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Last Updated: September 26, 2006

September 26, 2006

The Wizard's News

From the Wizard....

How much to tip for video poker handpays

The topic of this article is tipping on hand pays in video poker. This advice also applies to tipping in slots, video keno, and any other electronic game. You may have heard it said that the standard policy is to tip 1% to 2% for hand pays. I'm taking a stand that this is way too much. If forced to give a range I would say 0.5% to 1%.

The source of the "1% to 2%" range seems to be Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines, the former of which I used to write for. Until recently, I always followed this advice, thinking it was set in stone, like tipping 15% to 20% in restaurants. However, I now believe this to only be the opinion of the editorial staff with Casino Player and Strictly Slots. Every video poker player I asked, and I know some big players, tip much less.

My concern started when I recently read Bob Dancer's novel Sex, Lies, and Video Poker. In the middle the book, Annie, a perfect playing professional player, is training her boyfriend on 9/6 Jacks or Better. He hits his first W2G win, a four of a kind on a $25 bet for a $1250 return. When asked how much he should tip she says, on page 186, "Ten bucks feels about right for a jackpot of this size." In the rest of the book and the sequel the tipping remains along these lines. I was aghast when I read this. Either Dancer's character, whose experiences are obviously based on Dancer's own, was undertipping or I had been overtipping all along. I asked several other big video poker players, and while they each had a different opinion they all agreed that 1% to 2% was way too much. So now I feel like a fool, probably having overtipped by about $1000 up to this point.

So where do I get the 0.5% to 1% range?  The only person who I could get to give me specific percentages was Jean Scott, the "Queen of Comps." When I told her I once tipped $200 on a $8000 jackpot she gasped "Oh my god!"  Most other players I asked gave long wordy answers that seemed to come down to that they had no standard policy, but took every W2G win ($1200 or more) on a case by case basis. However when pressed for examples I would say that if anything 0.5% to 1% is too high. Many pointed out that when playing a high denomination game where $1200 or higher wins are frequent that no tip is required except on exceptionally large jackpots. So the 0.5% to 1% should be attributed to Jean Scott, with myself seconding the motion.

On a percentage of bet basis the cost of tipping will depend a lot on game selection and denomination. In general you will take a big hit if fairly common hands result in a win of $1200 or more. Let's look at jacks or better, for example. Assume you tip 1% on a royal and 0.5% on any other handpay. Here is the cost of tipping according to the denomination played.


Increase in house edge
from tipping











Notice how the percentage skyrockets at the $10 level. That is because on a $50 bet (remember you bet five coins) a four of a kind will pay $1250. That happens once every 423 hands. For this reason I think it would be forgivable to not tip every four of a kind for an extended sitting.

My gambling adventures

Speaking of video poker I have been hot lately!  I think I wrote about this in an old newsletter but the Treasure Island gave me $300 in free play in May. On my fifth hand at a $2 3-play game I hit an $8000 royal. Then in August the Treasure Island ran a free cruise promotion for earning 150,000 points, or running through $450,000 in action. This was on top of double shopping points in August. The play, cash back, and shopping points alone were a 100.1% game. The cruise was the icing on the cake, making it playable. $450,000 in action at $10 a hand meant 45,000 hands to be played, which I did ten at a time on a ten-play game. A royal comes along once every 40,388 hands on average, for an expected 1.1142 royals. I hit four!  The probability of hitting exactly four with that much play is 2.1%.

Speaking of the cruise I just got some bad news today. The Treasure Island has decided, at least for now, to not honor their deal. I've been told the cruise was sold out and I'm on a waiting list for cancelations. However when I called Princess Cruises about the exact cruise in question they said there was plenty of room. This fight is just getting started! I'll keep you posted.

Also in August the New York New York ran a double points promotion. Normally the cash back is 1/3 of 1% at all the MGM/Mirage casinos, however the NY NY doubled it in the form of free play throughout the month. That resulted in a player advantage of 0.43%, which for video poker is very strong. Unfortunately I didn't learn of this until about August 20th, but after I did I played it four times. My game of preference was the $5 five-play, 9/6 Jacks or Better. I laid off 25% of the action to a friend because it was a bit outside of my bankroll. By August 28 the word of the promotion had started to spread. When I arrived in the high limit room every single multi-play game was taken, many of which were being hogged by people using two games each (a practice I find very annoying).  I griped about this to the woman who did the W2G paperwork and asked to be told if a multi-play game opened up. Meanwhile I settled on a $10 single-play game. The $50 bet per hand made it not really worth my time but I hoped a multi-play game would become free. About 90 minutes into my sitting, which was going uneventfully, I was dealt four to a royal. The probability of hitting the royal in such a case is only 1 in 47.  I've drawn to four to a royals many times before but never on a $50 bet, for a $40,000 jackpot. However I had to hit the button eventually so I did, hoping for the jack of diamonds, but expecting nothing. I got the jack of diamonds!  It is hard to explain the feeling. At a win of $40,000 it was five times my largest previous single win to that point. Fortunately I called off the profit sharing on that play, because I can handle $10 single-play myself, so it was all mine.

I asked the slot host to take a picture, which he did with a digital camera. He had me sign a waiver, letting the NYNY use the picture, in exchange for which I would get a copy in the mail, which I haven't received yet. Unknown to me they do a lot more paperwork for jackpots of $25,000 or over. A slot mechanic came and opened up the machine, writing down lots of numbers. Various suits came over as well to witness it. It all took about 30 minutes to get paid. Results have also been good everywhere else, including the Suncoast, Orleans, and MGM Grand. Hopefully my luck will continue, but of course "luck" is just normal mathematical variation and not something ever predestined.

Ask the Wizard!

Here's an excerpt from the newest Ask the Wizard, column #173.

I am a part time blackjack player with a lot of success in land based casinos. I am thinking to start playing online but I have a few questions about this. Does a payout percentage of for example 98% mean that you lose 2% anyway regarding good or bad play. In European blackjack with no hole card, if you play last box isn't it better to leave the little card for the bank or must I hit anyway? sometimes i have my doubts about this. P.S. love your site THANKS -- Andrew from Belgium

Thanks. Payout percentages such as this are historical. See for example the June 2006 report (link removed) from King Neptune's Casino. The 96.78% for table games means that in June 2005 the ratio of money returned to money bet was 96.78%. In other words an actual house edge of 3.22%. Your own results will depend on the game rules, your skill (in games of decision making), and luck (by which I mean how favorable your random results are). In most games the odds are quantifiable so payout reports are not useful. It shouldn't matter to you how badly other players have played or the mix of games they chose. Where these reports are very useful is in evaluating the slots. No casino that I know of volunteers how loose their slots are set, but such payout reports gives the player a good idea. If looking at other months you see that King Neptune's pays about 96% in slots. I also think it is a good sign of a good operation to have return percentages independently verified. It shows the casino has nothing to hide.

What is the reason people don't put mirrors on flat roofs in Las Vegas. Wouldn't that cut down on the expense of air conditioning?

I asked my father this question since he has a Ph.D. in physics and also a solar panel installation on his house. Here is what he said,

It would help, but the economics might not justify it. Probably less than 25% of heat enters houses through the roof. The reflectivity of the mirrors would probably degrade to 60% or less as they age and get dirty. It makes a lot more sense to use that space for water heaters or solar electric panels. On a sunny day, my roof panels provide enough power to run both the A/C and the pool pump, which are my biggest power eaters. When one or both are off, my meter runs backwards. The pool heater panels had the pool temp up to 90 degrees last week. I had to cut back on the pumping time.

What's new on the site

Flashing Dealers in Baccarat. If you're able to see the first player card before you place your bet, then here's my strategy for beating baccarat.

And of course there's a new Ask the Wizard column, #173.

Until next time, set your expectations high.

From Michael Bluejay.... No one entered our contest to redesign the website. Not even one person. Maybe the prize wasn't high enough? Anyway, that means that I'll be doing the redesign myself. Which is fine by the Wizard, because he wasn't really excited about the redesign contest in the first place.

So we're back to our drawing for a free copy of the Wizard's book, Gambling 102. Because of privacy concerns we're no longer identifying the winners, so I'll just say that this month's winner is subscriber #543 (out of 9974).

Stupid casino promotions

It's no secret that the online gambling industry is sleazy. Internet casinos do everything they can to separate you from your money, including throwing wildly deceptive promotions at you. I had my time wasted by one of these come-ons recently and it made me so mad I decided to write about it. It also underscores why Bodog is our only advertiser: They don't engage in the kind of B.S. I'm about to describe.

So I get a letter in the mail from Emma Hall at Casino Classic. They're offering me $500 in casino chips free, with no deposit, and say I can keep whatever I win after playing for an hour. Naturally I expect there's a catch, but as I scan the letter I see Emma speaks directly to my concern, saying: "No catch, no kidding!"

Now, when someone insists, "No catch!", you might reasonably expect that no catch is involved. But of course, there is. And the only thing worse than discovering a catch is discovering a catch after explicitly being promised that there isn't one. I can't put this any more charitably: When Emma said, "No catch!", she was lying.

The terms and conditions are nowhere to be found in the mailing. On their website, however, we find these terms:

  • All winnings over $200 are void.
  • You must deposit $20 in order to claim any winnings under $200.
  • The playthrough is 30x before cashing out, but 300x for video poker, and a whopping 1500x for blackjack.

So your expected loss playing blackjack is $500 free chips x 1500 playthrough x 0.5% house edge = $3750! If they have video poker as generous as 99.5% (I didn't check) then your expected loss is $750. In short, you're not expected to win a single dollar in this promotion. Yet here Emma is, jumping up and down, telling me quite a different story:

"Imagine walking into a casino, being given $500 free, playing your favorite games for one hour and walking away with your winnings.... You probably wouldn't believe it, but that is exactly what I have waiting for you at Casino Classic! No catch, no kidding!"

That is exactly what she has waiting for me?! No, not even close to exactly. And as for "No catch", this promotion is nothing but catch.

After this experience it's not surprising that I had to unsubscribe from their mailings multiple times before they actually took me off.