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Last Updated: June 20, 2006

June 20, 2006


The Wizard's News

English Harbour / Odds On video poker issue

The biggest recent event involves the English Harbour / Odds On controversy. A player posted at Casinomeister that he wasn't getting a fair game on the double-up bets in video poker at English Harbour. His evidence was credible and as the person certifying Odds On casinos for fairness I dropped everything to analyze their recent log data to confirm whether in fact the game was random or not. I discovered that during the period of April 13 to May 2 double up bets in video poker had only about a 1 in 3 chance of winning, not just at English Harbour, but all casinos using Odds On software. While I was doing my analysis, Odds On was doing their own investigation, and discovered that a programming error introduced during a software upgrade caused the double up feature to call a routine for a slot machine-like bonus round instead of the traditional video poker bonus round, which is why the video poker players got worse odds than normal when they tried to double up.

My official statement about this issue is on my website, but let me say here that it is my strong opinion the problem was indeed a software bug and not a deliberate fix. It is very popular on the message boards to claim that Odds On was intentionally cheating but players need to realize that a company like Odds On has everything to lose and little to gain by rigging a video poker game in that fashion. This type of anomaly is very easy to spot, as evidenced by how quickly it was noticed by a player who immediately posted to the forums about it, and every software maker knows that any problems with their games will not go undetected for long. It is not quite like trying to steal the President's microphone as he is giving a speech, but it is still very obvious nonetheless.

I commend Odds On for the professional way in which they handled the matter. When the problem was reported to me I requested their recent log files and they sent them to me right away. Odds On also refunded the net loss on all double up bets during the affected period to players, plus paid them an additional 20%.

After this incident I have decided to leave the casino auditing business. It is for a combination of reasons, mainly that I am spread too thin at the moment and would like to devote more time to the web site.

Unfortunately as a result of this controversy many more players will now suspect cheating or a software bug when they have a losing session. What is worse, from my point of view, is that they will write to me to ask me to verify it. But if I entertained such inquiries that would be all that I did. I am happy to investigate any legitimate concern about online casino fairness, but to be legitimate the complaint must be accompanied by a significant amount of meaningful data from the player's session. I think I can count on one hand the number of times a player has sent me such data. Please see the Casinomeister thread to see how thorough the player was in the English Harbour case.

Other online casino controversies

Just when things started to quiet down about Odds On I threw my hat into a controversy involving King Neptune's Casino. A player there read the rules of a bonus on April 30 and waited until May 1 to play. During the period of less than 24 hours a rule was added restricting Deuces Wild ten-play, stating that winnings from this game could be voided. The player played the restricted game, and per the terms her winnings were voided. It is fine for a casino to revoke a bonus when a player doesn't meet the terms, but it is not okay for the casino to confiscate a player's winnings just because he did not meet the terms of a bonus offer.

I took the opportunity to come down on casinos that heap on rule after rule in their terms and conditions, making it a real chore to stay in compliance with a bonus, and if you don't you risk losing everything you won. King Neptune's obviously did not agree with my point of view and let me know. As always, in matters of opinion I believe that both sides deserve to be heard so I posted their response. It all can be found in the first question of the May 31 Ask the Wizard column.

Coincidentally, the same day I got an angry e-mail from the K2 casino. I added every Gambling Federation casino to my online casino blacklist, including K2, because a casino winner was not paid and payment decisions are made by the Gambling Federation, not the casino owners. K2 felt they shouldn't be on the list because none of their players were affected. I explained that my concern was that so long as GFed was handling the support, this problem could certainly affect a K2 player in the future. I offered to remove them from the blacklist if they could assure me that they would provide players a way to contact casino management directly, and that they would always pay players even if GFed would not. However the casino manager responded with threats only escalated. In the last one I was called a "capricious child and without brain [sic]."  If this sounds interesting you may read the full exchange. (6/15/07 update: Problems with the K2 casino were resolved and the "exchange" mentioned was removed.)

My video poker adventures at Treasure Island

On the lighter side of the news the Treasure Island awarded me $300 in free play for my birthday month. Shortly after midnight on Mother's Day I decided to stop in and play it out quickly, with no intention of staying longer. I say down at a $2 three-play jacks or better machine in the high limit slots room. On the fifth hand I was dealt four to a royal, missing only the jack or hearts in the middle position. I know it was the fifth hand because I was betting $30 a hand and still had $150 in free play. I've seen four to a royal many times before and have never hit it. My previous two royals were achieved once by holding 3 and the other time by being dealt a complete royal on the deal.  In fact it had been almost a year exactly since my last royal of any kind, 2 to 3 royal cycles in my rough estimation. I didn't even take time to get my hopes up, I kept the four to the royal, paused for maybe two seconds, and hit the button, awaiting yet another miss. Then the machine froze up, the light went on, and music started to play. It had been so long since I've seen that I thought at first there was a malfunction. But there it was, the jack of hearts right there in the middle of the screen. What a thing of beauty! On a $2 machine that was an $8,000 jackpot. Here is a picture and another picture of it. This was a much-needed one for my video poker confidence. Thanks to the Treasure Island for a nice birthday gift! 

Ask the Wizard!

Here's an excerpt from the newest Ask the Wizard column #166.

I disagree, at least for the reason you state. Under your scenario most people would indeed leave Vegas winners. However, some players would lose the first bet and keep falling deeper and deeper in the hole after that, until they exhaust their entire bankroll. Assuming the same game and player strategy, the overall house edge would remain the same regardless of player money management strategy. In other words, betting systems not only can?t overcome the house edge, they can?t even put a dent in it. Getting back to your question, if everyone quit as soon as they were ahead, there would be a lot less gambling going on. So while the house edge would be the same, it would be applied to less total money bet, which would indeed hurt the casinos financially.

(Read more Ask the Wizard.)

What's new on the site

I added lots of great stuff in May. I'm proudest of my Las Vegas blackjack rules survey. I also have had some help from a brilliant new mind in the blackjack world named Scott E.  He has enhanced my blackjack house edge calculator to handle many new rules. He has also done a study on the effect of total dependent vs. composition dependent blackjack strategy, the results of which can be found in my new blackjack appendix 15.  A big thanks to Scott for all his help! And of course there are new Ask the Wizard columns, #165 and #166.

Until next time, set your expectations high.

From Michael Bluejay....

Website makeover, and $100 drawing

Ninety-five of you responded to our survey asking for feedback on the new website design before we closed the submissions. Though the opinions were all over the map, there was broad support for the following:

  • Background color other than white
  • Menu color other than green
  • Using a different color for the content vs. the perimeter
  • Keeping the color palette, but labeling it better
  • Making the space between the columns on the front page wider

We heard you loud and clear, so we made all of those changes. My favorite is the upgraded color selector. Before you could just pick one color for the whole page. Now you can pick separate colors for the perimeter, the content, the menu bar, and the Bodog sidebar ads. In fact, you can even choose black as the ad color and that will block out most of the ads for those of you who are ad-adverse. Why do we let you block the ads of our trusted advertiser: Simple: The overwhelming majority of you don't click the ads anyway, our revenue is based on the fact that only a few readers do so. And we figure if you're going to go to the trouble to block the ads, you weren't one of those few who was going to click on it anyway, so our advertiser isn't really missing out.

The color changer works for most pages but some of our pages are still in an old format, so on those pages you'll get the same color for the content as you do for the perimeter.

Some of you preferred the old 3-D beveled perimeter graphics, but mostly just because you wanted something to differentiate the perimeter from the content, and we've taken care of that now that we have different colors for the perimeter and the content. For those who liked the old graphics anyway — well, they're gone for now, but there's a chance we'll bring back something similar in the future, once I have the time to make it compatible with our nifty new color-changer.

There was also moderate support for removing the descriptions of each section on the front page. I wasn't so sure about that but the Wizard was enthusiastic about it, so we did that too. I also removed the "About Us" section on the home page since it's not as important as the other content and the same links are available in the menu bar anyway. So the front page is a lot less cluttered now.

Some of you preferred the old, old style for the front page, where we listed direct links to most of the pages rather than hiding them in the menus. But I think you were probably outnumbered by those who prefer less clutter, and that's the Wizard's preference anyway.

When the last newsletter went out the menuing system still had some kinks in it. After about five hours of trial-and-error I thought I had it working, but then I fired up Firefox and found that they didn't work in that browser. Grrr! Another five hours of testing and debugging and I finally came up with a version that works in all the major browsers on both Windows and Mac. And the code is really, really tight, too, which was important to me. Not that you care, I guess, but hey, I've been slaving away at my computer for hours for your benefit, so listen to me, will ya?! And you know, that color-choosing system didn't code itself, either.

To address some of the individual comments you made....

  • "I really like/hate the new three-column layout for the front page." It's not new, the front page has been three columns for about seven years now. In fact, in the last newsletter when I asked for your feedback I said this:

    Also be sure to compare the new design to our old design . For a couple of days we had a feedback form on the front page asking what people thought of the new design, and they invariably said "I like the new three-column layout" or "I hate the new three-column layout", which is crazy because the number of columns didn't change. Three columns before, three columns now.

    So I have to ask: What are you smoking?!

  • "I don't like the new font size."

    The font size didn't change. That's it, keep on puffin'.

  • "You should redesign the home page to make it clearer what the site has. Go for simple - less choices!"

    Well, that's kind of a contradiction. If we provide fewer choices then it's less clear what content we have available. Unless you meant to put all the choices into one single menu, which would be kind of ridiculous. The only way to show people what content is available is to show them what content is available.

  • "I'm a big believer in the fewer button pushes the better and the drop downs add an unnecessary step."

    Not uh! Without the drop downs you'd first have to go to a page that listed out the choices. With the drop-downs you can go directly to the page you want, with no intermediate page. We're not adding a step, we're eliminating a step. (Well, okay, technically we're trading one step for another, but it's certainly faster this way.)

  • "I like the new pull-down menu system with no extra clicks required."

    Thanks for noticing!

  • "Can you put dates at the end of each entry in the What's New section (so I know how new something is, or if I saw it last time I was here)?"

    The Wizard cried and stamped when I asked him about this but he eventually agreed to do it.

  • "Please put your expertise and efforts into content rather than color."

    No need to worry about that. The Wizard writes the content, and I deal with the color and the design. So even if I weren't messing around with this, there wouldn't be any more content on the site. (There might be some more content on my site, but that's another story.)

  • "Wonder if the static dice artwork near the top-left could replaced with a fun animation of the cartoon Wizard from the logo contest throwing dice or something?"

    The problem is that when the Wizard throws something it's usually at me. But we'll keep this in mind for the future when we overhaul that whole top section.

  • "The menu bar wiggles around a little bit in the Mac Safari browser."

    Yeah, but Safaris are supposed to be exciting and full of action! Okay, seriously, I know the problem you're talking about, but I'm afraid it's not something I'm going to try to fix any time soon. I use Safari myself, by the way, so I'm suffering right along with you.

  • "I worry that your new menu system will hurt google rankings."

    That's a common misconception, but there's nothing to worry about. Remember that I wrote the book (or at least the 13-page article) on how to get good google rankings.

  • "I don't like how the menus in the center of the page disappear when I'm using the menus in the menu bar."

    Sorry, if I didn't hide the center menus then they'd bleed through the menus at the top. This is a bug in Internet Explorer, and there's nothing I can do about it. Complain to Microsoft.

  • "How do you get the drop boxes to disappear when the menu drops go down far enough to cover them up? Is it some kind of layering?

    It's not really layering, I simply hide the drop boxes when the menu is being used. The code I use isn't any special secret, it's available for anyone who wants to look at it. With a View Source you can see the filename for the Javascript file, and then load that file into your browser to see the actual code.

  • "I like the color design, but the problem is that I have to reselect when I go to the site."

    Just turn your cookies back on. No website can remember your preferences when you reject cookies.

  • "Thanks of all the great advice over the years. If I was stranded on an island with a casino, WoO is the one tool I'd want to have."

    If you were stranded on an island with a casino...would you really be stranded? :) Like the Wizard always says, "No man is stranded who can play blackjack." At least I imagine him always saying that.

  • "Bought Gambling 102 for $10 and paid $9 too much -who exactly was the indented audience?"

    An audience of paragraphs.

  • "How can I make money playing slots?"

    You're not smart enough to play slots.

  • "Like to click on but cant every time i hit the space bar it goes off to the page below. whats up junk fred check out the different site"

    Thank you for sharing your hallucination.

The Wizard thought I was too harsh in some of my answers, and wants me to add this:

I'm sorry that Bluejay was too hard on those commenting on the site in general, as opposed to the recent changes. I would like to thank everybody who submitted comments, especially those who addressed the redesign, but also those who addressed aspects of the site that did not change.

Oh, and the winner of the $100 drawing is C. L. Earheart No drawing for the Wizard's book this newsletter or last because that budget went to the $100 drawing. But stay tuned for more free prizes in the future.

No Internet Tip of the Month this month because I used all the space telling you about the design survey. But if any of you are attending the Bodog Marketing Conference (link remvoed) in Vegas in July you can hear me rant and rave about the Internet in the panel I'm on: "Content Strategies that Work."