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Reward of Rewards Cards and Card Counting too!

6 January 2013

By John Grochowski

QUESTION: You guys who always tell people to use their rewards cards when they play 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.

ANSWER: I receive this kind of question often, at least four or five times a year. And I’ve heard comments from other players while in the casino. I recall sitting down to play some video poker and sliding my player rewards card into the reader on my machine. A player a couple of spots to my right wasn’t using a card, and he asked me, “Do you always use that thing?”

“Every time I play,” I told him.

“I’m afraid TO give the casino that much information,” he replied. “I figure if they know everything I win, next thing I know the tax man will be knocking on my door.”

I just nodded and went back to playing --- I save my unsolicited advice for my columns. But using a player rewards card changes neither your tax liability nor the information the casino forwards to the IRS.

If you hit a jackpot of $1,200 or more, the casino is required to have you sign an IRS form W2-G before they pay you. That’s true if you’re using a player rewards card, and it’s true if you’re NOT using a player rewards card. The taxman gets the information either way.

On smaller wins, it’s all on the honor system. Reporting wins to the IRS is your responsibility, not the casino’s, and that doesn’t change if you do or don’t use a player rewards card.

QUESTION: How many more hands do card counters win than someone who’s just playing basic strategy? To get the edge, do they need to win just one more hand per 100? Two more? Three? Ten? How do they do it?

ANSWER: Many card counters get an edge without winning any more hands than basic strategy players. Others win a small amount more, with strategy moves that take advantage of knowing the count. Some even are successful while winning slightly fewer hands than basic strategy players as they adopt low-cost strategy “mistakes” to cover their skill.

It’s not the changing of strategy and winning more hands that is the primary factor in giving card counters an edge over the casino. It’s the varying of bet sizes that make the difference. Card counters get an edge by betting more money when the situation favors the players. The situation they’re looking for is a deck that is rich in high cards --- that is, more low cards than high cards have already been played, meaning a higher percentage than usual of the remaining cards are high cards.

Why does a higher concentration of high cards remaining to be played favor the player? Because more high cards means more blackjacks, and players get paid 3-2 on blackjacks. A high concentration of high cards also means double-down situations are more favorable for the player. If you start with 11, you’re more likely to get that 10 that will complete a 21 of a higher than normal percentage of remaining cards are 10 values.

There are some strategy adjustments that allow card counters to win a few more hands than the rest of us. For example, if the count doesn’t have to go positive by much --- meaning a higher than average concentration of high cards in the remaining deck --- before it becomes a better play to stand on 16 vs. a dealer’s 10 than to hit.

Such plays are an extra weapon in the counter’s arsenal. But for the most part, the emphasis isn’t on winning more HANDS as much as it is on winning more MONEY.
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, with podcasts at Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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