August 28, 2006

The Wizard's News

From the Wizard....

Redesign our website - $500 contest

Bluejay insists that I start out by telling you about the $500 contest to redesign described below, because you might not read to the bottom of the newsletter otherwise. So be sure to see the contest info at the very end.

My gambling adventures

Lately I have divided my gambling energies between video poker and the Internet. Here in Vegas I have been playing 9/6 Jacks or Better and NSUD deuces wild at various places around town. Sometimes this play will have a negative expected value even after considering cash back. However my goal is to get over 100% with mailers, comps, and tournaments. I have played quite a bit at the Treasure Island this month. I hope to get a combination of double shopping points and a free cruise by earning 150,000 points. Perhaps I'll discuss that in greater depth the next newsletter.

On the Internet I have been going after bonuses here and there, with my usual strategy of going for a big win early or busting out trying. My strategy is to not waste my time and money completing the wagering requirement unless I already hit it big.

On both fronts things have been going well. 2006 remains a good gambling year for me. I'm looking forward to getting really serious on the NFL props when the NFL regular season starts.

H.R. 4411: The Internet gambling ban

I have to worry that the U.S. is heading towards a theocracy sometimes. The latest example is that the House of Representatives voted 317 to 93 in favor of specifically outlawing Internet gambling. Only 23% voted in favor of individual freedom. That I think is a sad commentary. I have a longer rant (link removed) about it on the website.

Lost ticket at the Luxor

It is with much embarrassment that I tell this story but I'll suffer that to give the Luxor some good press. Recently I was playing $1 ten-play 9/6 jacks or better video poker at the Luxor. After about 30 minutes of play I was fortunate to his a $4000 royal flush. After they paid me I decided it was rather late so I left on a nice high. However I still had $910 credits on the machine, which I accidentally walked away from. At the time I was carrying a lot of cash and didn't notice the difference.

A few days later I got a call from a slot supervisor at the Luxor. He said that he had been waiting for me to come pick up my $910 ticket. He said they waited hours for me to come back and ask for it but I never did. Perhaps they got my phone number from my player card number on the W2G. The Luxor is rather far from where I live on the west side of Vegas so they kindly sent a $910 check in the mail.

So I would like to thank the slot department at the Luxor for their honesty. In particular I would like to thank the assistant slot shift manager who called me. I'm not sure he would want me to use his real name, so I'll just say his initials are MP.

Pennies "ready to pop"?

I am quoted in the August 10 Las Vegas Review Journal in an article on Megabucks advertising. (link removed) At issue is whenever Megabucks gets to a certain point, IGT (the manufacturer) will take out advertising which proclaims in large lettering "Overdue Jackpot." In the fine print at the bottom a disclaimer says something like "statistically overdue, odds of winning do not change." I've always been critical of this advertising. It feeds into the myth that a jackpot is more likely to be hit if it has been a while since the last jackpot. As I have said hundreds of times the probability of hitting a jackpot on any given slot machine is always the same on every spin. It doesn't make any difference how many times it was played since the last jackpot. The writer of the article is also critical of the advertising and does a good job in challenging the claim.

Microgaming double-up controversy

In the last newsletter I reported about a double-up controversy with Odds On software. This time we have a completely different controversy with Microgaming software.

A player reported at Casinomeister that when doubling in Microgaming video poker the outcome is predestined before the player ever chooses a card. The player noticed that by mousing over the bottom left of the screen the player's balance is shown reflecting the outcome of the double up bet, which had yet to be completed. Apparently the way the game is programmed, when the player clicks to double, the server determines the player's card, dealer's card, and three other cards immediately. The dealer's card is shown immediately. Then regardless of which position the player chooses the card he was fated to get is shown, as well as the other three inconsequential cards.

Some of the posters at Microgaming are upset because they have no control over the outcome, which is indeed the case. However I think this is much ado about nothing. The important thing is that the odds are truly 50/50, which I strongly believe they are. I have it on the authority of a programmer at a major slot maker (who wishes remain anonymous) that in land casino slot machines the outcome of a "pick'em" style bonus round often has nothing to do with which icon a player picks. There are various ways bonus rounds can be programmed. The usual way is that the prize is determined the moment the player makes his selection, and which icon he picks makes no difference. The only regulatory constraint is that if the non-picked prizes are shown those can not be gaffed, they must have been chosen in the same manner as the winning outcome. So I think it wasn't good programming to let the players discover this secret. However as long as the odds are still 50/50 there is nothing to get riled up about.

Ask the Wizard!

Here's an excerpt from the newest Ask the Wizard column #172.

I'm a long-time fan. Thanks for keeping it fresh. I just watched a show on CGTV (Canadian Gaming TV) called "Casino Life" that dealt with Caribbean Stud Poker. The host of the show gave kudos to you and your site and your strategy for this game was presented on the show. Later, I saw that you were credited. Does this generate income for you or is it just good press? -- Peter from Ottawa, Canada

Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I gave Casino Life permission to use my material. I'm happy they gave me a good plug. No, they didn't pay me. I also have never been paid for my appearances on the Travel Channel here in the United States. I do it for the fun and the publicity.

I'm very interested in turning the small house edge in blackjack into an essentially even game with the house. I know this will not change my results all that much, but I think it is a psychological barrier that many players wish to pass. I play basic strategy religiously and am comfortable with counting cards using the Hi-Lo system, but mainly do it just for a challenge at the moment as I don't use much of a bet spread. -- Erik B. from Toronto, Ontario

I hope you're happy, I spent a week on this, off and on. Using the hi-low strategy you'll need to spread to 4 or 5 units in a six-deck game. However, I devised a much simpler adaptation of the ace/five count. You can read all about it in my section on the Wizard Ace/Five Count.

(Read more Ask the Wizard.)

What's new on the site

Wizard Ace/Five Count. This is my own adaptation of the well-known ace/five count in blackjack. It's an easy card counting strategy to get the odds marginally in your favor.

Vegas Three Card Rummy. This is a new game offered at Real Time Gaming casinos, such as Bodog. It is similar to Three Card Poker but with different scoring rules and a lower house edge.

HR 4411 (link removed). The House of Representatives has voted 316 to 93 in favor of banning Internet gambling. In my opinion individual freedom is at stake as the government is striving to dictate how adults can spend their own money in their own homes. As usual there are convenient exceptions when government gets a piece of action.

Nim (link removed). In an effort to teach myself JavaScript I wrote this classic game. It is not gambling related but maybe you'll like it anyway.

Texas Shootout. You've been asking for it for years. Finally I did an analysis of this poker based table game.

Keno Props. Miscellaneous keno probabilities and props.

Bonus Video Poker. This video poker game by Cryptologic puts the discards back in the deck, and offers a bonus for getting them back on the draw. This was a big project so please have a look.

And of course there are new Ask the Wizard columns, #167, 168, 169, 170, 171, and 172.

Until next time, set your expectations high.

From the Michael Bluejay ....

$500 contest to redesign

We're thinking of upgrading the look on, and we're inviting readers to share their designs with us. We're offering these prizes for the best designs:
  • $300 - 1st place
  • $200 - 2nd place
  • $100 - 3rd place
  • Copy of the Wizard's book, Gambling 102 - 4th & 5th places

Criteria for the redesign

  • The 468x60 banner is history. We no longer need that top banner, so don't include it in your design. In fact, it's the axing of that banner that prompted this whole redesign contest.
  • The minimum area to redesign is the top section, above the menus. But you can also work with the sidebar and the menu bar if you like. You can also change the background and heading colors in the content area if you like.
  • You can go for either a minimal touch-up or a full-blown, thinking-outside-the-box, major overhaul -- or anything in between. Be creative.
  • You can use the existing logo or create a new one. You're not limited to that size, either, it could be much larger. Small, medium, large — whatever works for your design.
  • Run that menu bar all the way across the page if you like, or not. And feel free to stick the Search box into the menu bar if you think it works there. You get the idea — be creative.
  • Use images, or not. Right now we're lean on graphics. You can keep it that way, or add a bunch of them, or anything in between.
  • The design should be fluid (stretch to any screen size instead of being a fixed size), and should work at 770 pixels wide. It doesn't have to look great at that size, but it at least has to work on monitors that small. It's fine to have nonessential elements print only if the page is wide enough. We do that with Javascript for the last couple of menus and the "Who is the Wizard?" icon.

How to enter

Your entries can be .jpg, .gif, or .html. Put them on a webserver and then send us the *address* of the files. Please don't attach the files to your email! Email your url's to (address redacted). Attaching files to your email will automatically disqualify you.

Make as many different designs as you like. The more you produce, the more likely one of yours will be selected as a winner. Keep in mind though that we'll be presenting these to our readers for their input and we don't want to throw a gazillion choices at them, so if you submit dozens where there are only minor differences (like color) then we won't necessarily present each and every design you submit.

Anyone can enter, whether a Wizard's News subscriber or not, so tell your design friends.

All entered designs become the property of the Wizard, and may be used as the future design of this website or any other.

How to win

We'll let our readers vote on their favorite designs to determine the winners. If we get a gazillion entries then the Wizard and I will narrow the choices down to the best 5-10 designs to present to our readers for voting.

Don't even think of trying to stuff the ballot box; only people who were already subscribed when today's newsletter went out will be able to vote.

One of the choices on the ballot will be the current design. An entered design will have to beat the current design in order to win. For example, if there are three entries, and the readers rank them like this...

  1. New Design A
  2. Current Design
  3. New Design B
  4. New Design C

...then Design A wins the $300 1st prize, and nobody wins anything else.

Finally, this contest is separate from our choice as to what design we'll actually use on the site. As always, the decision about what the site should look like is up to the Wizard, and he might choose the 2nd or 3rd place winner over the 1st — or none at all, and keep the site the way it is now (with the exception of that top banner, which we're killing). You don't have to please the Wizard in order to win the contest, you have to please our readers. But to have to please the Wizard in order to have your design used as our new website look.

Okay, get to it. Good luck!