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Ask the Wizard #195

Hello, for obvious reasons I would appreciate if you not share my name with anyone. At the casino where I work, there is virtual unanimity amongst the roulette dealers that they can "control the spin" and hit sections of the wheel with ease or miss other sections on purpose. Given all the factors in the spin of a ball in roulette, including the canoes (bumps) on the side, direction of ball and speed of wheel, etc. -- do you think there is anything to this? Would it be enough that a crooked dealer could help a player overcome the huge house advantage?

"Anonymous" .

This is far from the first time I have heard this claim, and I am very skeptical of it. Most dealers also believe myths like a bad third-baseman will cause the other players to lose in blackjack, so as a group they are not the most skeptical bunch. What I think is happening is they remember the times they were successful at attempting to control the spin, and conveniently forget the times they were not. Much like they remember the times the third-baseman took the dealer’s bust card, but forget the times he saved the table.

If dealers really could do this, it would be easy to have a confederate play, causing him to win, and causing other players to lose, to make up for it. As long as they were following proper procedures for the spin, and didn’t appear with the confederate in public, it would all look completely legitimate. Yet, you never hear about this happening. I suppose the believers could say that those doing it are just keeping a low profile, but that is what believers in worthless betting systems say too. If this were as easy as the roulette dealers where you work claim, the cheating problem as a result would be rampant.

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.

What is an appropriate tip for the dealer (they keep their own tips) if a person hits a royal flush at Caribbean Stud if the JP is $230,000? Also, what would one tip for a straight flush if the gross pay was $23,600 but net $17,000 after 28% is withheld for federal taxes? Thank you. Love your website!

Judith H. from Chula Vista

Thanks. As I say about machine jackpots, 0.5% to 1% of the jackpot amount after taxes is good. Whether the dealers pool their tips or not should not make a difference.

Great site! My question is related to the game of baccarat. In baccarat the casino typically offers somewhere in the region of 20 to 40 times between the minimum and the maximum bet. If a casino, for promotion purposes, decides to offer a bigger spread between min/max and for example offer 100 times between the min/max, what advantage does the player get from such promotion and what mathematical disadvantage or risk, if any, is the Casino taken from such promotion?

Frank from Copenhagen

I have answered this about roulette, and my answer is the same in baccarat. The house edge is exactly the same regardless of the bet spread allowed. I have asked casino executives a few times why they keep the spread as small as they do. For example, if the casino will take a $150,000 baccarat bet in the high-limit room, why a $5,000 maximum in the main casino? The consensus answer is that casinos like to corral their big players into the high limit areas. The reason I get for this is the service and game security is better in those areas. The reason is definitely not to foil system players.

When do table game winnings become taxable?

Cliff from Aiea

In the U.S., any gambling winnings of any kind and any amount are taxable. However, with table games, it is on the honor system to report.

Consider a hypothetical game based on the roll of a die. If die lands on 1, the player loses $1 and the game ends. If the die lands on anything else, the player’s wins $1. At this point the player may let it ride, or quit. The player may keep playing, doubling each bet, until he loses or quits. What is the best strategy?

Byron P. from Newington, CT

Speaking only in terms of maximizing expected value, the player should play forever. While the probability is 1 that the player will eventually lose, at any given decision point the expected value always favors going again. It seems like a paradox. The answer lies in the fact that some events have a probability of 1, but still may not happen. For example, if you threw a dart at a number line from 0 to 10, the probability of not hitting pi exactly is 1, but it still could happen.

However, for practical purposes, there is some stopping point. This is because the happiness money brings is not proportional to the amount. While it is commonly accepted that more money brings more happiness, the richer you get, the less happiness each additional dollar brings you.

I believe a good way to answer this question is to apply the Kelly Criterion to the problem. According to Kelly, the player should make every decision with the goal of maximizing the expected log of his bankroll after the wager. To cut to the end of this (I cut out a lot of math), the player should keep doubling until the wager amount exceeds 96.5948% of his total wealth. Wealth should be defined as the sum of the amount won plus whatever money the player had before he made the first wager. For example, if the player had $100,000 to start with, he should keep doubling up to 23 times, to a win of $4,194,304. At that point the player’s total wealth will be $4,294,304. He will be asked to wager 4,194,304/4,294,304 = 96.67% of his total wealth, which is greater than the 96.5948% stopping point, so he should quit.