June 27, 2004

The Wizard's News
June 27, 2004

My Alaskan Vacation

As some of you may remember I won a Caribbean cruise at the Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo last year in Montreal, courtesy of Casino Pays. Having already been to the Bahamas and rather disappointed with it I requested to go to Alaska instead, and Casino Pays was agreeable. However we already had a vacation to Hawaii scheduled that summer and my wife could not get enough time off to go until the next Alaska cruising season this summer. So we finally made the trip on June 2. I wrote up a lengthy trip report which I encourage you to read (sorry, link no longer works).

One question I have been asked many times and have been unable to answer until now is about the gambling scene on cruise ships. The following is based on the Carnival Cruise ship Spirit as recorded on the northbound Alaska cruise June 2 to June 9, 2004.

First let me say the casino itself was large with lots of modern slots and nice new gaming tables. Live music was provided in the evenings. The dealers were very professional, spoke English well, and I am told all had at least one year experience dealing before being hired. Drinks unfortunately were not free. In fact sodas and alcoholic beverages were not free anywhere on the ship, including the dining areas. The casino was generally open whenever it was at sea and the gambling age was 18. How this is legal when I think the ship was never inside international waters I do not know but would be interested to learn. Following are my game by game comments.


Atlantic City rules were followed. To be specific: 8 decks, dealer stands on soft 17, double any first two cards, double after split allowed, no surrender, dealer always peeks for blackjack, and resplit to at least four hands (which I did once). The house edge under these rules is 0.43%. The betting limits were $5 to $200 at most tables and $10 to $300 at another table, which I never saw open. One game had the Wheel of Madness side bet, for bets of $1 to $5.

Double Exposure

Surprisingly double exposure was offered, which they called Face Up Blackjack. The usual rules were followed with these specifics: 8 decks, split only once, double on 9 to 11 only, double after split allowed, dealer stands on soft 17, player blackjack always wins and pays even money. According to Stanford Wong's Blackjack Edge software the house edge under these rules is 0.64%.


Two times odds was allowed.

Caribbean Stud Poker

Standard rules were followed. The side bet followed the 50/100/500 pay table. The meter was at $16,141.

Let it Ride

The usual rules were followed. The side bet followed the 4/8/25/50/75/100/2000/10000 pay table with a house edge of 26.93%.


Basic double zero game.

Three Card Poker

In Pairplus the 1/3/6/30/40 pay table was used with a house edge of 7.28%. The Ante bonuses were 1/4/5 for a house edge of 3.37%. The game was hand dealt.

Video Poker

The pay tables were terrible. Here are the pay tables as recorded on one machine that accepted coinages from 25 cents to $2 with a max bet of 10 coins:

  • Jacks or better: 5/6 pay table. Return = 95.00%.
  • Bonus poker: 1/3/5/8 pay table. Return = 94.18%
  • Double bonus: 4/5/8 pay table. Return = 94.19%
  • Double Double bonus: 5/6 pay table. Return = 94.66%
  • Aces Bonus: 4/6/9 pay table. Unknown return.
  • Joker poker (aces or better): 5/6 pay table. Return = 93.78%
  • Deuces wild: 2/2/3/4/10/15/25 pay table. Return = 94.82%

A players card was available but I forgot to ask about the details.


I don't know the theoretical returns but they did have a good assortment of the popular and modern games, mostly IGT.

Advertiser Spotlight: Brandy has an interesting promotion in which they refund your losses, up to $500. Here's how it works:
  • You make a deposit and lose the whole thing in the first three hours.
  • Brandy gives you a Play Bonus equal to the amount you lost.
  • You can bet your Play Bonus money and withdraw any money you win from those bets, but you can't withdraw the Play Bonus itself.

I call this a "phantom bonus" since you can't withdraw the bonus itself, and it disappears if you try.

Here are the other rules:

  • The entire deposit must be lost within 3 hours of beginning of play.
  • Player must pre-wager the deposit five times and over at least 50 hands.
  • Wagers made on Baccarat, Craps, Roulette, and Sic Bo do not qualify.
  • Player should not withdraw funds before receiving the rebate.
  • Player must wager any rebate 4 times before withdrawing.
  • The refund amount is deducted from any withdrawal request. For example, if your balance is $1100 and you want to withdraw the maximum available, then try to withdraw the whole $1100. Brandy will automatically deduct the $500 refund and you'll receive $600.
  • Once you make a withdrawal request the bonus money disappears.

My advice is:

  • Deposit the full $500.
  • Play blackjack or jacks or better. Here is my blackjack strategy card for Playtech casinos and my Jacks or Better optimal strategy and simple strategy.
  • Play conservatively through the 5x play requirement so you don't go bust before meeting the requirement.
  • Double-up wagers in video poker count towards the play requirement so use that option as much as you're comfortable with.
  • Once you've met the play requirement then shoot for a high goal (say, $2000) or go bust trying.
  • You'll probably go bust trying, in which case you'll get the Play Bonus refund. Then either meet the 4x play requirement or lose it all.

Here's what I did when I played this promo:

  • Deposited the full $500.
  • Went bust shooting for my high goal.
  • Got the $500 Play Bonus refund without having to ask.
  • Turned that into $2068.50.
  • Cashed out my winnings.

There are more details on our review of our advertisers (link removed). You can visit Brandy (link removed) to try this bonus yourself.

Win the Wizard's Stuff

Coming soon there will be a contest open only to newsletter readers. The name of the contest will be Win the Wizard's Stuff. I'll explain the rules in the next newsletter.


That's all. Until next time, set your expectations high.