Ask The Wizard #266

In your Nov 6, 2009 column you warned that to help finance the health care bill any gambling winnings from W2G forms over $1,000,000 would be subject to a 5.4% tax, and this would be applied before the deduction of gambling losses. This could have a big impact on very high-end slot players, who rack up stacks of W2G forms. My question is, what is the status of that?


I’m told that said provision (section 59C) was dropped from the final bill. That is the good news. The bad news is there is a new Medicare tax on unearned income above $250,000 for a married couple, starting in 2013. It looks like this may apply to gambling winnings before itemizing any gambling losses. Please ask me about this again in about two years for a status report.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.

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 . Here is the executive summary:

  1. 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.
  2. He presented it for payment at the MGM cashier.
  3. 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.

I work in a casino, and two days ago, my boss comes out with a memo saying that a three of a kind beats a straight in pai gow poker. Not the bonus payout, the actual hand rankings. We have all argued with him that he is incorrect, but he says this comes down from Shuffle Master. Is this true? Did Shuffle Master change hand rankings on their pai gow games? Can they do this?


The probability of a three of a kind at 4.98% is lower than that of a straight at 7.16%, due to the wild card rules. In Shuffle Master’s Fortune side bet, a Three of a Kind pays more. While they are allowed to have any rules they like for their own games (subject to the approval of regulators), I doubt Shuffle Master would have the audacity to change the rank ranking of the base game. Not only would the change be un-poker like, but it could result in untold complaints by disaffected players. I suspect the supervisor is confused with the three of a kind paying more on a side bet and incorrectly assumes that means it ranks higher in the base game.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.

Do you think the better fuel efficiency is worth the additional cost of a hybrid? How many miles would you have to drive to break even?

Rob from Las Vegas

Good question. To answer it I considered a Toyota Highlander, a vehicle I am thinking of purchasing. The retail cost of the standard hybrid model is $37,490. For the same four-wheel-drive vehicle non-hybrid the cost is $29,995. So the hybrid engine adds $7,495 to the cost.

The gas mileage of the hybrid is 28 mph, both city and highway. The mileage of the non-hybrid is 17 city and 22 highway. Let’s take the average at 19.5.

The general formula for the number of miles to break even is h×mh×mr/(g×(mh-mr)), where

h = Additional cost of the hybrid.
g = Cost for a gallon of gas.
mr = Mileage for non-hybrid (the "r" is for a regular car).
mh = Mileage for a hybrid.

The following table uses this formula to find the break even point for various prices of gas from $2 to $5 per gallon.

Hybrid Break Even Point

Cost of Gas Number of Miles
$2.00 240,722
$2.25 213,975
$2.50 192,577
$2.75 175,070
$3.00 160,481
$3.25 148,136
$3.50 137,555
$3.75 128,385
$4.00 120,361
$4.25 113,281
$4.50 106,987
$4.75 101,357
$5.00 96,289

So, at the current price of $3.00 per gallon here in Vegas, you would need to put more than 160,481 miles on the vehicle to come out ahead. This does not consider other expenses that may be associated with a hybrid, such as the expensive replacement cost of batteries, nor any perceived green points for consuming less fossil fuel.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.