Ask the Wizard: Casinos - FAQ
I really enjoyed browsing through your web-site, although I am no big gambler. Great work here!! I have a question: Where can I find some good information about the business of gambling/casinos etc. I am interested in things like profitability, what it takes to start a casino: online or conventional, the legalities etc. I look forward to hearing from you.
— Deva from New Jersey, USA
This is not my area of expertise but if you're interested in owning your own online casino check out the sites of some of the software providers like Microgaming
or Boss Media. For a cut of the profits, they provide the software and much of the support. You can also buy an established online casino, check out the list at the River City Group for specifics. I'm afraid I don't know much about buying conventional casinos, but believe the process to get licensed to be very expensive and time consuming.
How much does a Las Vegas casino chip weigh ... in grams?
— Travis from Albuquerque, USA
According to Gus FanFassian, a casino quality chip will weigh 9 to 11 grams each and are made of clay and other composite materials.
When is the best time to tip and where should you place that tip? Should you tell the dealer that you are tipping them? I am often concerned about the eye in the sky and where I place a tip, how much to tip, and what to say about the tip.
— Josiah from South Haven, Michigan
In general, almost everything at the table should be communicated through hand signals and chip placement, including tipping. The vast majority of the time players make a bet for the dealer. To do this, place the tip on the edge of the betting circle, along with your own bet in the middle. The tip is not subject to the table minimum since it is treated as part of your own bet, just earmarked for the dealer. If you double or split your own bet you should do the same for the dealer's bet. If you win, then the dealer will pay off your bet and the tip separately. Don't touch the tip or the winnings on the tip; let the dealer collect them. Once I forgot that I had made a bet for the dealer and started to put the tip and the winnings in my stack when the dealer said, "I thought that was for me!" Needless to say I was very embarrassed and gave the dealer his money.
Why don't you hear about people trying to counterfeit casino chips? It seems to be way easier than trying to print U.S. money.
This is way out of my area of expertise. However, I can say that most casinos use RFID chips
(Radio Frequency Identification) in their chips of $100 denomination and higher. As I recall, there was a case where somebody painted $100 black chips to look like purple $500 chips in Las Vegas, thus appearing to pass the RFID test. Other than that, counterfeit chips are not a problem you hear of often in Las Vegas.
Your analysis of various side bets like Streak, Pair Square and others was very interesting. Do you know how these new games get invented and established? Do the casinos employ guys like you to compute the probabilities? If so, are the games copyrighted in some way?
— Bob P. from Lake Charles, Louisiana
I could talk about this all day. Part of my income is derived from analyzing games such as these. The gaming authorities require such analysis before a game can be licensed to play. Usually, these games are invented by an individual. Here in Nevada, after the game owner receives a license, then it must go through a 30-day trial period. If the trial period went well, then the owner can then apply for a permanent license. The entire process is very slow and it is difficult to get a casino to be the guinea pig for the trial period. Casinos are actually quite risk averse in their business decisions. Yes, the game owner will usually seek a copyright to protect others from stealing the idea.
You can find much more information about the business of marketing casino table games at my Gaming Math
Thanks for answering my questions. I want to deposit as much as I can at good casinos to take advantage of the "new player" bonus but how much do you think is too much? I don't like wasting an opportunity to get a large 20% bonus by getting a small 20% bonus, but how much is too much? What's been your experience?
— Scott T.
Don't worry about depositing too much money. I almost always deposit the maximum when playing for a bonus. What is much more likely to arouse suspicion is not playing enough.
Some casinos offer "comps" for different levels of action. I was wondering if there was a way of approximating how much I would have to wager to earn these comps.
— Steve from New York, USA
Your comp offers will depend on the product of your average bet, time played, hands per hour, house edge, and some "comp" constant, which is usually 33% to 40%. I indicate what one Vegas Strip casinos assumes for house edge and hands per hour in my house edge
Are Indian Casinos held to the same standards as non-Indian? Is the pay out regulated as overall per month or regulated per machine? If payout is overall, couldn't a casino adjust payouts for any machine at any time of day or week?
When walking into one of these "Indian" casinos, I can stand for five minutes, listen to the bells and tunes, and know if it will be a good day. Take 300 slot machines with fixed payouts and listen, given the same number of players should produce the same frequency of sounds. It doesn't. I think all of the new machines are networked and changed based on overall psychological factors of the players.
— K Foster from Temecula, California
In general Indian casinos are self-regulated. There is generally a tribal commission that will hear disputes, but ultimately the members of the commission know which side of their bread gets buttered.
Don't assume any kind of minimum return on the slot machines. However, ultimately economics would dictate that a return too low would be sensed by players, who would be unlikely to return if they consistently lost too much money too quickly. It would also be bad business, and time consuming, to loosen and tighten the slots like a yo-yo.
Your sound level hypothesis sounds interesting, I never thought of that.
I'm a floor supervisor at a local casino and was wondering about a strange play. A player was betting both the pass and don't pass at the same time. My question is if he was betting the do side for $10, I would give him an average bet of $10. Now that he is betting both sides, and probably not risking any funds, what would the average bet be? I know if this patron bet both the red and black on roulette, he should get an average bet of both bets on red and black, since the house advantage of 5.26% make both bets a loser over the long run.
— Ray from Plainfield, USA
Show me a player making opposite, or near opposite, bets and I'll show you a player up to something. He is probably trying to take advantage of a promotion or comps. If I ran a casino, I would give credit only for money being risked. One could argue he is risking $10, because a 12 will cause the pass to win and the don't pass to push. However, that will happen 1 in 36 pass line bets only. If I ran a casino, I would give him an average bet of $0.
Are all junket companies the same? The Grand Casino (a Park Place Entertainment holding) referred us to the Casino Connections junket firm based on our play. If we want to visit other casinos and let them pick up the airfare, et. al., how do we find the junket firm that serves the venue we want to visit and contact/convince them to take us on?
— Malcolm from Atlanta, USA
This is getting outside my area of expertise. When I was in college I went on almost free junket flights from Santa Barbara to Reno and had to be a minimum $5 player only. However, I rarely see advertisements for junkets any longer by airplane. I would suggest calling the casino host of a casino you like and prearranging a deal. However, I think you need to be a black chip player to get free hotel and airfare reimbursed.
Is there a casino that teaches how to play craps?
— Marty from Houston, USA
There are lots of them. Many casinos give free gambling lessons in the mornings when things are slow.
Where is the best casino in Las Vegas to play Spanish 21?
— Michael from Philadelphia, USA
The Venetian. To the best of my knowledge they are the only casino in Las Vegas which stands on a soft 17 in Spanish 21, lowering the house edge from 0.76% to 0.40%.
Update: The Venetian later switched to hitting a soft 17. As of this update (May 14, 2013) the best Spanish 21 game is at the D, which allows re-doubling.
Have you ever considered the impact of commissions (i.e. junket players get a commission based on turnover)? Although they require a lot of capital to begin with, commissions reduce house odds. I've done some calculations and it seems as though (if you play say basic strategy in blackjack) you can get slight odds in your favor (even without counting cards!). Have you done such calculations before and if so, what was the result?
— Siew from Sydney, Australia
Assuming you could get paid for your play then yes, it would be very possible to make a profit from playing junkets, depending on if the commission is more than the expected loss gambling. I've heard of a professional gamblers exploiting such offers in Asian casinos.
Where is the best place to play Blackjack in Atlantic City and why?
— Mike and Taffy M. from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Claridge is the best. As far as I know, they are the only Atlantic City casino to offer late surrender, which lowers the house edge from 0.43% to 0.36%.
Is Binion's Horseshoe the only casino that will let you win millions without being asked to leave? Why would a casino ask someone to leave if they are not cheating? Does a casino ever ask someone to leave the table at a game like roulette where they believe no one can beat it?
— Jim from Winona, Minnesota
No casino that had any sense would ask someone to leave just for getting lucky. Most would try hard to keep them from leaving and entice them back once they returned home.
What is the best method for receiving comps from slot attendants when playing slot machines?
— Donald from Golconda, USA
This is not my area of expertise. However Jean Scott "the Queen of Comps" says you should establish a relationship with a casino host anywhere you plan to play a lot. Then ask them for a comp after you have given them sufficient play.
What are your casino choices in Atlantic City for craps and Spanish 21? When you mention that it is wise to take full odds on a bet while playing craps, do you mean to match your bet with an equal odds bet, or to make the highest allowed odds bet along with your bet (ex: at a table with 10x max odds place a $1 bet with a $1 free odds bet, or a $1 bet with a $10 free odds bet). I'm a little confused on that. I love your site, and honestly see it as "a diamond in the rough" among gambling advice web sites. Personally, I like to know what the mathematical odds are when it comes to wagering my hard earned money! Thanks in advance for answering my questions!
— Dave from Roanoke, Virginia
Thanks for the compliment. The Spanish 21 rules are the same across Atlantic City. I only know of two that have the game, the Tropicana and the Claridge, but there could be others by now. If I'm not mistaken, the best craps game is at the Sands, which offers 5X odds. When I say to take the maximum odds I mean bet the maximum allowed on the odds. For example, $50 after a $10 line bet. Keep in mind that you won't win more money by taking the odds, you just get to bet more without losing more in the long run.
As a math/statistics instructor, I must say that your site should be required reading before anyone ventures into a casino. I like to bank when playing Pai Gow Poker in Nevada casinos. In Tahoe I can usually bank every other hand. I'm in Vegas far less often and there are more casinos to check out. Do you know which ones will allow you to bank every other hand at a full table (if no other players wish to bank)? It seems to be one in seven some places and one in twelve others.
Also, some Tahoe casinos have a jackpot game based on how a players five-card hand. A sucker bet, but as a banker I like it when other players bet it. They'll often set their hand for the jackpot (paid by the house) at the expense of there standard wager (against me) by splitting two high pair to play a straight with 2 singletons, or keeping a full house together and putting two singletons up instead of 3 down, pair up. Do you have any idea which Vegas or Reno casinos do this?
— Tom from Fairfield, USA
Thanks for your kind words. Actually, I have been asked about teaching a coarse on the mathematics of gambling at UNLV. pai gow poker
is not my game, so I don't follow the details very closely. I do know, as you stated, that some rotate and some zig-zag the banker between the players and dealer. However I don't keep track of who does it which way, sorry. I've also seen that progressive side bet at lots of casinos around town. Again I don't keep track of who specifically has it. However that is a great idea of banking against it, I have never thought of that. Sorry I wasn't of much help.
How would I go about getting a free room at Las Vegas on my first visit?
— Dan from San Lorenzo, USA
First, you need to get a player card. Then you have to present it to the pit boss when you play a table game. As a rule of thumb, to get a free room you probably need to bet at least $50-$100 a hand at least four hours a day for every day you stay there. The better the place the more difficult they will be to impress.
What casinos have super fun 21 could you give me a list?
— Moe from Philadelphia, USA
I’ve seen it at the Regent, New York New York, and Palace Station. I hear it is also at the Sunset Station and Santa Fe Station.
What is the best game to use a match play coupon on?
First let’s define a match play coupon for those who don’t know. This is something often found in casino fun books. If the player accompanies a match play coupon with a real even money wager then the match play will be converted to a like amount of cash if the player wins. For example if the player has a $5 match play and uses it along with a $5 bet on red in roulette then if the player wins his $5 will win $5 and his match play will be converted to $5. Whether the player wins or loses he will lose the match play coupon. In the event of a push, the player gets to keep the match play coupon.
If used in blackjack, the Match Play will usually only pay even money. This decreases the value of the Match Play itself by 2.3%, which is way too much. Of the true even money bets, the best game to use a match play on in the Player bet in baccarat. That has a probability of winning of 49.32% of bets resolved. For the don’t pass in craps, that probability is 49.30%.The value of a Match Play on the Player bet is 47.95% of face value, assuming you wouldn’t have bet otherwise.
I have seen several references to ongoing bonus abuses from people who reside in Denmark. Do you know more details about what is going on here? What are they doing, and how can we avoid being bonus abusers?
I don’t know all the details but there is a lot of bonus abuse going on by players from Denmark. The way to avoid being labeled a bonus abuser is to always play much more than required. I hate to give an exact figure but exceeding requirements by at least 100% is a good idea. Giving free play to casinos you get repeated bonuses from is also good camouflage. It doesn’t look like you are a good faith gambler if you only play during promotions. In general don’t be too greedy.
I was recently put on the "list" and can not play at the casinos. Could you tell me how I got my name on the "list" and how do I get my name off of it? Thank you for your response.
— Brian from Milpitas, USA
I don’t the reason in your particular case because I don’t have access to the blacklists. The fastest way to get on the list is to make a chargeback. That is making a credit card purchase, blowing it in the casino, and then reversing the charges. This is something the Internet casinos do not mess around with and they share lists with each other of players who have made even one chargeback, regardless of the reason. There are also blacklists for bonus abusers. These are harder to get on and are not circulated as widely. Once on a list there is just about nothing that can be done about it. Internet gambling is still mostly unregulated so there is no higher authority to turn to.
Hi, which Las Vegas casinos offer the best blackjack game? Is there a website you know which lists the Vegas casinos and their BJ rules? Thanks for any help you can give me.
— Daryl from Buffalo, USA
I usually use Blackjack Conditions and Specials
for information on where the best blackjack games are in Las Vegas. Surprisingly they say that Caesars Palace has the best basic strategy game: double deck, double on any two cards, dealer stands on soft 17, and late surrender for a house edge of 0.13%.
First I want to say you are running a first class operation. Second, I was wondering about the prospects of gambling for a living or gambling to supplement one’s income either online or at a real casino. I can imagine it is probably a dubious enterprise for most, but for some, it could be rewarding.
Second, I am wondering about the casino’s limits on the size off a wager and how that affects the expected return or how well one can do in a session. It would seem low limits would favor the casino, rather than the player, since statistically, the longer you play the more you will lose. Also, it would seem that it would be easier to start small and work your way up rather than start big and go higher.
Also, do you think it is possible to tilt the odds in a players favor long term by a style of play in an online casino for a game such as blackjack?
Thanks for the kind words. I could talk all day about your first question. There are ways to gamble for a living. In my opinion the most viable ways are blackjack card counting, sports betting, and Internet bonus/advantage play. All three of these methods require a large bankroll to make enough to live on, ballpark $100,000, and that is just to get by. Most people have to start small and build their way up. Everyone has to bet relative to his own bankroll. Internet betting limits are high enough for most players. Not many people wish to bet more than $500 per hand. Boss Media’s single player game offers a small player advantage in blackjack, but it is so small it is not worth the time to play it.
My question is a very basic one. Are the odds for slots and the payoff tables for games like Caribbean Poker, Three Card Poker and Let It Ride typically lowered on board the cruise ships from major cruise lines?
— Paul from Novi, Michigan
I’m not sure. The only cruise I ever took was from Florida to the Bahamas and it only lasted about eight hours. This was before I ever started this web site so I didn’t pay close attention to the rules. However I do recall that the blackjack rules were stingy, and that I lost a lot! Other things I have read corroborate that cruise ships casinos are tight. After all, where else can you play? However the games you mention already have rather high house edges so perhaps there is no need to alter the rules. I also know that Caribbean Stud Poker has a more generous paytable in Europe and Africa, so maybe they use that one.
I play in a casino that offers ’match plays’ it is a coupon that if I bet $5 with the coupon and win I get paid $10. If I have 2 coupons per 3 hour playing time and a bankroll of $100 how much of an advantage do I derive from playing them as opposed to going to another casino that does not offer them to the player?
— Edward from Clearwater, USA
Match play chips or coupons have an expected value of almost 50% of face value if used in blackjack or craps. If you get 2 $5 coupons for 3 hours of play you can expect to lose about $6 playing $5/hand basic strategy blackjack, but gain $5 from the match plays. So all other things being equal I would play where they give out the match plays.
It’s my understanding Casino’s put a lot of emphasis on a Player’s theoretical win. I would imagine my theoretical value has a direct correlation to compatibility from a house point of view. If I am a $10.00 average Player in Blackjack and play an average of 3 hours per trip, what is the formula a casino uses to determine my theoretical value? Thank you in advance.
Yes, the casinos do calculate the value of a player’s play and then comp back a certain percentage, roughly about 33% to 40%. According to my theoretical house edge table
, the casinos assume a house edge of 0.75% in blackjack. So in your example the value of this play would be 0.0075×$10×60×3=$13.50. If the casino comps back 1/3 of the play then you could expect to get a comp worth $4.50. However, most places don’t like to fuss with such small comps.
At the new Seneca/Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls NY they refuse to give me a copy of their house way for pai gow poker. I would like to know the house way before I play. Do they have to provide that info?
They probably don’t have to. Once at the Tropicana in Atlantic City their pai gow poker rules said the house way was available upon request. So I requested it and they ran out of public copies and couldn’t show me a house copy because it didn’t have the Gambler’s Anonymous disclaimer on it. In my opinion the player should always have the right to know the rules of a game, but unfortunately all gaming authorities seem to think differently.
Could you provide some details about the mechanics of "buying in", for example, at a crap table? Do dealers take cash only? If so, and I wish to make a substantial buy-in, does this mean I must arrive at the casino carrying nothing but cash (a risky action in LV)? What about travelers’ checks? Can I make advance arrangements for credit with the casino Cashier’s Office? If so, how does that work exactly? Get specific, please.
I remember my first trip to a casino I didn’t know how to actually get chips to play with and purchased them at the cage and walked them to the blackjack table. The proper way to buy in at the table is simply to lay your cash on the table and at the appropriate time the dealer will exchange the cash for chips. However if you wish to play for amounts too uncomfortable or unsafe to carry in cash you can wire funds to the casino in advance. Then all you have to do when you get there is ask the pit boss for chips and he will have you sign something, stating you are buying chips against your cash account. To get off topic a bit I think it is time the United States Treasury should start making $500 bills, making it easier to carry large amount of money. A 500 Euro note already exists, which is worth $598 U.S. dollars at the time of this writing.
If playing Basic Strategy significantly helps the player not lose as much to the casinos, why do some casinos freely give BS cards out and allow players to consult BS cards while playing? I have seen this in Shreveport, Vicksburg and Black Hawk, CO. Friends have told me that they have done this in Vegas too.
I have played blackjack at casinos all over the United States and have never seen a basic strategy card in blackjack given out for free. However most casino gift shops sell them and they are indeed allowed at the tables. I think the casinos aren’t crazy about the cards the alternative of prohibiting them would be even worse. It would cause a lot of bad player relations to try to enforce a no strategy card rule. Furthermore, where would they draw the line? What if the player wrote the basic strategy on his hand, could the casino prevent a player from looking at his own hand?
Can you tell me about the legal penalties for cheating at a casino? For instance, could the casino press charges if you are caught using a mechanical card counting device, or just kick you out? How about other scenarios, like if you were caught with a computer system to predict roulette spins, or a device to spy on poker hands?
It is my understanding that cheating in a Nevada casino carries the same penalty as bank robbery. Computers and cameras definitely count as cheating devices.
For whatever reason suppose I do not wish to immediately cash in casino chips won in a major casino in LV. Can I walk across the street (or next door) to another major casino and put my chips in play (or cash them in) there? If such chip "travelability" is permitted at all, would it be limited to major properties owned by the same corporation such as Park Place or MGM Properties? Please comment when convenient. Thank you.
Most casinos accept an exchange of chips from other casinos in the same locality, even if the casino is a direct competitor. For example if you walked a $100 Mirage chip to the Venetian and politely asked at a table to exchange it for Venetian chips I think they would allow it. Do not try to bet a foreign chip without asking. I once did that in Atlantic City with a $5 chip and although I got away with it when the dealer finally noticed a foreign chip in his tray he was clearly annoyed. Fortunately it was a full table so nobody could pin the blame on me ;-).
I was playing blackjack at the Casino Niagara, jumping from $15 to $300 using an improvised counting system of making a max bet when I saw a lot of small cards leave the deck. Both times I did this the dealer yelled "table max" and the pit crew was suddenly watching the game very closely. How close was I to getting backroomed in your opinion?
I can’t speak for Canada very well but backrooming a card counter would be illegal in the United States. That tactic is only allowed in cases of cheating. However it still has been known to happen. Fortunately in such cases where the counter sued the case the counter won. If I may say I think Canada is more mellow and non-confrontational than the U.S. so I would guess the probability of getting backroomed is even lower there. Although you didn’t ask about it, jumping by a factor of 20 sets off a huge red flag. Most counters who don’t want to attract attention don’t increase their bet by more than a factor of 2 at one time. This is also my policy, unless I feel there is no heat at all.
Is it true casinos pump oxygen in the casinos to keep them happy and awake.
No, not true at all. It is an urban legend.
Many senior managers in casinos today have an educational background similar to yourself rather than coming up through the gaming floor. I was just wondering if, with your interest in gaming you had ever considered going to the dark side and making a move into casino management.
I’m tired of professional gamblers referring to those who work in or for casinos as the "dark side." Casinos provide thousands of jobs across the country, revenue to government, and a source of entertainment to millions. I don’t remember the source but I read that something like 90% of visitors to Las Vegas leave with a gambling loss, yet 95% leave happy. The other side is quick to argue that casinos contribute to the problem of compulsive gambling. Yes, there are some compulsive gamblers who abuse what should be done in moderation. However I believe that the majority should not be denied the opportunity to place a bet because of the problems of a minority. In other words I believe that the benefits that come from legalized gambling far exceed the costs.
I fully admit I consult for casinos and gaming businesses. I have to because this site doesn’t make enough money to support my family. My bankroll is not large enough to make a living as a professional gambler. However I make no apologies for what I do. To answer your question, yes, if the right offer came along I would consider employment in casino management.
In response your last column from a player who was concerned about the dealer calling "table max" when he went from $15 to $300. It should be added to your answer that this is most likely the internal procedure of the casino as most do this when any maximum bet is placed in order to draw the supervisor’s attention. Most players tend to believe the actions of a casino are directed against them when the usual reason is simply the staff are following company procedures.
Thanks for this good point. I stand corrected.
Great site! I’m a devoted fan who only bets on games with a small house edge.
I was surprised to find on the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s website, that the statewide casino win percentage for baccarat in 2003 was 19.62% and for mini baccarat, the casinos kept 13.81%. Why such a difference if the two games have the same house edge? By comparison, nickel slots (considered to have a lousy house edge) kept only 7.89% statewide! Why would slot machines (with a high house edge) keep less money than table games (with a low house edge)?
Thanks for the kind words. You are far from the only person to be confused about this. The reason is you are comparing the house advantage to the hold. The house advantage is the percentage you will lose on average of each dollar bet. The hold is the ratio of money the casino wins to chips purchased. This is going to be much higher than the house edge because in table games players circulate through the same chips for a while. So that baccarat figure is saying that of all the money dropped in the box in baccarat the casino won 19.62% and gave the players back the other 80.38%. Meanwhile the nickel slot figure is saying that of the total amount bet the casino kept 7.89% and gave players back 92.11%. To make a long answer short you are comparing apples and oranges.
In an earlier column you expressed the opinion that dealers should be allowed to keep their own tips. You are way off base on this one. Here is what typically happens when dealers are allowed to "keep their own" at least in Washington in the Seattle-Tacoma area. If you are a female you will do well, if you are an Asian male you will also do well, if you are an Asian female you will do even better, if you are a BEAUTIFUL Asian female you have hit the jackpot! If you are a white male like me well good luck to you buddy because you are going to need it!! So I must disagree with you when you say "Keeping one’s own tips is an incentive for good service, which benefits everybody."
One Asian female dealer where I work regularly does $200 or more a night in tips. She has done this dozens and dozens of times. I have done it once or twice. Is she doing something so completely different than what I do? I hardly think so. In fact I know so because she and I both worked at another casino where I was a floor supervisor and she dealt (we both deal at the casino where we are now) and she didn’t do anything special. In fact she hardly said anything at all to the players!
You make a good point. However I could argue that is violates open market economics to have women subsidizing men or Asians subsidizing Caucasians. That is essentially what is happening by tip sharing, by your own argument. As one white male to another I sympathize with your situation but I am also against institutionalized favoritism according to race or gender. So I believe that tip sharing should be optional.
I would like to respond the question about "pumping oxygen" into the casino. Although I doubt very much if any casino pumps pure oxygen (as you know oxygen is only one component of the air we breathe) into the environment I am ABSOLUTELY sure that there are some that use ozone generators. As you know ozone is a form of oxygen. I know because I worked at one in Washington State for two years that did exactly that!! Of course I never confronted them (they would deny it was taking place) but the fact of the matter is I know intimately the distinctive smell of ozone. I was involved with marine (saltwater) aquariums for many years and ozone generators were used by the more serious hobbyists. Also I have recently been a number of times at a popular card room in Renton, Washington that has been in business since 1976 I believe (you probably know which one I am referring to with this information) and the place absolutely reeks of ozone. I can only comment about Washington State. I have been to Las Vegas and Reno numerous times (the first time about 1973) and cant recall ever smelling ozone in any casino. So I must respectfully disagree with you that it is an "urban legend" (at least as pertains to ozone; but of course you may be correct when mentioning oxygen specifically).
This is getting outside my area of expertise so I bounced your comments off of my father, who has a Ph.D. in physics. Here is what he says:
"He may be right. Ozone (O3) does have a distinctive smell. And yes, it is a "form" of oxygen. He may have inside information that ozone generators were being used in the Renton WA casino. There is nothing illegal or dangerous about generating ozone in small quantities to "freshen" the air. It can make it smell like the air after a lightning storm, which some might find stimulating, especially if there is smoking going on in the room. Like many deodorants, its main effect may be to mask other odors. As a strong oxidizer, it may also react with some odorous hydrocarbons and help to get rid of them faster. Manufacturers make claims about supposed benefits of ozone, but I do not believe there is any proven effect on health or "happiness". You may quote me if you like. Also check this out: IAQ Publications - Ozone Generator Fact Sheet" - William L. Shackleford.
So you are probably right that ozone is pumped into some casinos. However as the urban legend goes casinos pump oxygen to keep players awake and euphoric, which is not the motive with ozone. As to the question posed by a writer of "Are you supposed to tip the person who pays you if you hit a slot machine for an amount not paid by the machine itself?....", you stated " If you just hit a jackpot over $1200 requiring a hand pay then it is proper etiquette to tip...." I think a qualification is in order. I had to wait 38 minutes to get a hand pay. It probably would have been a longer wait had I not seen a lady in the cleaning crew and asked if she could find a floor person for me. She did. I didn’t tip the person paying but I did give that cleaning lady a $20.
Point taken. I probably would have done the same. My statement was more of a generality.
Hi. I love your site. (I try to use your Amazon link when I can. Keep up the good work.) My question is about casino food. Why do casinos offer buffets as their restaurant? Why would buffets be so much more profitable in Vegas than in every other city? Maybe it is something to do with being open 24-7? Maybe they just want to encourage the hedonistic environment of gambling?
Thanks for using the Amazon link. That is an easy for anyone to support the site. I’ve noticed that lots of hotels everywhere have buffets. They serve a need to get guests fed quickly who would rather be doing other things (like gambling). Also, foreign guests may not be familiar with American food and not know what to order from a restaurant. With a buffet what you see is what you get. So I would argue that the ratio of total buffet meals served to total hotel guests is not that disproportionate in Vegas. There are lots of buffets simply because there are lots of rooms.
In practical terms, does the casino make more money on a bet with a high standard deviation, than a bet with a low standard deviation, even if the two bets have the same edge? Basically, I figure the probability of player bankruptcy is higher with a higher standard deviation. If the house already has all my money, I can’t play the next hand that might be a winner.
Assuming the player plays the same number of hands regardless of results then the casino would make the same amount of money either way, over the long run. Yet if the player will quit early if he reaches a certain loss point then he will play less on average and consequently the casino will make less money. It sounds paradoxical but if you quit playing when you go broke then you will lose more at a low volatility game, because there is a smaller chance of ruin and thus the house edge will grind you down longer. So by increasing your probability of ruin your expected loss actually goes down. For example if player A bets his entire $100 bankroll by betting on red in one spin of roulette then his expected loss is only $5.26. If player B bets $1 at a time for 8 hours on red in roulette his expected loss is 60*8*5.26% = $25.26 (assuming 60 bets per hour). So although player A has a much higher probability of ruin his expected loss is much less. This lesson is especially applicable to Internet bonus playing. If you get the bonus up front I recommend betting everything in one hand to start. By sometimes going broke before completing the play requirement you expose yourself to the house edge less and thus save time and lose less playing over the long run.
Where are the single deck games in Vegas that still pay 3 to 2?
With the demise of Binion’s Horseshoe the number of true single deck games in Vegas has fallen by about 75%. Although it isn’t a priority of mine to keep up to date on this some that I know of are the Fiesta Rancho, Golden Gate, El Cortez, and the Western. Beware of single deck games that only pay even money or 6 to 5 on a blackjack, you are much better off at a shoe game that does pay 3 to 2.
I am a dealer in a small rural casino and disagree with your comments against tip sharing (April 4 2004 column). The reasons tip sharing would not work here are:
- A dealer works the same game for an entire shift. There is a big disparity in how players tip depending on the game. For example Caribbean Stud and Let it Ride players are very bad tippers.
- Some shifts tip better than others. 75% of tips are earned on the swing shift.
- Our casino is close to the Canadian border and if a dealer gets stuck with Canadian players for the shift then he will go home broke for the day.
- The dealers who are friendly with the pit bosses will get the good games and good shifts.
Furthermore I disagree with calling tip sharing "institutionalized favoritism." If dealers share their tips, every dealer receives the same pay for putting in the same hour of work. Thus, it seems to me that tip sharing reduces institutionalized favoritism, rather than contributing to it as you allege. Letting people keep their own tips would mean the good looking woman would earn more than someone else doing the same job, simply because she is a good looking woman. That would be a policy of institutionalized favoritism.
Thank you for your comments but I stand by my opinion that tip sharing should be optional. That attractive women get tipped better may sound unfair but it is the free market at work. I would argue that a beautiful female dealer is performing a better service to the public just by giving people something to look at. I definite institutionalized favoritism as an institution (such as the casino) taking money from one class of people and giving it to another. Players may not tip fairly but as long as it is according to their own free will then it is not institutional but voluntary favoritism.
In the case of your casino if tip sharing were optional I would expect only the men who are not friendly with management would opt to join the pool. If the casino didn’t do a better job at rotating dealers and treating them equally then some dealers would quit, forcing the casino to take action. It may also lead to more female heavy workforce through attrition but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Men have a competitive advantage at other jobs, like lifting heavy objects.
It is hard to study economics, as I have, and not have a healthy respect for free enterprise. Tip sharing is a form of socialism, which will obviously benefit some, but as a whole will only results in inferior public service due to insufficient incentives.
I’m a pit boss at an Indian Casino in Northern California and I’ve been following the discussion about Tip Sharing vs. Going For Your Own (April 4, May 13 columns) and I have to say from what I’ve seen, dealers much prefer the go for your own. In fact, because we’re a go for your own house, we have dealers from all over the state (and even from all over the country) trying to get a job here because we’re so close to the Bay Area. Even dealers from far bigger casinos such as Thunder Valley (near Sacramento) and Cache Creek (also near Sacramento) are trying to get a job here because they don’t pool their own tips. I also experienced something similar with another Northern California casino that wasn’t as nice as the one I’m currently at. There was almost a dealer mutiny whenever it was discussed about going to a pooled system.
In Scottsdale, the hottest casino to work at right now is a go for your own joint that has over 100 tables. The dealers there are consistently making several hundred dollars per day working there and everyone from across the country wishes they were there.
The only dealers that I see that wish it were pooled are those that lack personality or have poor dealing skills (or both). The only way those dealers make any money is to pool their tips. And just for the record, the top moneymakers at the casinos I’ve been at are ALWAYS men, and not even very attractive men. While some of the really attractive ladies do indeed make good tips without even trying (or so it seems), the best dealers are truly entertaining personalities with a fast, clean game.
Thanks for your comments.
I am retained by a group to build an online casino. I have some questions and you seem like the person in the know. If I may...
- How much start up cash should be on hand
- How much would one expect to pay to build a first class casino
- Where is the best place to host with sufficient bandwidth a space
- Is there one company programming the backend, that you could reccommend as one of the best?
Between the cost of building the casino, cash reserves, and first year losses, you will need a minimum of $1,000,000 for a respectable Internet casino. The best place to host is outside my area of expertise. Since I have a relationship with almost all the major software providers I don’t want to be guilty of favoritism by mentioning a particular company. I know who I think I would go with but I won’t say who.
I am a casino dealer in a non-tribal facility in the lovely state of Washington. I saw the comments (April 4, 2004 column) that people posted on tip sharing and I couldn't resist adding a few words of my own. I work in a "keep your own" house and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am not a beautiful Asian female. I am white male, I have Friday nights off, I do not always get the good tables, and I consistently average over $900/week in tips. The casino that trained me to deal cards was tribal and tokes were shared. I worked there for just over 3 months and finally I got fed up with having to share my hard-earned tokes with the chump on the next table with no personality. I say, let me keep my own. I will be rewarded for my own work. It also helps to keep me sharp. I can't afford to have a bad day at work. I have to put a smile on my face and at least try to have a good time and be professional and courteous. This is obviously a benefit to me, the casino, and the players. I don't care if a "pooled" house has a toke rate of $50/hour. I will never share tips again. My advice to other white males (or any other economically repressed dealers for that matter) is to go to work every day and concentrate on being the best dealer that you can be. Do not worry about how much money is or isn't going into your toke box. You will get stiffed sometimes, it doesn't matter. Try to provide the best service you can, when you go to cash out at the end of your shift, there will be money there.
Thanks for your comments. I had a feeling the other dealer was overstating the race/gender effect on tipping.
Do you have any articles about etiquette and/or nuances about gambling in Europe, versus normal American casinos? Specifically, I’m targeting German casinos, and even more specifically, Blackjack and Poker. I have the opportunity to gamble a little on an upcoming trip to southern Germany, and I’d like to know what to expect.
I’ve played in Berlin, Hamburg, and Monte Carlo and the etiquette is more or less the same as in the United States. The main difference that I can think of is I didn’t see much tipping the dealer in any of these locales. Now that I think about the German players seemed to take their gambling very seriously and the casinos, especially in Berlin, were unusually quiet. In Monte Carlo the famed Grand Casino is very stuffy and formal but the Paris Casino and Sun Casino are much more fun and lively, not unlike an American casino. Have a good time!
Do you ever test the slot machines in Ontario, Canada. I’m worried that since the government has a monopoly on gambling in Ontario they are setting the machines tight.
I never tested the machines in Ontario but did test a machine in Montreal. Quebec casinos are also government owned so the concern should be the same there. The 5-cent machine (equivalent to 3 U.S. cents) I played was set to 89.975%. For a small coinage this isn’t too bad and comparable to the Las Vegas Strip. I have played blackjack at the casino in Niagara Falls, as well as Montreal, and the rules were the same as in Atlantic City, resulting in a house edge of 0.41%. I think this goes to show that the government there is not abusing their monopoly but giving the players a decent bet. See my slot machine appendix 3F
for more information.
Can you tell me the traditional Las Vegas colors for $1,000, $5,000, & $10,000 chips?
— Ray F.
To answer your question I turned to Barney Vinson, author of Ask Barney: An Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas
. He replied, "The colors of large denomination checks vary from casino to casino, just so they stand out more. At Caesars, $500 checks are pink, $1,000 checks are yellow and $5,000 checks are brown (they’re called chocolates)."
How does a table game player go about getting comped?
First get a player card, the same kind that go in the slot machines, from the Player’s Club desk. Then when you sit down at a table game take out your player card and give it to the dealer when you buy chips. The dealer will hopefully alert the pit boss that you have a player card and he will start to rate you based on your average bet, length of play, and sometimes your skill level.
I live in NJ about two hours north of Atlantic City. Do you have an idea as to where the closest European Roulette Wheel to someone in my part of the country is?
There are lots of single zero wheels in Atlantic City. Most of the casinos there have them, but at a $25 minimum.
I’m getting ready to go to Vegas and it has been a few years since I have been there, I know Binion’s used to be the best place to play craps, however I understand since the Harrah’s takeover that it no longer holds true. Could you please tell me the best places to play craps are?
I don’t think the takeover had any effect on the craps at Binion’s Horseshoe in Vegas. Although they used to offer 100x odds they ended that long before the federal marshals shut them down earlier this year. The best odds in Vegas can now be found at the Casino Royale (between the Venetian and Harrah’s), which offers 100x odds.
In Las Vegas the majority of the casinos I’ve played in require a $100 blackjack bet for 4 hours daily to get a room comped. I’ve calculated that playing with S17,RSA,DOA,LSR assuming 100 hands per hour it is costing me $120 per day if I play basic strategy. Is there another game that I would lose less if I played? I’m mainly concerned with the cost of Pai Gow if I never bank playing $100 a hand 4 hours a day. However, I thought you might know of another game it would be even cheaper for me to play.
— Jay F.
The rule of thumb when it comes to comps is that the casinos give back some percentage, usually one-third. So if your goal is to get the room with as little expected loss as possible then whatever game offers the lowest house edge is what you should play. You will probably earn that room faster and with less bankroll volatility playing pai gow or pai gow poker. However the house edge is higher so your expected loss will be greater than in blackjack. In my opinion you should play whatever you would play if there were no comps at all. Then consider comps as icing on the cake.
The casino industry has millions of customers, wagering and losing billions of dollars, and a percentage of them unhappy enough to claim that they were cheated by lying advertising. Do you think the trial lawyers are a definite threat to do to this industry after what they have done to asbestos, tobacco and others?
I hope not. If anyone brings such a lawsuit I hope the casino wins. As long as the casinos are operating honestly and fairly, which in general I believe they are, then if the player loses more than he can afford it is his own fault. I’m not a lawyer but nobody here in Vegas seems very worried about this.
I ran into a situation in Reno a couple years ago that no one else seems to have heard before. At a full pai gow poker table, the dealer set her cards, I believe it was a Jack/Ten in the 2-card hand and a flush in the 5 card-hand. The dealer had missed the fact there was a straight with a higher 2-card hand, but set it and went through 4 players when the pit boss came over and said "You set that wrong" and proceeded to re-set the hand. They then went to the discard tray to replay the hands. This resulted in two of the players going from a push to a loss. The pit boss actually went to the players’ stacks and took the monies from them after consulting the videotape to confirm the wager amounts. We were all told to stay at the table until the situation was resolved, but after it was, despite not knowing each other, we all left not only the table, but the casino entirely. It would strike me that once a hand is set and the first hand is settled, there can be no change. Also, for PR purposes, that pit boss lost my business forever over a mess that netted the casino $20. What do you think?
— Kevin H.
The casino had the right to do this. However in my opinion it was a bad business decision. Not only did the casino waste time resolving this mess but as you point out it resulted in bad feelings on the part of all players. This just goes to show the folly of following rules religiously. Personally I think rules should be weighed against common sense.
Are there any $100,000 chips? If these exist what hotel in Las Vegas would use them?
There is a similar question asked in Ask Barney: An Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas
by Barney Vinson. He says there is a $10 million chip on display in the London Club high limit room at the Aladdin. However I agree with Barney that is probably more about bragging rights and has never actually been bet. In another question Barney says most major casinos keep special chips in the vault up to denominations of $100,000, in case they get an especially high roller.
How is the spread determined on any given table game? Example, a $5 minimum Blackjack table may have table maximum of $200 why?
The casinos like to corral their bettors according to how much they bet. One reason for this is the higher limit tables have fewer players so the big bettors get in more hands per hour. Another reason is that it is said players like to be around other players of similar bet size. If a player wanted to bet $1000 at a $5 table it might make other $5 players at that table feel nervous or uncomfortable. A third reason is it is a preventative measure against cheating.
I wanted to know if casinos put caffeine in their drinks they serve, to keep people awake, or is this an urban legend like the oxygen?
I’ve never heard this one but I’m sure they do not spike drinks with caffeine.
Do you have any comment on the Blackjack Pro device for card counting?
Interesting. Basically this looks like a two-way clicker to help the player keep track of the running count in blackjack. From what I read there is no true count conversion or index number help. Still knowing the running count and betting accordingly is much better than not counting at all. It is also a clever disguise. However be aware that using any device to help calculate the probabilities on any game in a Nevada casinos is a felony and carries a punishment comparable to bank robbery.
I read about how your Ties Win Blackjack is on field trial in Laughlin, Nevada. What kind of permit is required and how much did it cost?
A new game trial period permit was required. This is opposed to a "variation" permit, which is less expensive. For a new game the cost is $3000, I had to fill out lots of forms, including an employment and residence history going back 20 years. The waiting time was six months, which was shorter than what I was expecting.
I read your article entitled Marketing New Casino Games , and I am a bit discouraged because I just invented a new game and I am actually thinking of marketing it. In your article you mentioned that new table games are rented out to casinos for about $300 to $500 per table per month. I thought that there is big money in this business if you're fortunate enough to invent a really good game. I was told that Derek Webb, the guy who invented 3-card poker made millions from the game. Is this not true?
Truly top games like Three Card Poker can get up to $1,500 to $2,000 per month, from what I hear. I don't know exactly how much Webb made but whatever it was he had to spend a lot of it on lawyers fees defending the game. There is an article about Webb and Three Card Poker in the August 2004 issue of Playboy.
Why do tables have a maximum limit, (i.e. Roulette)? A friend told me that this is to prevent a player from continuing to double his losing bet when betting red or black. I disagree as the odds obviously stay the same and the strategy does not pay well risk to reward. Why are there max limits at tables?
— Mark from New York
Every casino has some kind of limits to protect itself from losing more than they are comfortable with. However, on most tables the maximum is much less than it is in the high-limit area. The reason for this has nothing to do with protecting the casino against is Martingale
players. Any casino manager worth his weight in salt knows betting systems always lose in the long run. I asked an executive with a major Las Vegas casino, who wishes to remain anonymous, why a casino would refuse a $10,000 in the main casino when they would accept it in the high-limit room. He said a casino manager only has so many employees he truly trusts. The big action he prefers to be under the watch of those people.
Many of your responses to questions about slots refer to e-prom which you say is regulated and requires approval by a state agency prior to changing. However, in California I know of no regulatory agency that requires Indian casinos to submit changes for approval prior to changing any EPROMs. I assume Indian casinos can make the changes whenever they desire (yes/no?).
— Fred from Bonita
When I write about government regulations I almost always am talking about Nevada. Many other jurisdictions more or less mirror Nevada laws. However Indian casinos are largely self-regulating. As far as I know they can change EPROM chips at will and not answer to anybody about it.
I play three card, Caribbean stud, and four card poker at machine shuffled tables. I am amazed the number of times a playable three-card hand frequently is dealt in a four card game, and a playable four-card hand is dealt in a Caribbean stud game. It makes me wonder if those shuffling machines aren’t pre-programmed to the house’s advantaged. Are these machines really random or are they programmed for the house, and if programmed, isn’t that illegal?
— Cherrice from North Carolina
I strongly believe the makers of the shuffling machines at least attempt to make the shufflers as fair and random as possible. A deliberately gaffed machine I’m sure would violate Nevada law. It is fairly easy to see good x-card hands in x+1 cards. For example the probability of a three of a kind in three cards is 0.235%, and in four cards 0.922%, or almost four times higher.
I am a German student and I was looking for a casino article ranking the world’s best 100 casinos (real world), but I couldn’t find any. I hope you can help me with my question.
— Mathias from Berlin, Germany
The Ultimate Casino Guide
has various top ten lists. Here is their list of the ten most elegant casinos in alphabetical order.
- 50 St. James, London, England
- Atalantis at Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas
- Casino Baden-Baden, Germany
- Casino Bellevue Marienbad, Czech Republic
- Casino de Montreal, Montreal Quebec
- Le Casino, Monte Carlo
- St. James Club, Antigua
- Taleon Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia
- Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada
Why do casinos predominately use green felt for their layouts? Has there been a study on this and if so where can I look for the results?
— Carol from Reno
I asked Barney Vinson, author of Ask Barney: An Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas
this question. He speculated it is a carry-over from the days of illegal gambling, but had no idea why the illegal tables used green felt. This is just a theory but I believe it is because pool table felt is usually green. The makers of gambling tables probably found green felt in the greatest supply because of the abundance of pool tables. However that begs the question, why do pool tables use green felt? I did some searching and found this explanation:
"The History of billiards is long and very rich. The game has been played by kings and commoners, presidents, mental patients, ladies, gentlemen, and hustlers alike. It evolved from a lawn game similar to the croquet played some-time during the 15th century in Northern Europe and probably in France. Play moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth to simulate grass, and a simple border was placed around the edges." - Dolly’s Pro Shop
What are casinos’ policies on old chips? Let’s say you had a 20-year old chip worth $100, will they exchange it for a new chip? Will they give you more because of appreciation? Also, are chips from casinos which no longer exist usable anywhere? Thank you.
— Paul from Glendale
Sometimes in the Las Vegas Review Journal there is an announcement in the classifieds that a casino is discontinuing the use of a style of chip with a deadline to redeem them. After that time the casino would not be obligated to honor the chip. However there is a teeming market for casino chips, especially expired ones. I don’t know much about it except there are shows here in Vegas for the collectors and the Vegas museum in the Tropicana has lots of old chips for sale.
Hi. I was upset when I returned from LV and later found I had placed a paper ticket from a poker machine into my purse (being in a hurry to meet someone). When I discovered it at home it had expired! Although it was only for $8.00 I felt the Aladdin had already gotten enough of my dough. Do you agree?
— Bev from Akron
When I originally answered this my reply was a comdemnation of the casinos for putting expiration dates on their tickets at all. If anything, I argued, the casino should be happy to earn interest on the money and give the player a motive to come back and redeem the ticket. However several people wrote in, many in casino employment, stating that it is routine to honor expired tickets. I put this claim to the test by buying up $2 tickets up and down the Strip. After they expired I went to cash them in. Every time the ticket was honored. However it always required a supervisor’s authorization, which sometimes came with a quick phone call, other times I had to stand around until one could be found to sign something. So I hope you didn’t throw your ticket away, I think the Aladdin will honor it whenever you return.
Can you tip a Pit Boss? Poker Room Pit Boss? I have been treated nicely and would like to tip them but am not sure it is allowed.
— Tami from Chino
First, the term ’pit boss’ is dated. The proper term for a supervisor assigned to several tables is a floorman. The person who oversees an entire pit is a pit manager. The person who oversees all the table games is the shift manager. Nobody in this chain of command may you give money to. The "suits" are supposed to look after the casino’s interests so a cash tip may seem like a bribe. However you may give money to the poker room supervisors. The reason for the poker room exception is the casino does not risk its own money in the poker room, therefore management is indifferent to who wins.
How can I get a directory or which casinos (worldwide) offer double deck "pitch" blackjack? I have scoured the internet and even most of the casino's websites do not specify.
— Kim from Novi
For Las Vegas why not use my own blackjack survey
at the Wizard of Vegas. For the rest of the United States and Canada, I highly recommend Stanford Wong's Current Blackjack News
. That will tell you the exact blackjack rules at almost every casino in both countries.
Just wanted to let you know that while tickets do expire, generally speaking you can still have them cashed in at the cage. Most of the time they won’t say anything to you at all and if they do, they will cash it in with any sort of pushback from the guest.
— Trent from Las Vegas
You are not the only one to take me to task over my comments on ticket expiration dates in my Feb 1, 2006 column
. To ascertain whether casinos honor expired tickets I plan to do an experiment. My next trip to the Strip I will get tickets from several casinos and deliberately let them expire and then try to redeem them.
Results of experiment.
I’m coming out to Vegas next month during March Madness. I’ll probably be bringing a couple thousand dollars with me, some of my own, and some for some friends I’ll be placing bets for on the NCAA games. I’m not sure I’m comfortable carrying that amount of cash around. Would I be able to get a casino marker for a few thousand dollars or are they typically only issued for ’whales’, and can you draw on it for non-table gaming such as the sportsbook? Are there any costs or pitfalls associated with getting a marker (other than having your personal banking information in another database). Thanks for the great site and your time.
Gamblers in your range certainly do use markers. You should try to establish credit with the casino before you go. Alternatively you can wire the casino money, that way you won’t have to go through a credit check. Either way, do so at least a week in advance. The use of markers and wire is very commonplace in the casino and from what I hear the process usually goes very smoothly.
I’ve heard that casinos are looking at using RFID in chips to speed up counting, reduce errors, and defeat fakes. Is the use of this new technology expected to eliminate the ability to use those inadvertently pocketed chips from one casino at another one? Thanks for the site and your time.
— Mitch from Hopkins
For those who may not know, RFID
stands for Radio Frequency Identification. I’m not an expert on this topic but it is my understanding they will be used to track player betting patterns, which will help for both comping and catching card counters. However counterfeit chips seems to be a growing problem and that may be another benefit. Currently casinos like it when you leave with chips and never cash them. That is why they create so many chips for special occasions, hoping chip collectors will hoard them. Again, I’m not an expert, but I don’t think it would be cost effective to create these chips if the expense were more than the face value. So I think you’ll be safe pocketing chips.
Which casinos in Las Vegas gives the best odds on Craps.
— Wayne from Honolulu
The Casino Royale, which offers 100x odds. For complete playing conditions in Vegas please see my new Vegas craps directory.
I have told you this before, but I love your site!!! I refer people to it all the time. I am a dealer in AC and am visiting Vegas again next month. I want to see the real dirt casinos when I come out... I mean a place where $15 player would have his feet washed!!! We are staying with friends who live outside Henderson... Any suggestions?
— Jim from Atlantic City, NJ
My webmaster, Michael Bluejay, loves the dives too. He never misses a chance to visit the Western, although he laments, "That place has really gone uphill." Unlike the other low-end casinos of downtown, mainly the El Cortez and the Gold Spike, the air is not quite as thick with cigarette smoke at the Western. Closer to your friends I truly like both downtown Henderson casinos, the Rainbow Club and the El Dorado. Both are old fashioned and cater the low rolling locals. However both are clearly worlds above the Western. Here is Bluejay’s rundown of skanky Vegas hotels
A friend and I were playing blackjack at Casinos East Chicago. He was playing $50 per hand and I was progressive betting with a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $400 per hand. After about one hour, the pit boss came over, stopped the game and told us that the dealer had miscounted on an earlier hand and that my friend owed the house $100. We asked for proof. I asked them to count the cards back onto the table. They told us they could not do it because the deck had been shuffled. We then asked for some type of proof. They refused to provide it and we asked for a manager. We both stopped playing and waited about 30 minutes while the Casino amassed a group of about 8 people, including security guards with guns. A person identifying himself as the Casino Manager told us that he had reviewed the film and that the dealer had miscounted and that my friend owed the house $50. My friend was incredulous as: (i) the amount he was originally told ($100) was wrong; and (ii) the Casino Manager told us that he had reviwed the film and that we would just have to rely on his word. I tried to interject and the Casino Manager told me that this was none of my business. I told him it was because the two of us were together and he was about to loose the business of two players, including me who had brought $5,000 and was betting up to $400 per hand. He told that he didn’t care and with Security with guns standing there again demanded $50. I was stupified. I paid it on behalf of my friend, gave them my player’s card and told them I would never return.
— Jeff from Chicago
I forwarded this story to Brian, who is a former gaming regulator and current operator. Here is what he wrote.
This is just bad customer service. In fact, they’ve lost two patrons for life.
For $50, I would have coached the dealer after coming off the game and never mention it to the patron. If we had a substantial mis-pay, I would allow the patron to view the tape; however, our casino is set up so that there is a monitor in my office where it can be played back conveniently.
Most casinos have a monitor in someone’s office, can burn a DVD for playback on a laptop or have a viewing room adjacent to the surveillance room. The casinos that don’t have such a setup won’t crack open the surveillance room for a patron.
If the patron’s held their ground and refused to pay back the money, the casino would have either had to drop it or notify the Illinois Gaming Control Board that they had a dispute. If the IGCB got involved, they would send an agent to review the tape and then make a ruling - most likely in favor of the casino because they wouldn’t bounce two guys simply to hustle them for $50. The patrons could also file a complaint with the IGCB, but they would be wasting their time. The best course of action remaining to them would be to write a letter to the company headquarters focusing on how poorly the situation was handled, the integrity of gaming and that the money involved is irrelevant - take the high ground.
Two years after I answered this question, another reader sent the following message about this case.
There are a number of inconsistencies with this. For starters, in the state of Indiana (aka the location of the East Chicago casino is) security is -not- allowed to have weapons on any type. The only people allowed to carry firearms in the state onto a casino gaming floor is the State and Local police (in uniform) that are on duty and the IGC (Indiana Gaming Comission). The "whities" or "white-shirts" that are security at any casino in Indiana cannot have any weapons when they are on the casino floor.
As it pertains to the money, it is a relatively minor amount that could have, and probably should have, just been let alone. Floor supervisors have leeway and can tell surveillance that they’re gonna let it go since the players in question will lose it most likely later on in the evening (if they hadn’t already by then). Also, there is no casino in Indiana that caters to players wanting to see the "Footage" of what happened. Surveillance goes over the incident, lets the casino manager see it if he requests it, and then the CM takes care of it as s/he sees fit. In general, $100 is a minor amount (in case a dealer paid a $50 bet, it was a $100 error), however the casino itself actually -has- to take some kind of action to "get the money back" once surveillance has notified the CM about things like that. I’m not 100% sure why, but most likely the answer is once a CM gets involved there’s some sort of report that goes to IGC, in which case the casino has to make sure that we’re doing everything according to "code" or "standards" so to speak.
In general however, said floor supervisor did handle this wrong on several levels and would have been more correct to simply let the situation go into the events of "Oh well, I’ll talk to the dealer when he gets off the game, thank you for your careful watching". And afterwards either replaced the dealer with a different one or watched that particular table closer for more screw-ups.
Also, while I realize this is 2 years ago (wow - missed the date until after I was done with everything) - Figured I would give you my 2 cents as I am a floor supervisor and have been at a number of Indiana casinos.
Last night, a fellow player at a 3-Card Poker table dropped his cards on the floor. After the cards were dealt, he had picked them up and was opening them up with one hand while showing them to his son who was a "spectator" behind him. Somehow he fumbled them and all 3 fell to the floor. I had already looked at my two hands ( a flush and a straight!) and placed my bets. The floorman told everyone all their hands were "dead". When I asked for the supervisor, he came over, thought about it for a few seconds, and also agreed it was a "dead" hand. Is this the standard rule on this type of occurance? Should all hands have been disqualified, or just the offender’s (who, by the way, had a Q,6,5). I was betting $10 per spot, so my loss was $150 in winnings (I am assuming that I beat the dealer - he never did show his cards). Should I have asked for a copy of the written rule on this? Should I have not given in after the supervisor’s ruling?
— Linda from Atlantic City
I forwarded this story to Brian, who is a former gaming regulator and current operator. Here is what he wrote.
All of the table limit signs usually have the caveat "management decision is final" - not much comfort to the player, but they’ll fall back on this for justification. In the scenario described, I would have allowed the hand to continue especially if all of the cards were already out. If I had concerns, I would change the deck out after the hand. Many casinos won’t allow 3CP players to even look at their hands until all cards are dealt. This was cutting into my hands per hour so I changed the procedures. Since the potential appeasement payout for a person that receives a good hand and then the shuffler dies is relatively small, I’m willing to take the risk. In Caribbean Stud, no one touches the cards until they are all on the table.
I had a blackjack and the dealer paid me. Then at the end of the deal he turned his cards over and he discovered he had a blackjack. He forgot to check his hand before paying me. The supervisors wanted me to return the winnings. I refused. Seems I remember these scenario from a book on blackjack. Was I correct?
— Woloshen from Montreal
I say you should have returned the winnings. I have never seen this addressed in any book. However, is a book really required? That is what you have a conscience for. You were asked to make things right, it is the right thing to do so.
If everyone who gambled quit the second they were ahead, I believe there would be a few casinos in bankruptcy. Given that your bankroll will fluctuate a good bit, won’t most people be ahead at some point in their gambling (of course meaning the house is behind)?
I disagree, at least for the reason you state. Under your scenario most people would indeed leave Vegas winners. However, some players would lose the first bet and keep falling deeper and deeper in the hole after that, until they exhaust their entire bankroll. Assuming the same game and player strategy, the overall house edge would remain the same regardless of player money management strategy. In other words, betting systems not only can’t overcome the house edge, they can’t even put a dent in it. Getting back to your question, if everyone quit as soon as they were ahead, there would be a lot less gambling going on. So while the house edge would be the same, it would be applied to less total money bet, which would indeed hurt the casinos financially.
With the continuing gains in popularity of slots/VP and new table games (3 card poker, let it ride, caribbean stud, etc.), have any (major) casinos stopped offering the "classic" table games (blackjack, roulette, craps, etc.)?
— Dean M. from Toronto, Ontario
Interestingly, the Casino Royale here in Vegas has zero legitimate blackjack games. I believe they have four Blackjack Switch games and one 6 to 5 game. They still have craps and roulette.
Hi wiz. First I love the site. You are turning me into a Spanish 21 Player. MY wife and I hit Laughlin once on a trip to LV. I enjoyed the vibe. Why can’t I find any good sites on Laughlin? We play BJ, S21 and Craps. We are going to NV in September and would enjoy stretching our playing budget. Where do you play when your on the river?
— Wavy from Danbury, CT
When in Laughlin I prefer Harrah’s. Although it is also the most expensive in my opinion, it is worth the extra money. I find the service at every other casino to be slow and poor, and the median age of the clientele to be about 65. However, when I get in the mood for something less corporate and polished I head to the Riverside, the only family owned casino in town.
My question is why are casino floors green in color and why are the ceiling plain?
— Paul from Irving, Texas
Floors are not necessarily green and ceilings plain. I went to a talk once on casino design and the thinking is you want the floor and ceiling to be colorful and loud, while what is at eye level should be in neutral colors. That will keep the eyeballs straight ahead on the more soothing colors, where the player will more likely be distracted by the games. Of course this is getting outside my area of expertise. I welcome other comments on this one.
I don't know a lot about poker, but I do find it fun, so maybe you can clear something up for me. On a recent trip to Vegas with my wife, we stayed at Arizona Charlie's Decatur. Our reason for staying here was because they had advertised $2-$4 Hold 'em on their website. On our first morning, we walk down to the poker room and put our names in for $2-$4. I notice the poker guy writing our names under the columns for $4-$8. So I told him we wanted $2-$4 (there was a column labeled “$2-$4” on the same sheet). He said it was $2-$4: $2 before the flop, $4 after the flop, and $8 after the turn and river. I described to him what I meant by $2-$4: $2 before and after the flop and $4 after the turn and river. He laughed at us like we didn’t know what we were talking about and said that’s not how the game is played. We ended up playing poker at the Gold Coast the remainder of our trip. Is this type of betting normal for poker rooms? (I ended up telling the poker room supervisor if we could afford $4-$8 Hold ‘em, we wouldn’t be staying at Arizona Charlie’s.)
— Mike from Philadelphia, PA
I agree that a "2/4" game means the bets are in $2 units before the turn and $4 after the turn. However, the small blind is likely be $1. It sounds like when Arizona Charlie's is calling a game "2/4" they are referring to the blinds, which would mean a small blind of $2, and a big blind of $4, which would imply $8 bets after the turn. I've never heard this usage before so I don’t blame you for being surprised.
p.s. I later received the following from Anthony, a poker room supervisor.
I am a poker room supervisor. I was just writing to let you know about the correct wording for the poker limits in Texas Hold 'em. If as game is referred to as $2/4. It is referring to the bets. (A game is only referred to by the blinds if it is No-Limit.) $2 pre flop and post flop,$4 on the turn and the river.A game that is listed as $2/$4/$8 (which is exactly what I suspect the previous letter writer was actually referring to, is $2 pre-flop,$4 post-flop,$8 turn and river .It is also possible to have a game listed as $2/$4/$6/$8. Just passing the information on, good poker supervisors want people to have as much information as possible.
Playing blackjack, at what average dollar bet can I Expect:
- Free Food & Beverage
- Free Lodging
- One of those high roller suites
- Free golf at Wynn
- A new car
- Free airfare.
— Ed from New York
The basic formula for comps is that the casino will give you back a percentage of your theoretical loss. That percentage can vary by game, the higher the house edge the higher the percentage. I asked a former Vegas casino manager and he said the comp rebate is about 15%. Other pertinent pieces of the equation are 60 hands per hour in blackjack with an average house edge of 1%. So the value of comps you could expect would be (average bet) × (hours played) × 60 × 1% × 15%. Let’s assume 16 hours of play. You can then back out the average bet required. Let’s assume food and beverage has a value of $500. Then the average bet required would be 500/(16*60*0.01*0.15) = $347. A free room might be worth $1,000, so an average bet of $694 would be required. There is a whole spectrum of suites, roughly ranging in value from $1,000 to $10,000 a day, so an average bet of $1,389 to $13,889 would be required. Free golf might be worth $500, so back to $347 for that. I’ve heard of Vegas casinos comping shopping sprees at the Fashion Show mall, but they don’t sell cars there. If we assume $2,000 for airfare then $1,389. At high levels of play this may also be subject to skill level, the better you are the less you will get. They also might have some sympathy and give you more than you are entitled if you had a really bad run of luck. For rooms, you will have more bargaining power if you ask for one during a slow time when they have vacancies anyway.
How often do Las Vegas or Reno (Nevada as a whole if easier) change their slot machines? Better stated perhaps as what is the average life cycle of a slot machine before it is worn out, out of fashion, unsecure, etc.? How does that average compare to smaller markets such as Deadwood, South Dakota?
— Justin from Rapid City
I forwarded your question to Brian, a former regulator and current casino manager. Here is what he said.
There are two types of changes. The first would involve completely swapping out the machine and the second would consist of simply changing the game, but keeping the existing cabinet. As you can imagine, changing the software is much cheaper which is why there is so much hype around downloadable games. How often games are swapped out depends on a casinos capital expenditures budget. Participation machines are turned over much more rapidly because the manufacturer has a vested interest in keeping the best product on the floor. In many instances, they will handle the scheduling for software and new machine replacements. Participation machines are those that are on lease to the property by the manufacturer. Usually, the manufacturer gets 20% of the revenue, less taxes. From an accounting perspective, the useful life of a slot machine is 5 years and then the asset is fully depreciated (no longer has a book value). The final consideration is popularity. How often do you go into a casino and see a section of slot machines that are the old IGT three reel Red White and Blue machines? If the machines are performing well, why spend $10,000+ to replace each unit?
Hi wiz. Great Site. Just wanted to know why many casinos impose bet limits on roulette tables. e.g. you can bet $100 on RED but only $10 on say the number 10. Is the casino avoiding some sort of risk or are they safe-guarding me?
— Kevin from Johannesburg, South Africa
Thanks. I think they are trying to minimize risk by limiting the maximum win.
I was recently reading some "dealer stories" on a website and read about some craps dealers that were told "You’ve got to learn blackjack". These stories mentioned things like dealers pretty much learning the games on the tables. One dealer taking over for another who was letting players split anything they wanted, etc. My question relates to the training that casinos in the US offer. At my casino (and most, if not all others in Australia) training is done by the casino, in a training room and you must be at a certain level to be able to deal the game on the floor. You also need a coding from the government before you can deal the game. Major games such as blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, poker and pai gow take 1 week of fulltime training (3 weeks if its your first game). Where as games such as Caribbean stud, 3 and 4 card poker etc only take 4-8 hours of training. So how do casinos train in the US? And would situations like i described (splitting odd cards, not following the rules) really happen over there?
— Jarrod from Sydney
Training is much more informal here. I asked a friend of mine who was a former dealer about this. He said assuming you were already a dealer at a high-end Strip casino, they might have you go to a 2-hour training class in the casino on company time to learn the game. An economy casino might ask you to get the training elsewhere on your own time and dollar.
Since taking/laying odds is an even-edged play, do you know if casinos generally include or exclude those from their comp calculations?
That is a good question. Here in Vegas it varies by casino. I would say that most of them exclude odds in comp calculations, others only count odds up to a point, like 2x, and some count the full amount. I would love to name names but casinos are protective of their comping policies and much of what I know was given “off the record.”
When I first got a casino player card to rate my play, I had two cards for the account and shared one with my mom so we could get a higher rating. Eventually she got her own card and now when we play side by side, spending the same amount of time and money, she will rate higher returns in bonus cash. She also rates higher returns at other casinos even though we never shared a card at them. Do casinos share player ratings? And why after a number of years of playing individually am I still not receiving the same player rating as my mom when we basically play the same way? The casinos give me no answers on how they rate players. Also, a friend of ours goes to the casino maybe once or twice a year, spends about the same as we do per visit (yet we go 6 to 8 times a year, spending more), and she gets even higher bonus cash than both of us combined! Can you explain this and advise how to correct it?
— Michelle from South Amboy
I wish I had a good answer for you. Usually cash back or free play is a percentage of points earned. However, it doesn’t sound like this is the case with your casino. Mailers are often a mystery. Here in Vegas, professional gamblers often exchange information about play vs. mailer, to try to determine the least amount of play required to get the best mailer. It also sometimes has to do with the average play per trip. So often it can hurt you to play just a little bit per day. Tournaments and comps can get even more mysterious. Yes, casinos do indeed share information with other casinos in the same company, which sometimes results in getting offers from casinos you rarely or never play at. It also sometimes helps to play hard-to-get. If you play on a regular basis, the casino’s rating formula may peg you as somebody who will play regardless of incentive. However, an intermittent player may need more enticing to get through the door. If the casino told you everything about how it rewards players, managers would be concerned that you may discover the system and begin playing as little as possible to get the greatest reward.
Follow up: In the February 1, 2006
column, a reader was mad because of the short expiration dates on slot machine tickets. I took her side, saying they shouldn’t expire at all. Many readers took me to task, saying that casinos routinly honor expired tickets. So I then did an experiment in which I collected $2 tickets up and down the Strip. After they expired I went to cash them in all of them were honored. So I have amended my answer and I offer my apologies to the casinos for my earlier harsh words.
From a Casino operators stand point, what factors should be considered when setting table minimums and maximums. What constitutes an even spread without setting yourself up for big swings? Is there a ’rule of thumb’ i:e. 10 x the minimum bet?
— Terry from Corpus Christi
I asked this question of “Brain”, a casino manager. Here is what he said.
Table minimums are basically the price point at which we can "sell" the games. These fluctuate based on the clientele in-house, hotel occupancy, individual customer needs, etc. We use a 10X multiple for our maximum to protect us from large betting swings or counters.
We will get complaints from guests such as: Why don’t you lower this blackjack table to a $5 minimum? They don’t understand that one $10 player is worth more to the casino than two $5 players. Or that one $25 player is worth more than three $10 players.
Most casinos monitor capacity by counting the number of players periodically (e.g., every hour) and comparing it to the number of spots available. This is tricky because there is an actual capacity (total number of spots on a table) and what I consider a comfortable capacity, which is how many people can comfortably sit at a table. Unless there are no options available, most people prefer to play at a table with one or two open spots so they have room to stretch out and aren’t rubbing elbows.
Based on capacity, at any time during the evening we may lower or raise our table limits.
My personal philosophy is to have lower limit tables near the entrances and high traffic areas to give the appearance that we are busier. I rarely raise a minimum on a table in play, but may lower it. If I do raise a minimum, I always "grandfather" the seated players in.
Brian didn’t get into the ratio of the maximum to the minimum bet but a similar question was asked before. I asked an executive with a major Las Vegas casino about it at the time and he said they like to corral their big bettors into the high limit areas.
Dear Wizard, I played at South Point in Las Vegas under a promotion where I can get double the value of my cashback in the form of Chevron Gas cards. There was no limit on gas cards stated on the rules. However, I when I went to redeem, they told me I was limited to $500 at most in gas cards. I know that other players were allowed to get more than $1000, so I think that I am being treated unfairly. Do you think that this is fair thing for South Point to do? I lost a lot of money trying to earn those gas cards and expected to get a lot more than $500. Thanks.
I’m familiar with this promotion. When I was last at the South Point there was a leaflet for the promotion, but it hadn’t officially started yet. The leaflet didn’t mention anything about a limit. When I asked an employee he said he didn’t know. While I sympathize with your side, I think you would have a stronger case if you had verified before you started playing that the cards were unlimited. It is an unprofessional practice, in my opinion, to run a promotion with vague rules, letting the casinos interpret the details to their own advantage after the fact. That is why I like to ask questions before I play, rather than make assumptions.
If it were up to me to design a promotion then I would consider every possible question or situation that may occur, and write the rules to preempt such issues. Inconsistent application of the rules, I agree, is unfair. It is fine of them to put you on an undesirable list of players subject to a limit, but I think they should have reserved such a right in the fine print of the promotion, allowing you to inquire if you were on the list. This is all getting a bit out of my area of expertise, so please take my comments with a grain of salt.
I am going to Las Vegas next weekend and like to play $5 blackjack & Let It Ride on the tables. Will I be able to find an open $5 table on a weekend or should I plan on bringing more funds than usual with me? If $5 tables are few and far between, where might I find them?
— Kathy from Hitchcock
It will be difficult finding $5 blackjack on the Strip on a weekend. You’ll probably have to settle for a low-roller casino like the Riviera, Sahara, Frontier, or Circus Circus. It will be a lot easier downtown. Let It Ride is slowly fading away, but if you find it the minimum unit is usually $5.
I was recently in Las Vegas and played a new game for me -- World Poker Tour: All in Poker. I did not bet on the bonuses and used your advice on how to play the game. I bet $15 on the blind, so on average my overall bets were approximately $100. At one casino I was rated as a $15 player and at another a $45 player. I don’t understand why two casinos, both in the same corporate family, would give me two different ratings for the same bets in the same game, and I don’t understand why I wasn’t rated as a 90-100 player.
— Mark from Merrick
The first casino was correctly basing your bet size on the ante only. The second was counting the raise bets. If the second casino does include raises in the average bet then it should be using a lower house edge for purposes of rating. In my opinion many casinos do not comp players accurately. Each casino has its own policies, regardless of which corporate family it is in. What is important in your case is which casino gives you back the most for your play. There are lots of factors that go into that decision besides the average bet size.
What agency oversees the Indian Casinos in California? Whom do I complain to? I have seen the automatic shufflers come up with blackjack too many times. When dealing, I have seen the dealers tap the table when I have an ace showing, as to signal the shuffler not to give me a ten, so I would not get 21/blackjack. Is there any truth to my theory? Additionally, I have hit on hard 14, when the dealer has a 4 up card. I know I should stay, but the dealer almost always gets a 5 or 6. This seems to have happened too many times to be coincidence! I know what I’m insinuating, but it just seems to happen too often. Is there a way of checking up on the casinos to make sure they are not cheating the public? Lastly, I was at the BJ table by myself and on a incredible winning streak, the pit boss came over and inserted about 10 cards into the deck. I left the table.
— Davis from Carson
All I know of is the NIGC
. However, as far as I know, there is no formal process to arbitrate a dispute between player and casino. Even if there were such a dispute process, with this lack of evidence, I think your odds would not look good. A good way to make a case would be to tally blackjacks and hands played, or fives and sixes against all cards played, and then have the results analyzed. Regarding the tapping of the table when you have an ace up, I think the dealers do it as a way of saying "good luck," because players tend to slap the table in that situation.
When I am in Vegas I like to play a friendly game of $5.00 blackjack. To my surprise, on this trip, the $5.00 blackjack table had either disappeared or they were paying 6 to 5 on a blackjack. I played a fair $5.00 game at the El Cortez but was hard pressed to find another casino that provided a $5.00 table with reasonable rules. Do you know of other fair $5.00 games either on the Strip or downtown? Thank you. I wish I had discovered your web site before my recent trip.
— Tom from Cleveland, OH
Many casinos are indeed paying 6 to 5 on blackjack in their low-limit games, and it is getting worse quickly. However, there are still real blackjack games out there at a $5 minimum. The other rules likely will not be the best, in particular six decks with dealer hitting on soft 17, but at $5 you can’t be too picky. It sounds like you were in town on a very busy weekend, or just didn’t look very hard. Any downtown or off-Strip casino should have some real $5 blackjack tables. Those tables are usually the most crowded. On Strip you should be able to find some token $5 games, especially mid-week, at properties such as the Excalibur, Monte Carlo, Harrah’s, Flamingo, Circus Circus, Riviera, and the Sahara.
I don’t play the table much, but if I do and if I give the casino enough rated play who should I speak to about show ticket comps at a sister hotel? For example, I’m planning a stay at MGM but would like to see if I can get comp tickets to a show at Mandalay Bay. I do not have an on-site host at MGM. If my rating is sufficient enough at the MGM table, should I ask the MGM foremen, or do I ask at the MGM player’s club desk, or should I play at Mandalay Bay and ask for comped show ticket there?
— Hugh from Newburgh
You should speak to an MGM host. You can ask for a host anywhere. There is usually a player assistance desk somewhere, where one can often be found, or at least paged. Your odds of seeing a Mandalaly Bay show will be best if you play at the Mandalay Bay, as opposed to any other MGM/Mirage property.
Is it appropriate to tip a host? Recently, while staying at an off-Strip hotel, my wife and I were approached by the host who comped our hotel room for four nights. We were invited to return to that hotel for another complimentary stay. Should we tip the host? What would be an appropriate amount?
— Jack N. from Eastpoint, MI
The etiquette on this is not set in stone, so the following is just my opinion. Tipping hosts is, most of the time, truly voluntary and not expected. If you do tip, it should not be in cash. Gift certificates, sport book tickets, or physical items are acceptable. Some people believe that hosts will work a little harder for you if you tip. Personally, I haven’t noticed a difference. At times when I gave a host an envelope with a gift certificate in it, the host seemed uncomfortable accepting it, but other times not. The best way to make your host happy is to play hard in the casino. Hosts are judged according to how much their players play vs. how much they give out. It doesn’t make them look good if you squeeze them for everything you can get, and then don’t play commensurately in the casino. An exception to the general rule about tips being not expected is that if a host gets you into a tournament, and you win a lot of money, then you should tip both the dealers and your host generously.
I really enjoy your site, and thank you for the pertinent information! Reading and learning has erased my bad habits and made me a better player, I am certain! Here is my question. I read about games you write about and really think that some of them would be fun to try, like the World Series of Poker (Final Table Bonus) video poker game.
Not knowing, however, where to find it, and others, I usually wind up writing to the maker of the game at their website and asking where I can find their game outside of Nevada, since I am in the Midwest. I NEVER get an answer! Besides being just bad customer service, I still have the question of finding the game to be answered. Do you know of a site, or a way, to find which specific games are at which casinos? You would think the game’s manufacturer would list where to find it to assist in letting players find the game.
— Larry S. from Columbus, OH
Thanks for the kind words. I think the gaming manufacturers should take this as a good suggestion. I get requested for this information by players all the time, but it is simply too much for one person to keep on top of. A noteworthy exception is Masque Publishing, the owners of Spanish 21. They keep an online list
of where the liberal Spanish 21 rules can be found.
If a multi-game video poker machine is set up with 12 games having theoretical returns from 97% to 99.5%, and I only play the game with the best return, what will the casino’s player tracking system show for my play? Will it show the theoretical return for the specific game I play, or the average return of all games available on the machine?
— James S. from Rock Island, IL
It will show the specific return of the game you played.
Could you say a few words about the controls and consumer protection in cruise ship casinos of major lines. Are there avenues to make a protest or review?
— Steve S. from Lake Grove, NY
To be honest with you, I don’t know that much about it. I would imagine you would have to file a complaint through the country in which the ship is registered, usually Panama, the Bahamas, or Liberia. Good luck getting any satisfaction that way. Your odds would probably be better writing to the corporate headquarters of the cruise line. As a last resort, I would suggest making a stink on as many forums about cruising as you can.
What rights do the casinos have to refuse to honor their own chips? The reason I ask is a friend of mine asked me to cash in some large-denomination chips for him, and the casino refused, saying I had no history of play there. When I protested, they said they would honor them if I could prove a legitimate player gave them to me to cash. Do they really have the right to do this?
— Pete from Bakersfield
Not only do they have that right, that is what they are supposed to do. According to Nevada gaming regulation 12.060.4:
A licensee shall not redeem its chips or tokens if presented by a person the licensee knows or reasonably should know is not a patron of its gaming establishment... .
Regardless of whose hands they are in, chips are legally the property of the casino (Reg. 12.060.1), although they must be promptly redeemed from legitimate patrons (Reg. 12.060.2c).
My advice is to avoid cashing in large amounts of chips at a property where you have no experience. The fancier the casino, the more it will take to get questioned. However, if forced to estimate, I would say that at most Strip properties, you will start to get questioned around $3,000.
If you are still stuck with large chips at a property where you have no play, then my advice is to make some play. Don't take them directly to the cashier, but break them down at the tables, play a while commensurate with your buy-in, and then cash out whatever you are left with from that sitting.
Hi, I have developed a card game I believe would be ideal for casino use. I am about to put a patent on it. I need to know how to get it into a casino. I think I need to find someone to partner me.
— Richard from Brisbane, Australia
Hi, I was recently in Vegas and made a bet on an NCAA tournament game that ended after I left town (I won the bet). While the back of the ticket says I need to mail it registered mail, is this actually a requirement to get my money or do they just want you to send it with delivery confirmation so you can’t claim the casino lost the ticket?
I would take that as more of a suggestion, than a requirement. They have probably said that for decades, since before the post office had competition tracking mail. Nobody except the post office, including UPS and FedEx, will deliver to a post office box. However, for many of us, including me, the nearest post office is several miles away, and usually has a long slow line. For high-valued tickets I would look up the street address of the casino and use that, attention to the accounting department. For low-valued tickets ($200 or less) I would take my chances with a first class stamp, to the PO Box. Personally I have mailed in tickets three times, all of which had the registered mail rule. All three times I got a check within about two weeks. With two I used UPS, and one I used just a first-class stamp.
I have always heard a rumor that casinos invented basic strategy. Where did the basic strategy come from?
— Eric from Bettendorf, Iowa
John Patrick is probably behind that rumor. The basic strategy was first published in the September 1956 issue of the Journal of the American Statistical Association. The article was titled “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack
” by Roger R. Baldwin, Wilbert E. Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James P. McDermott. Collectively, they are known today as the “Four Horseman of Aberdeen,” because they worked at the Amberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland at the time they did the analysis. I’m proud to have a copy of that article, and to have seen three of the four Horseman, when they were inducted into the 2007 Blackjack Hall of Fame. It has since been derived from scratch by hundreds of people, including me. If done properly, under the same rules, the results always agree. Then again, maybe I’m just in on the conspiracy.
I was backed off while playing for low stakes at Sienna in Reno. I was being careless, obviously varying my bet from $5 to $20. They were very nice about it, and just asked me to stop playing blackjack. I play there about one weekend every four months.
I like playing there and would be happy to flat bet. How likely is it that they would let me play again? If I went back in four months and flat bet would they even recognize me? Alternatively, would I be better off to approach the pit boss, tell him the situation and ask if I could play if I flat bet? Thanks for the great web site!
— Bob from Burlingame
Thank you for the compliment. The Sienna is a classy casino, my favorite in Reno. They are also one of the few places with a liberal single-deck game in Reno, in which you may double on any first two cards. You should not ask permission to play, because they would be unlikely to reverse themselves. Your odds are much better waiting before coming back. Four months is pushing it on the delay, I would skip them a trip, and wait eight months.
I had an interesting occurrence at a major high-end strip property and I was wondering how I should have handled the situation. A friend and I were the only players at a Let It Ride table. After playing for a while, the blue deck started getting stuck in the shuffler. After a while, the dealer asked the floor manager to replace the deck. Before replacing the deck, the dealer counted the cards, only 51 cards! Several recounts, looking all around, calling in another supervisor etc failed to produce the missing card.
My friend was down about $300 and I was up around $150 when all this happened. Since we are both ’full comp’ at the property, I did not raise a stink about this. The dealer seemed very worried about her job and we did not joke around at all. The supervisors and floor person did not say anything to us or offer any compensation. More or less, after a while, they replaced the deck and continued the game.
Personally, I figured that the odds say the missing card was a low card and it probably helped our odds of winning. My friend (who was down) thinks differently, that he should have been compensated. In the end, we did not raise the issue with the floor person. Was that correct? Should we have been aggressive given the situation? And, I am curious, assuming it was a random card, likely a low card, wouldn’t that actually have helped out odds during the time it was gone missing? Regards!
— Kevin from Dallas
If you take a single card out of the deck randomly, the odds of Let it Ride do not change. This would be true of any casino game I can think of, where the cards are shuffled between hands. Without knowing the missing card, the effects of removal of bad cards and good cards exactly cancel one another out. So, complaining is not mathematically justified. Even if they found that it was a high card that got lost, it was still accidental. It could have just as easily been a low card that got lost. If it happened to me, I would have let it slide. I think an apology from somebody would be called for, but they probably didn’t want to, lest it give you more bargaining power if you did make a big scene over it.
What happens to you if you get backed off/barred from a cruise casino?
— Joshua Gavina from South Williamson, KY
That has actually happened to me. If you were backed off, then you just can’t play in the casino any longer. If you were barred, you can’t even enter. I suppose if you did not comply, and were caught, they might make you get off at the next port, and not let you get back on. Signage on my last cruise indicated they will do that if they catch you with illegal drugs.
What casinos in Las Vegas have a small table, called a tub, for craps?
— Dave P.
According to the the Bone Man at NextShooter.com
, here is where and when you can find the tubs:
One Tub at Wild, Wild West (probably open only evenings, weekdays, and on weekends).
One Tub at Ellis Island (probably open only evenings, weekdays, and on weekends).
One Tub at Circus Circus in West Casino section, hardly ever open unless on busy holiday.
2010 update: I hear the Ellis Island replaced the tub with a full craps table.
Do the casinos put oxygen in the air inside the casino, so that you will not get tired?
— Alisha from Pontotoc
No. This is just an urban legend.
This issue has bothered me for many years. In 1999, my father took me to Vegas for my 21st birthday. We were playing blackjack at the same table, I with roughly $25 in bets on the table, my father with about $40. The dealer had 20, but miscalculated and thought she busted. She paid us as if we won. Roughly 15 minutes later, three suits came down, put their hand on our shoulders, essentially appraised us of the situation, and mandated that we pay back the "winnings" or leave the casino. We decided to leave the casino, and gamble elsewhere that evening. Is that standard operating procedure or is this more the exception to the rule?
— Mike from Buffalo Grove, IL
In my opinion the two most sacrosanct things in gambling are no cheating, and honoring a bet. No expiration dates, no excuses, a gentleman honors his gambling debts. You didn’t say how many points you had. The right thing to do would be to return the winnings only if you had a 20, or the winnings plus the original wager if you had less than 20. If they were rude in the way they asked, I wouldn’t blame you for leaving, but I still would have paid. I’ve been asked this before, so I think that this is the standard operating procedure.
What is the largest casino in the world?
— James from Worchester, MA
Measured in terms of square feet of casino space, it is the Venetian in Macau. The most table games can be found at the Sands in Macau, and the most slots at Foxwoods in Connecticut. The following table shows some details.
|Largest Casinos in the World
|Property ||Locale ||Casino Feet2 ||Table Games ||Slots |
|Sands ||Macau ||229,000 ||1000 ||750 |
|Venetian ||Macau ||456,000 ||870 ||3,000 |
|Foxwoods ||Connecticut ||344,000 ||380 ||7,200 |
|Mohegan Sun ||Connecticut ||300,000 ||392 ||6,780 |
|MGM ||Las Vegas ||170,000 ||178 ||2,523 |
|Wynn ||Las Vegas ||111,000 ||185 ||2,000 |
I am a floor supervisor at a casino in the San Diego area. Recently, tough economic times have prompted a dear colleague of mine to revise our player rating system in a way I feel is completely backwards. He has enacted player rating requirements to punish the folks I call "board bettors" — people who try to gain an advantage by betting on nearly any game outcome. For instance, a person who is playing baccarat at $50 on the Banker, and $50 on the Player, will now receive an average bet of $0. A player playing most of the possible numbers at $1 on Roulette will only receive, as an average, the difference of that bet from 38. A Craps player playing both the pass and don’t pass, at an equal level, will not get an average bet!
I have argued that this punishes people who lose invariably with even bets. I have done this ad nauseam, with scenarios, to no avail. Would you help me make this argument?
I think the reason for this new rating policy is to protect the casino from comp abusers. The floor supervisors are not privy to all the incentives given to the player to play. It is not difficult to get more in comps and other perks than the cost of play due to the house edge. That is probably what players taking both sides of a bet are doing. Requiring a player to actually gamble is a deterrent against unprofitable players taking advantage.
I count cards (14 count). I prefer to play alone at third base, and avoid really bad players. The continuous shuffle machines are impossible to play and count. Is there a current list of Las Vegas casinos using these machines?
— Jim from St. Louis
I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid other players. They slow down the game, and if they smoke, they pose a health hazard. However, it shouldn’t matter whether they are good or bad. Just about all Vegas casinos have some mixture of continuous shufflers, automatic shufflers, and hand-shuffled games. For details on blackjack rules, including type of shuffle and penetration, there is no substitute for the Current Blackjack News
, for which a paid membership is required.
What kind of maximum bet would you recommend to a casino to limit the financial risk from high rollers? I am aware of the mathematical house advantage of blackjack, but that doesn’t change the fact a big player easily can do some serious damage to a casino if the limits are too high.
— Frank from Copenhagen
If I ran a casino, then I would apply the Kelly Criterion
to setting maximum bets. What I would do is equalize m*v/h for all games, where m is the max bet, v is the variance, and h is the house edge. Let’s call this the risk quotient. For example, suppose I’m comfortable taking $150,000 on the Banker bet in baccarat
, which is about what a big Strip casino will take. The house edge is 1.06%, and the variance is 0.932
. The risk quotient is thus 150,000*0.932
/0.0106 = 12,239,150.
Next, let’s solve for m to equalize the risk quotient in blackjack. With liberal Strip rules, the house edge is 0.29%. Let’s say the player can bet up to three spots. The standard deviation per hand, given three bet spots, is 1.51957, so the variance is 1.519572 = 2.3091. Solving for m...
m×2.3091/0.0029 = 12,239,150
m = $15,371.
As a practical matter, few players play perfect basic strategy, so I might bump that up to $20,000. That is about what the big Strip casinos will take in blackjack, so I think there is proportionality there. It is the novelty games where I think they should be taking bigger bets.
How would I compare the actual hold percentage on each table game in comparison to the house advantage for the games to see if they are performing to their expectations? Is there a formula that I could use? For example, we know that the house edge on Roulette is 5.26% and that our hold percentage is at 25%. I am having trouble correlating the two, and coming up with a reasonable explanation for all games. It seems the more I read on it the more confusing it gets. Any help would be appreciated — there must be a formula to somehow mesh the two together.
— Robert from Lawton
For the benefit of other readers, the house edge is the ratio of expected casino profit to the original wager, and the hold is the ratio of actual casino profit to chips purchased. The hold will usually be much higher, because over time the same chips will circulate back and forth. The longer the player plays, the more the house edge will grind down those chips, resulting in a greater hold, but an unchanged house edge.
There is no formula expressing a relationship between house edge and hold. To get from one to the other you would need to know how much the players bet, how well they play, and how long they play. I have said this many times, but I don’t understand why casino management cares so much about the hold percentage. What should matter at the end of the day is the hold, or the actual profit measured in dollars.
What happens if you are caught counting card on a cruise ship? Will they evict you at the next harbor, or...directly throw you into the sea?
— Austin from Las Vegas
They make you walk the plank.
Just kidding. Speaking only for the Norwegian Star, they politely inform you that blackjack is off limits, but you’re still welcome to play any other game. The same way they usually do in land-based casinos. Other cruise ships probably do the same thing.
I have been in the casino business for 27 years and have worked positions from dealer to casino manager. I am dealing now, and there is a player that comes in our casino and plays blackjack who has won $5,000 or more, for at least 30 consecutive trips. Having been a manager, I know that even the best card counter does not win every time. I believe it is not possible to win that many trips in a row and not be cheating somehow. I have only dealt to him personally one time, and I was unable to detect anything out of the ordinary. He has a $35,000 credit line and sometimes starts off losing, but he always winds up winning in the end. He bets anywhere from $200 to $5,000 and doesn’t appear to be counting cards. Do you think it is possible to win so many times in a row without cheating?
— Daniel from Philadelphia
Let's ignore the house edge for the sake of simplicity. If the player’s two stopping markers are a win of $5,000 or a loss of $35,000, then the probability of reaching the winning marker is 7/8. The probability of doing that during 30 consecutive trips is (7/8)30
= 1.82%. So, this could easily be just good luck. I’d let him play until you determine why and how he is beating you.
This brings to mind a very good book I just read, Casino-ology, by Bill Zender. The main thrust of the book is that casino management is much too paranoid about advantage play. The overreaction to it is slowing down play and annoying legitimate customers, the cost of which is much more than what is saved by catching a few extra advantage players.
My question is about the history of California gaming law, especially craps and roulette. Do you know why California does not allow the dice or the ball and wheel to directly determine the outcome of their respective games? Or do you know where this law originated? What were California law makers thinking when they wrote this?
— Chrs from Chula Vista
Sorry, I don’t know the history or reason behind that law. It was probably a misguided compromise between puritan and gambling interests. They were likely thinking the same kind of thing Mississippi lawmakers were when they only permitted non-Indian gaming on “riverboats.” We all saw the result of that brilliant idea after Hurricane Katrina. As I’ve been saying for years, my opinion is if you’re going to allow gambling, then drop the pretenses and allow it the whole way.
Charlie Rose: You have never known, in your entire life, a gambler who comes here and wins big and walks away?
Steve Wynn: Never.
CR: You know nobody, hardly, who over the stretch of time, is ahead?
I find this hard to believe. What are your thoughts?
— Andrew from Fort Wayne, IN
I personally know lots of professional gamblers up on the Wynn. However, I’m sure that none of them have met Steve Wynn personally. I would imagine that only the super whales are granted an audience with him, and such whales are usually superstitious (i.e. losing) baccarat players. Most heavy recreational gamblers do lose over the long run. However, if Mr. Wynn believes that nobody is up on him, I would invite him to repeat the triple-points promotion he ran Labor Day weekend 2007. Even if the promotion loses money, surely the foolish players will give it back eventually.
If you were a casino manager, what would you do in these tough economic times to help generate revenue in a smaller area market? (besides giving them free money)
— William from Shelton, WA
That is getting outside my area, but I subscribe to the Benny Binion philosophy that if you offer the player a good value, and aren’t afraid to take a bet, then he will keep coming back.
How high can a person off the street bet in the big high roller lounges?
Las Vegas casinos are surprisingly risk averse; they don’t like taking big bets. For customers off the street, the biggest bet a nice casino will take is usually $150,000 in baccarat, on player or banker. In other traditional table games, the limit is usually $10,000. Limits can be raised upon request by known customers.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas .
In 2009, the total amount wagered on blackjack tables in Nevada was $8.917 billion. The casinos won $1.008 billion. How much of that is attributable to player mistakes?
From the Nevada Gaming Control Board 2009 revenue report, we see the win for "21" was indeed $1,008,525,000. That probably includes blackjack variants. According to my February 20, 2010 Ask the Wizard
column, the cost of mistakes in blackjack is about 0.83%, according to gaming consultant Bill Zender.
The missing piece is what would be the house edge without the errors? I admit this is kind of crude, but the average of the house edge column in the April 2010 Current Blackjack Newsletter is 0.78%. So, the total house edge in blackjack, including errors is 0.78% + 0.83% = 1.61%. The portion of that due to errors is 0.83%/1.61% = 51.55%. So the 2009 profit from blackjack errors in Nevada could be roughly estimated as 1,008,525,000 × 0.5155 = $519 million.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas .
How many casinos are in the world?
— Ben from Philippines
Using Casino City’s Pocket Gaming Directory as my source, I estimate there to be about 5,600.
There has been a lot of discussion about the Bellagio’s right to refuse chips suspected of being stolen in the recent robbery . This brings to mind the case of Nolan Dalla. As you may know, the MGM confiscated a $5,000 chip he tried to present, which was given to him by another player. What gives them that right?
The Nolan Dalla story can be found at sportscapperisland.com
. Here is the executive summary:
- Nolan obtained a $5,000 chip from a friend at the Bellagio poker room to repay a debt. It is common for high-limit poker players to exchange chips with one another, because it is more convenient than dealing with cash.
- He presented it for payment at the MGM cashier.
- The MGM checked his player account, did not see any recent play, and confiscated the chip because he admittedly didn’t earn it at an MGM gambling table.
Nevada gaming regulations support their right to refuse to honor the chip but don’t specifically address the confiscation of chips. Here are two regulations that seem to apply:
"(A licensee shall) post conspicuous signs at its establishment notifying patrons that federal law prohibits the use of the licensee’s tokens, that state law prohibits the use of the licensee’s chips, outside the establishment for any monetary purpose whatever, and that the chips and tokens issued by the licensee are the property of the licensee, only" -- Regulation 12.060.2(d)
"A licensee shall not redeem its chips or tokens if presented by a person who the licensee knows or reasonably should know is not a patron of its gaming establishment..." -- Regulation 12.060.4
The MGM would probably argue that all chips, including that one, are MGM property and thus they have the right to take back what is theirs. However, as I understand it, most of the time Vegas casinos just refuse to honor questionable chips but let the person who presented it keep it. In fact, that is exactly what happened to me once at another Vegas casino.
Nolan’s efforts to make the Gaming Control Board compel the MGM to honor the chip were rebuffed. I hope in the end he got his money. If anyone knows what become of this story, I’d be interested to know.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas .
Where is the oldest operating casino in the world?
I understand that at pool parties, like the Hard Rock’s Rehab, they can’t make you pay if you are going for the purpose of playing in the outdoor table games. If that is true, how can the Playboy casino justify making people pay to play there?
— Anon E. Mouse
The rule at play here is:
A licensee may not, directly or indirectly, restrict access to any portion of an establishment wherein gaming is conducted, through the assessment or imposition of a fee, except upon receiving prior written administrative approval from the chairman consistent with policies of the commission. — Nevada Gaming Regulation 5.210
As far as I know, the only exception Gaming has ever given is to the Playboy casino, who indeed charges admission to patrons who do not meet any criteria for free entry. My source at the Hard Rock says they applied for an exception but were denied. They speculate the main reason was that Rehab charges different prices depending on the day of the week, among other factors. Evidently Gaming wanted to see a consistent pricing policy to get an exemption.