house has on such a bet is the extra 10% it charges to book the bet.

Without the charge, picking football games is an even proposition, with no edge to the house. With that extra 10%, the house has a 4.55% edge.

Here's the way that works. Let's say you bet $22 on Team A, and I bet $22 on Team B. My team loses, and the house keeps my $22. Your team wins, and you get $22 in winnings, plus you keep $20 of your wager. The house keeps the other two bucks.

Between us, we've wagered $44. You leave with $42, and the house has $2. Divide that $2 by the $44 in wagers, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you have a 4.55% house edge.

The house strives to set the point spreads so that about the same amounts of money are bet on both sides. As long as the books are balanced, the house takes its percentage. Without that 10% charge, if the same amount was bet on both sides, the house would make no money.

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Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski