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Best of John Grochowski
A shuffle through the gaming mailbag29 December 2011
A. Every state that has legal casino gambling sets a minimum payback for slot machines. A common figure is 80% — that's the minimum in states including Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado and Illinois. It's 83% in Indiana and New Jersey, while it's lower in Nevada at 75%.
The minimum applies to every machine in a casino, not just to the casino's overall figure. In Illinois, for example, the regulation is that no machine may have a theoretical return of less than 80% nor more than 100%.
In practice, virtually all machines pay more than the legal minimum. The object is to attract you and your wagers, not drive you away with machines with very low returns. Competitive pressures keep slot paybacks well above minimum levels.
On to your second question. Not all slots of the same denomination are set at the same percentage. You might have 2-cent slots that pay 85, 88, 91% in the same casino. You could even have high and low-paying versions of the same game right next to each other, though that's not as common as it once was.
A. It strikes me as a bait-and-switch to call that $3 blackjack. With a third of your bet, you're playing Lucky Ladies, not blackjack.
The game you describe is tough enough without the forced side bet. Provided there's nothing else odd about the game, it comes to a house edge of 0.97% against a basic strategy player. That'd have me checking out the video poker games or the craps table real fast.
You didn't mention which Lucky Ladies pay table the casino was using. There are several, but I think the most common pays 4-1 if your first two cards total 20, 9-1 if it's a suited 20, 19-1 on a matched 20 where both cards are the same suit and rank, 125-1 on two queens of hearts, and 1,000-1 if your queen of hearts pair is beaten by a dealer blackjack.
In a six-deck game, the house edge is 24.71%. Would you want a third of your wager to be on a side bet that spots the house 24.71%? Me neither.
Let's do a little arithmetic. Say you skip the $3 offer and just play the blackjack game at the table minimum of $5 a hand. And let's assume a full table playing about 50 hands an hour, since $5 tables always seem to be full where I play. In an average hour, you risk $250. With a 0.97% house edge, an average loss per hour comes to $2.43.
Now let's say I sit down next to you, and bet $2 a hand on blackjack and $1 a hand on Lucky Ladies. I risk $100 an hour on blackjack, dropping my average blackjack loss to 97 cents. On Lucky Ladies, I risk $50, and that 24.71% house edge carves $12.36 out of my bankroll.
Playing the $3 blackjack-Lucky Ladies option costs me $13.33 an hour. You put more money on the table sticking to $5 blackjack, but even those bad rules cost you only $2.43 an hour.
Deal me out either way, but it's clear this "$3 blackjack" offer is no bargain.
A. When you win, you win only one bet. When the 7 shows up, you lose both your 6 and 8 bets. The bottom line is a house edge of 1.52%, the same as if you placed 6 or 8 individually.
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Best of John Grochowski