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Ask the Wizard #100

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.

Dear wiz, say a deck of 52 cards is shuffled, and we draw 18 of the 52 cards at random, placing the 18 cards into 6 piles of 3 cards each. What is the probability that one of the piles contains exactly 3 (of the 4) aces?


The easy way to solve the problem is that the probability the first pile has three aces is (4/52)*(3/51)*(2/50) = 1/5525. However each pile has an equal probability of having three aces so we multiply by 6, yielding 6/5525 = 0.001086

Great site. I refer to it often as a gambler with an interest in probability and statistics, but this question actually pertains to my work. My HR Department insists that I rate my small staff (5 people) on a bell curve--one in the top 5% of all employees, one in the next 20%, one in the next 50%, one in the next 20%, and one in the bottom 5%. The company has approximately 5000 employees. What is the probability of such a small sample size fitting this distribution?


Thanks for the compliment. This is a good problem. The probability that exactly one employee will be in the bottom 5% is 5*(.05)*(.95)4 = 0.203627. Given that one employee is in the lowest 5% the probability of exactly one in the next 20% is 4*(.2/.95)*(.75/.95)3 = 0.414361. Given these two underachievers the probability of exactly one in the next 50% out of the remaining 75% is 3*(.5/.75)*(.25/.75)2 = 0.222222. The probability that one of the remaining two falls in the lower 20% of 25% is 2*(.2/.25)*(.05/.25) = 0.32. Taking the product of all these probabilities we get 0.006, or 3/5 of 1%.

Dear wiz: The horserace track that I attend is introducing video lottery machines. Can you tell me anything about them? Are they the same as slots? Any info you can give would be helpful and appreciated.

Mike S.

Another Mike S., what are the odds? Lots of racetracks permit what is called "class 2" gaming, which must be lottery or bingo based. The way to offer slots under this rule is to have a lottery or bingo game going on behind the scenes and the outcome is displayed in the form of a slot machine win. For example if the lottery game determines that you win 20 times your bet it will display whatever slot machine symbols pay 20. So it is a clever illusion.

I see on your site the house way in pai gow poker varies from one casino to another. Which is the one that gives the player the best odds?


The various house ways are all very similar and only differ in rare or borderline plays. I have often heard dealer’s comment that their casino uses a conservative house way that tries to balance the hands, resulting in more pushes. However I would doubt if anyone has ever done a comparison study.

I know that you are allowed to deduct gambling losses up to a certain amount on your tax returns...what is that limit?


Zero. You can not deduct a net loss at all. However if you have some W2G forms (generally given on wins of $1200 or more in slots, video poker, and keno) then you can deduct other losses against these wins. You should keep documentation for any losses you claim. You may be thinking of deducting losses on stocks. There you can deduct up to $3000 a year, and can carry over amounts larger than that to the next year. I’m still carrying over losses from the tech crash in 2000.

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.

Congratulations on your upcoming 100th "Ask the Wizard" column. I anxiously await each new addition as it adds to my gambling knowledge. My official question is... Can I be in the 100th issue?

R.S. from Dallas

Consider it done! Yes, this is my 100th column. Four years and two months ago I started it as a way to freshen up the site and to show the content is not stagnant. As evidenced that it has gone on this long I think it was one of my better ideas.