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Last Updated: March 30, 2006

March 30, 2006

The Wizard's News

From the Wizard....
This is a long newsletter, so make sure you don't miss the survey at the very end where you can win either $25 or two copies of my book, Gambling 102 (your choice).

Trip to Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota

Several months ago I was invited to be the luncheon speaker at a conference of the Iowa Actuaries Club. So on February 27 I set out to Des Moines one of the 8 states I was missing from my quest to visit all 50. The conference went well and I enjoyed the mid-western hospitality. As an example when I went to the capitol building and asked for a tour not only was I given my own personal tour guide, but another capitol worker accompanied us because of a new rule prohibiting one on one tours.

If my history is correct Iowa was the first state in the mid-west to legalize gambling and has never looked back. When I arrived all I expected to see were riverboat casinos in Council Bluffs and Sioux City. My first surprise was slot machines in convenience stores. When I asked the clerk how long they had been legal he was very quick to correct me, saying they technically were not slot machines but "pull tab machines." You could have fooled me. They were made by Bally's and looked just like the video slots here in Vegas. Throughout the trip I learned they were recently legalized lottery games and the source of quite a controversy.

I was also not aware that there was a full-blown land casino called Prairie Meadows on the edge of Des Moines. The casino was attached to a dog track, although there were no races going on at the time I was there. Overall the rules were quite good for a non-competitive environment. Here in particular is what they had:

  • Video poker (Cash back = 1/3 of 1%):
    • 9/6 Jacks or better (99.54%)
    • 7/5 Bonus Poker (98.01%)
    • 9/7 Double Bonus (99.11%)
    • 9/6 Double Double Bonus (98.98%)
    • 940/50/17 Joker Poker (98.44%)
    • 25/15/9/4 Deuces Wild (98.91%)
  • Blackjack: 6 decks, dealer hits soft 17, resplit aces allowed, no surrender. House edge of 0.54%.
  • Craps: 10x odds
  • Roulette: Double zero
  • Three Card Poker: Full pay (1/4/5 on Ante Bonus, 1/4/6/30/40 on Pairplus)

As long as I was in Iowa I decided to knock off two other states I'm missing from my list: Nebraska and South Dakota.

After the conference I headed west to Council Bluffs, Iowa which had two fully functioning casinos: The Ameristar and Harrah's. In addition the Bluff's Run dog track had a casino, although at the time I was there only slots were available. There were lots of brand new table games in a pit area still under construction. A security guard told me of the grand opening date, which I don't remember, but by now they probably are fully operational.

Both the Ameristar and Harrah's were riverboat casinos. Although the "riverboat casinos" I visited in Biloxi were gigantic affairs the ones I have seen up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers were true boats that seemed capable of moving. As such they tend to be small with two or three floors. Even on a Tuesday night both Council Bluffs casinos were very crowded. I might also add that alcoholic beverages were not free for players and no alcohol was served after cutoff time. In terms of atmosphere I found both casinos about equal. However the gaming rules are the important thing to me. Here is what I found.

Game Ameristar Harrah's

Video Poker

6/5 Bonus Poker (96.87%), 20/12/10 Deuces Wild (97.58%), 9/6 Double Bonus (97.81%), 8/5 Jacks or Better (97.30%), 940/15/17 Joker Poker (98.44%), 8/6 Bonus Poker Deluxe (98.49%), 9/5 Double Double Bonus (98.98%).

7/5 Bonus Poker (98.01%), 25/15/9/4 Deuces Wild (98.91%), 9/6 Double Bonus (97.81%), 8/6 Jacks or Better (98.39%), 940/15/17 Joker Poker (98.44%), 9/5 Double Double Bonus (98.98%).


Double zero

Double zero


10x odds

10x odds


6 deck, dealer hits soft 17, double after split, no surrender, no resplitting aces. House edge of 0.62%.

6 deck, dealer hits soft 17, double after split, no surrender, no resplitting aces. House edge of 0.62%. Also same thing but with two deck and blackjack pays 6 to 5, house edge of 1.76%.

So, between the two, Harrah's wins the prize for the better video poker. The rest of the observed games had the same rules. However, shame on Harrah's for the 6 to 5 double deck blackjack game.

The next morning I crossed the bridge and set foot in Omaha Nebraska, my 44th state. Just six more to go. I walked around the downtown area but there wasn't much to do. I did notice the Woodman insurance company building. That was where Jack Nicholson's character from "About Schmidt" worked, but I never knew it was a real company.

I didn't spend too long in Nebraska because I had another state to set foot in and get back to Des Moines in the same day. So I headed back into Iowa and headed north. My next planned stop was the Argossy casino in Sioux City. However on the way a billboard caught my eye for the Winna Vegas native American casino. The billboard said it was only a few miles off the highway, so I decided to pay a quick visit.

When I got there an actual Indian opened the door for me. That was a nice touch. Normally Indians are nowhere to be seen in their own casinos. The casino itself was small but compared to Council Bluffs was pleasantly sparsely crowded. I lost my notes but the gaming rules were much the same as those in Council Bluffs. However there was a very pleasant exception. What I saw there was the best blackjack game I have ever seen on a percentage basis. The rules were the same as those in Council Bluffs with these bonuses as long as the bet was at least $10

  • 6-7-8 unsuited paid bonus of $50
  • 7-7-7 unsuited paid bonus of $50
  • 6-7-8 suited paid bonus of $100
  • 7-7-7 suited paid bonus of $100
  • 2 consecutive blackjacks paid bonus of $50
  • 3 consecutive blackjacks paid bonus of $100
  • 4 consecutive blackjacks paid bonus of $200

When I got back home I had to work out the benefit of 6-7-8 and 7-7-7 bonuses. As long as I went to the trouble I wrote it up in blackjack appendix 11.

After adding everything up the game had a player advantage of 1.89% for a $10 bet. Although I had a lot of miles to cover that day I played this game for about two hours. The dealer said they took out a Caribbean Stud Poker game and were giving the jackpot money back to the players in terms of the bonuses. I later called the table games manager from Vegas and he said he had $170,000 to give back to the players. They started this promotion in December 2005, initially with even more liberal rules, and he expected it to last through sometime in April. So play it while you can!

Eventually I left and made my next stop to the Argossy Casino in Sioux City. Interestingly they had a sign posted saying "Slot Payback 91.60% effective 7/1/04." I find it strange they would boast about such a low return percentage. Here were the game rules I could quantify.

  • Video Poker: 7/5 Jacks or Better (96.15%), 16/13 Deuces Wild (96.77%), 8/5 Double Bonus (94.19%), 7/5 Double Double Bonus (95.71%), Joker Poker - aces or better (94.27%)
  • Roulette: Double zero
  • Craps: 2x odds
  • Blackjack: 6 deck, dealer hits soft 17, no surrender or resplit aces. House edge of 0.62%.

After at most a five-minute visit I was back in my rental car and on my way to South Dakota. I stayed on the surface streets to avoid a boring Interstate crossing. I got onto Military Rd and crossed the Big Sioux River and set my feet in state number 45. Yet another gambling surprise met me in South Dakota. There were a whole slew of video poker bars. I entered only one of them, which had a lot of old machines by no-name slot makers. I took notes on one deuces wild pay table but lost them. There were only two people in the place, a bored bartender and an old lady plugging away at one of the games. So I'm afraid I don't have much to report on South Dakota. Of all 45 states I have visited South Dakota was definitely the shortest visit at about ten minutes.

Just five more states to go: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and Kentucky. One visit to Yellowstone and I can cut down the list to just two. However I shouldn't get too excited. I met a guy two weeks ago at the Nevada International License Plate Society meet in Henderson who was working on visiting every single county in the country.

On April 10 I plan make a long overdue visit to one of California's full blown casinos, the Pala outside of San Diego. Unlike my South Dakota visit I will be spending the night and should have plenty of to report next time.

Ask the Wizard!

Here's an excerpt from the newest Ask the Wizard, column #159.

me and my boyfriend have been together for about a month and a half. we go to different schools and this one girl that he used to talk to goes to his school.shes a nasty ho and sometimes i wonder if they still mess around. is he cheating on me? - Zaneta from colorado springs

You know what they say, out of sight out of mind.

(Read more Ask the Wizard.)

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Until next time, set your expectations high.


From Michael Bluejay....

Bluejay's Internet Tip of the Month:

Fighting spambots (update)

In an earlier column I explained how spambots will steal any email address you put on a webpage, unless you take special precautions. I recommended a certain Javascript trick to fool the spambots. Well, some spambots have now figured out how to get around that trick. It was only a matter of time. The easiest way to obfuscate your email address on a web page is to write it like address(at), though of course that requires the reader to manually edit your address, and spambots will eventually figure that trick out, too. I have a special page with a whole slew of various methods you can use to hide email addresses on web pages from spambots, comparing the pros and cons of each.

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