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Best of John Grochowski

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Who Owns a Casino Chip?

3 April 2007

When you win a casino chip at the tables, who owns it? Do you? If you give it to a friend, does he or she then own it?

In Nevada, the chip remains property of the casino, which poker pro Nolan Dalla found out to his detriment recently when he tried to cash a $5,000 chip at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Poker pros who play for high stakes frequently use large-denomination chips as their medium of exchange. Instead of carrying around wads of $100 bills, they carry casino chips instead. To pay a debt, a friend gave Dalla the $5,000 chip, and he then went to the MGM cage to cash it.

Instead of forking over the five grand, the cashier impounded the chip and handed Dalla receipt. It was up to Dalla, he was told, to prove that the chip had been legally obtained.

Liz Benston, reporting in the Las Vegas Sun, quoted Dalla: "I think it's very scary for gamblers that the burden of proof is on us," he said. "It's like the IRS. They think everyone's a cheat."

Under Nevada regulations, casinos can confiscate chips that they know or reasonably should know were not obtained in the course of gambling by the person presenting them. In this case, Dalla got the chip from a friend, and MGM refused to pay him. Dalla can appeal to the Nevada Gaming Commission.

That's not a situation you or I are likely to face when we go to the cage with $5, $25 or $100 chips. That's not something that's going to raise any alarms. High stakes in Nevada … well, that's a different matter. Let the casher beware.

** ** **

If you gamble in the Chicago area and have been paying attention, by now you've probably heard about Reservation Blackjack at Hollywood Casino in Aurora. For a $20 fee, you can reserve a spot at a blackjack table for an hour, by calling (630) 801-1234. During that hour, your minimum bet is only $5 a hand.

I'll not suggest that anyone make their reservations solely for the purpose of getting a $5 minimum. The more important uses of Reservation Blackjack will be for friends who want to play together. If you want to make sure you and a buddy or you and your spouse can play together at the same table, you can make reservations for two. Or if you're having a casino party and want to book an entire table, you can do that, too.

In Illinois, with its limit of 1,200 gaming positions per license --- and ever-increasing numbers of those positions being handed over to slot machines --- it can be difficult for one person to find a spot at a table, let alone a couple or a party.

As for the $5 minimum, let's do a little math. At a full table, you'll play about 50 hands per hour. Fewer players mean more hands per hour, close to 250 an hour if you're playing heads-up with the dealer. Of course, if there were opportunities to play heads-up at a $5 table, there would be no need for Reservation Blackjack. So we'll assume a full table.

Wagering $5 a hand, you risk $250 per hour. An average player, facing a house edge of about 2 percent, could expect average losses of about $5 per hour. Throw in $20 for the reservation, and the total cost comes to about $25 per hour. If you were to just grab a spot without a reservation at a $25 table instead, you average losses would also come to $25 an hour. The average cost to the $5 bettor with reservation is about the same as to a $25 bettor without a reservation.

Of course the risk is a lot higher for the $25 player, who'll put $1,250 per hour on the table instead of $250. There'll be some sessions with bigger losses than the usual $5 bettor can afford.

What if you know basic strategy? Hollywood has two different sets of rules on its tables. Players may double after splits at all tables, but on some, usually $25 minimums and up, six decks are used and the dealer stands on all 17s. The house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.41 percent. On other tables, eight decks are used and the dealer hits soft 17, for a house edge of 0.66 percent.

When the dealer stands on all 17s, the average loss per hour for a $5 player would be about $1.02; when the dealer hits soft 17, the average loss rises to $1.65. Raise those wagers to $25, and those average losses increase to $5.10 and $8.25. Note that even at $25 wagers, average losses are far under the $20 price of a reservation.

I'm not saying Reservation Blackjack isn't worthwhile. It is. It's a good service for those who want to be sure they can play together and have some fun as a couple or a group. Table space can be at a premium in Illinois, and it's good to know you can get a table together. For bargain-seeking low-rollers, though, this isn't for you.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

Recent Articles
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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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