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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

24 May 2012

Q. Why aren't there more sportsbooks? When I started playing in casinos, Nevada and New Jersey were the only places to go. I always went to Las Vegas, and got used to the sportsbooks being there. Now there are casinos everywhere, and I mostly stay home in Louisiana, but there are no books. Do you know why books didn't expand along with the casinos?

A. A federal law enacted in 1992 banned sports betting in all states where it was not already legal. Nevada already had full-scale sports betting, while Oregon, Delaware and Montana had sports-based lottery games. Those remain the only states where sports betting is legal in the U.S.

The bill that led to the federal ban was sponsored by Bill Bradley, the former Princeton basketball All-American and NBA star who served three terms in the U.S. Senate, representing New Jersey. When enacted, the law gave New Jersey a grace period in which it could consider adding sports betting to its casino options. New Jersey did not pass a sports betting bill, so it remains illegal there today.

Times change, and today New Jersey would like to bring sports betting to its casinos. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law in January an act that would legalize sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and at New Jersey racetracks if the federal ban is lifted.

The federal ban remains the rub. Lifting it would mean either Congress repealing the act, or a successful court challenge. Two New Jersey congressmen have introduced measures to repeal or alter the ban, while the New Jersey attorney general has declined to say whether he would challenge the ban in court.

During the expansion of legalized gambling in the 1990s, I asked an attorney friend what he thought of the ban. He doubted it would hold up in court because the ban treats states unequally, and restricts a state's right to regulate commerce within its own borders. That has not been tested, so sports betting remains illegal through most of the United States.

Q. I keep reading about how bad 6-5 payoffs on blackjacks are for players, but when I asked a dealer about it, he said, "How often do you get blackjack, anyway?" Can you put into dollars and cents just how bad it is?

A. Among the common rules variations in blackjack, 6-5 payoffs on two-card 21s is by far the worst. Paying only 6-5 instead of 3-2 on blackjacks costs 1.39% --- an amount larger than the entire house edge against a basic strategy player at most blackjack tables. Take a run-of-the-mill six-deck game where the dealer stands on all 17s, the player is allowed to double down after splitting pairs and may resplit pairs up to three times for a total of four hands. The house edge is only 0.41%.

That one rule, paying 6-5 on blackjacks, is more than triple the house edge than the entire set of rules on a common six-deck game. So yes, it really is THAT bad.

As for the request to put that in dollars and cents instead of percentages, let's use a sample of 441 hands -- about two hours of head-to-head play, or around eight hours at a full table. At about one blackjack per 21 hands, you'd average about 21 two-card 21s. On one of those the dealer would also have blackjack and you'd push -- we all know not to take even money unless the count is right.

That leaves 20 blackjacks on which you're paid. Let's say you're betting $10 a hand. If you're only getting $12 payoffs instead of $15, that means the rule has cost you $60. That's six bets worth in your 441 hands.

The sharp-eyed number crunchers among you might note the $60 shortfall in 441 hands is only a 1.36% increase in house edge instead of 1.39. That's just the effect of rounding the number of blackjacks per hour.

Q. I have a question about the ticket printers on the slots. I hit a $1,000 jackpot at one casino, and I just got no credits on my screen. At a different casino not far away, I hit a $1,000 jackpot and the game locked up, and they paid me by hand. Can you tell me why? Is there any kind of legal requirement?

A. At the $1,000 level, it's just a matter of policy at the individual casino. Most will just have the money added automatically to your credit meter, and keep you playing. I rarely see a $1,000 hand pay nowadays.

Where legal requirements kick in is at $1,200. At that amount, the casino is required to have you sign an IRS form W-2G before it can pay you. With rare exceptions, you can expect to be paid by hand when your jackpot is $1,200 or more.

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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