Maui Vacation -- January 6, 2008

The Wizard's News

From the Wizard

It is almost that time of year again, for post-season NFL props.  This area is one of my proudest in terms of analysis.  It pains me to not share with you my tips in this area, but as I say every year, the limits on these bets are low, and I have enough competition from other sharp bettors as it is.   However, I will give some general tips.

The better side of most props is on the under or the "no."

Leg work is just as important as brain work.  In years past I've been a bit lazy when it comes to running all over town, looking for the soft lines.  This year I plan to melt the polar ice caps a bit more by putting in some more time driving about town.

When in doubt, don't bet.  Most places have 30-cent lines on props, so you are going against a lot of juice.  If you think a bet is good, but not great, and you're not sure about your math, my advice is leave it alone, until you have more time to analyze it carefully.

Collaborate.  If you know someone else who is betting props, and you trust him/her, discuss what sides you like, if any, of what is out there.  If you disagree, then bet against each other, and split the juice.  This goes for any kind of gambling.


Robbery Update

Thank you to everyone who expressed concern about the robbery I reported in the last newsletter. Unfortunately I haven't heard a thing from the police since they came out to make their report.  We did find a cigarette butt, so somewhere out there is a Camel smoker with my stuff. 

My 2007 gambling update

Last time I lamented showing a small loss for 2007.  I'm happy to report I have had some good luck since then and as of Dec. 28 am showing a modest profit for the year of several thousand dollars.  There are still some bowl games and week 17 in the NFL to go, and perhaps some video poker playing to be done.  In my situation, I have to watch my balance carefully, to stop if I ever get very close to zero.

The reason for stopping at zero late in the year is the income tax law that says you must pay taxes on a net gambling win over the whole year, but can not deduct a yearly net loss.   Imagine you are exactly breaking even on December 31.  Somebody offers to give you +110 on the flip of a coin, for a bet of $100.  Sounds like a great bet, but assuming you declare all gambling winnings, as you are supposed to, and you earn enough to pay taxes, then you should turn it down.  Imagine you are in the 25% tax bracket, which applies to adjusted incomes of $31,851 &endash; $77,100 for single filers, and $63,701 &endash; $128,500 for filing jointly.   If you win you have to pay 25% tax on $110, for a after-tax win of only $82.50.  However, if you lose, you are out the full $100.  The house edge on the bet is 8.75%.  Even for the lowest tax bracket of 10%, you should still turn it down, because the win after taxes is $110 × 0.9 = $99. 

Update: After I wrote the above, I bet week 17 in the NFL.  I don't want to give away what I bet on, or the types of bets, but I lost everything I bet over 9 games.  The bowl games late in the year, which I bet about two weeks ago, showed only a small win.  So, I broke my own advice about not crossing the breakeven line so close to the end of the year.  My only defense is that the probability of losing as much as I did in week 17 was about 1%.  So I humbly admit that 2007 was a loser for me to the tune of about $6,000.  Lifetime, which is the important measurement, I'm still doing well, thanks largely to a very good 2006.


Maui Vacation


The week before Christmas my wife, three kids, my wife's parents, and our mountain of luggage took a direct flight on ATA airlines to Maui.  Let me stop here to talk about ATA airlines, which I had never heard of before this.  They are definitely an economy airline, like Southwest but with assigned seating.  The planes were all economy both ways and were filled to capacity.  There was no food service and snacks cost extra.  I didn't have a ruler with me, but there was very little leg room, although that is true of just about all domestic airlines.  They did leave on time both ways, no luggage was lost, and the airfare was quite reasonable.  So, if you like Southwest, you would probably like ATA also.  Just bring some food with you on the plane. 

It isn't easy getting a family of seven, ranging in ages from 1 to 70, that far, so we took it easy the first day.  Our only outing was a visit to "Big Beach."  This was a wonderful long sandy beach south of Wailea, out of the way of all the hotels, restaurants, and activity booths.  It is seen on lots of post cards.  The free tourist guides don't seem to mention it, so if you want to get away from all the commercialization of Maui, Big Beach gets a big "thumbs up" from me.  If you dare, walk over a small cliff to "Little Beach," which is a nude beach, occupied about 95% by men.  No comment from me on that.

The next day was my mother in law's birthday, so we made reservations to celebrate at an expensive luau.  That afternoon we drove from our condo in Wailea to Lahaina.  We got there early, so my in-laws watched my two youngest children under the famed banyan tree, the largest in the United States.  Meanwhile, my wife and oldest daughter window shopped.  When we got back, my five-year old son, who was fine before, was puking in plain view under the beautiful banyan tree.  Evidently, he had come down with some kind of stomach bug.  At this point, it was too late to get out of the dinner, so we went anyway.  It was a nice show, but our son was alternating between sleeping and puking, on a makeshift bed we made from him with two chairs.  My wife left early to let him sleep in the minivan, and the two other children chose to go with her.  So for $700, the evening was a bust.

The next day the bug spread to the one-year old and both in laws.  Four down, and three to go.  Between my wife and oldest daughter, we had a contest to see who could stay healthy the longest.  I won't bore you with the details, but the next three days were full of vomiting and diarrhea.  My oldest daughter got sick next, and then I did.  So my wife won the "Survivor" contest, and I rewarded her with one of those Hawaiian wooden statues, that looked like the tiki Bobby found on the Brady Bunch.

By our last full day we all felt good enough to venture out of the condo.  Although I had done it before, I felt the best way for the group to enjoy the day was to see the rainy side of Maui, and journey down the road to Hana.  I've heard some say the road to Hana is overrated, but I disagree.  I think it is possibly the most beautiful stretch of road anywhere in the United States.  I've been to 45 of the states, and the only thing that might be better, in my opinion, is the mountain pass leading to Skagway, Alaska.  The road to Hana is a windy two-lane road along steep cliffs in a thick rainforest.  There are waterfalls and gardens to see along the way.  My favorite stop is the Haipuaene Falls, about half way between the 11 and 12 mile markers.  At the bridge there were only a couple places to park, which were fortunately empty when we were there.  Unseen from the road, there is a waterfall and a pool deep enough for swimming, just a couple minutes walk uphill from the road.  I've only seen this mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, so enjoy it while you can, before it comes too well-known, like the other waterfalls along the road.  We only made it as far as the Keanae Peninsula, which is a good turning-around point.  There you will find a rocky beach, a church made mostly out of lava, and very tasty food stand.  I recommend the taro burgers.  One of these days I'm going to make it all the way to Hana.

Overall, I found Maui much more fast and commercial than my last visit there thirteen years ago.  Maui is said to have the best beaches in Hawaii, and there are lots of activities to do, but not unlike Vegas, I felt the entire place was a tourist attaction.  The only thing I can compare it to in Hawaii is the Big Island, which we went to four years ago.  The Big Island is cheaper, friendlier, and not nearly as touristy.  However, Maui has more to do and the scenery looks more like what you expect from Hawaii.


$158 haircut

For New Years Eve I was invited to an extravagant party by one of the big Strip hotels.  They put me in a huge suite, gave me RFB status (room, food, and beverages comped), and a Tiffany crystal bowl as a gift.  In previous visits to this same property, they also always covered everything I charged to my room, including my wife's spa treatments. 

About a week before the party I tried twice unsuccessfully to make an appointment with Gina, who usually cuts my hair at the Euphoria Salon on Sahara and Rampart.  By the 31st I was well overdue for a haircut.  Thinking the haircut would probably be comped, and only about $50 anyway, I went to the salon at the Strip hotel.  I won't give the name, because I think this story could be told at any property, and they may read this and I don't want anybody to bet I'm ungrateful.

The haircut went fine.  Although I'm 42 years old I still don't know how to respond when asked what I want.  Once on Northern Exposure, the doctor went in for a haircut and proceeded to explain what he wanted.  The barber cut him off, and said, "I'll give you the haircut you need."  I've always wanted a hair person to just say that to me.  They are the professional, and what do I know about hair, other than it is getting gray very fast.  Anyway, I digress. 

Perhaps I'm naïve, but I was shocked at the end to get a bill for $133.  This is almost three times as much as I have ever paid before.  After tipping $25 in cash, I just had a $158 haircut!  I wouldn't be able to tell the difference in the final outcome between that and a "Number 4" at Great Clips.  Granted, at this salon, they spent a full 45 minutes on me, and it came with a nice shampooing and head massage.  Still, I've been to nice salons outside of the casinos before, and still only paid about $50, including tip, for the same kind of service.  However, I didn't let it bother me, because I expected to have the haircut comped, since I planned to play a lot in the casino, and I have never been refused any comps at this casino before. 

This trip, nobody went to the spa, and I only charged about $100 in food and beverages, which is not much considering I had a family of six people in my suite. (I brought my whole family in order to maximize the comp value because I'm cheap, dang it!).  Dinners in fancy restaurants can run over $200 a person, which I'm sure would have been covered.  So I thought my odds were looking pretty good on getting my free haircut. 

Denied.  Refused.  No dice. Hit the road, Jack.   When I pressed for a reason, the lady told me the salon is privately owned.  Still, she also said "based on my play" she couldn't cover it, leading to believe they are not totally independent.  From what I know how they rate players, they should have assumed a $7,500 "theoretical loss" for me.  Although I was treated very nicely the entire trip, as well as all past trips, and had a moderate win in the casino, I left on a very sour note.

For my next three haircuts I'm going to retreat from the $50 haircuts at Euphoria and back to the $12 haircuts at Great Clips, to recoup my money.  My $50 hair person Gina at Euphoria moved to another salon anyway, I just learned, too far to drive to.  So I won't hurt her feelings, let her think the distance is the reason.  I went there after my usual Great Clips gal (who looked like "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks) moved on, and I thought I was rich enough to move up in my hair status.  However, I feel like a sucker and a fool for having just spent $158 on a haircut.  So I am going to go back to my humble origins and wait in line for a cut with 4-year old children and other cheap men.  You can't develop a relationship here with a hair person, everyone in Vegas moves around too much.  In Baltimore Rhonda cut my hair consistently for 9 years, but here I've never had the same person more than twice.  That is Vegas for you. 

So, my point in all this is to be careful about what you charge to your room.   The type of charge can be much more important than the amount.  Sorry this went on so long, but I had to vent.



Best Wishes

I'd like to wish all my faithful newsletter readers a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2008.

Ask the Wizard!

Ask the Wizard has reached a milestone, surpassing 200 columns! Here's an excerpt from Ask the Wizard #200.

Here in Pennsylvania we have blackjack games, made by Shufflemaster, where the players use terminals to play against a video screen of a dealer. Technically, only "slots" are legal in Pennsylvania. I heard that the game was "retrofitted" to fit the definition of a slot. What does that mean? If this is just a glorified slot machine, do I really have any control over my fate? --Chuck from Mountain Top PA

Yes, you do. I'm told by Shufflemaster that to meet the definition of a slot machine, one player's actions can not affect the other players, as is the case in live blackjack. To get around this law, each player and the dealer are dealt cards from a unique six-deck shoe. So, you are in control of your own fate, but not that of the other players or the dealer. I understand that the game is programmed with six-deck shoes. According to my simulations, using separate shoes for the player and dealer adds 0.06% to the house edge.



What's New on the Site

From Michael Bluejay

Gossip About the Wizard

You know, I'm lucky. You all have to read about the Wizard's exploits in this newsletter, but I know all about them before the newsletter even hits the net. It's like I have a backstage pass to the Wizard's life. That makes me cool, and it's why girls are always trying to touch my butt. So in order to keep the tactile favors coming, here's some gossip.

You wouldn't know it by reading the Wizard go on and on complaining about the surprise cost of his $158 haircut, but I'm betting he spent more time writing about the haircut than it would have taken him to earn the $158! Of course I can sympathize, since I live well below my means as well. Maybe that's why we get along well, since we're both such cheapskates. Not that he's not generous. Last night we had dinner at an expensive café at the Venetian (well, pretty much anything at the Venetian is expensive), and he said, "I'm comped up the wazoo here, so order anything you want." He didn't actually use the word "wazoo". What he actually said was not quite as exciting, but you get the idea.

Recently we were in another casino and the Wizard played one hand of Three Card Poker to see if he could pull off a special advantage play that's described in his book Gambling 102. Of course he plays the Ante, which is the better bet (and the only one possible for the special advantage play), and of course the dealer is horrified, saying, "Don't you want to play the Pair Plus?", and she actually moves his chip to the Pair Plus circle. I've seen this happen dozens of times, not just to the Wizard, but to me too. Even dealers don't know that the Pair Plus has worse odds.

So anyway, the Wizard says, "No, I want the Ante," and moves his chip back to the Ante circle. So now I cause a little mischief. I take the dealer's side, and move the chip back to Pair Plus, saying, "Dude, are you crazy?! Pair Plus is where the money's at!" I can't tell you how much fun it is to publicly criticize the Wizard's play as being bone-headed, when we both secretly know that he's making the proper play.

Sure enough, when the cards are dealt, he gets a flush! The dealer starts to tell him about the 3:1 payout he just missed, but I couldn't wait for her to finish before I start screaming, "Look! You got a flush! We TOLD you to bet Pair Plus! You just missed out on a free $15! You IDIOT!"


Instant Checks Ride Again!

Back in the day, it was easy to get money into an online casino. You just used your credit card. Then credit cards started declining those transactions, so we all just used PayPal. Then PayPal said they wouldn't process those transactions either. No problem, we just switched to instant checks and Neteller. Then when the new banking regulations were passed in Fall 2006, instant checks were off the table. That's okay, we still had Neteller. Then in early 2007, Neteller withdrew from the U.S. market. That left us with few options, like Neteller clones and Western Union, which were usually more expensive and slower.

Then recently, a couple of poker sites started taking instant checks again. An "instant check" is where you just type in your bank account number and routing number, and the money comes straight out of your bank account. So I fired up Bodog to see if they were taking instant checks again, and they are! I made a $500 deposit, and used the Wizard's bankroll-preservation method of betting 1/4th of my bankroll on each hand of blackjack, and quickly doubled my $500 to $1000. Whoo-hoo!

Some caveats: Instant check deposits are available to Bodog players who have used that method before, only. If you've never deposited by instant check at Bodog before, then you'll have to use another method. Next, while the deposit is instant, the withdrawal is not. The money is instantly credited to your Bodog account and you can play right away, but if you win and request a cash out, you have to wait a couple weeks for the check to "clear" before they process the withdrawal. This is true even though it posts to your bank account in a couple of days.

The other thing I have to disclose is that a couple of months ago I tried this same attempt to double a $500 deposit (with a more cumbersome deposit method), and lost it all. So I actually just broke even. About half the times you try something like this you'll win, and half you'll lose. But that's fine with me, I had a lot of fun for something that ultimately didn't cost me anything. And as I like to say, every time I don't lose, I feel like a winner.

You might be wondering how Instant Checks are possible when the law says banks aren't supposed to process them. The short answer is that it's really hard for a bank to tell what a check is for. And it's the bank that has to follow that law, not anyone else. In other words, it's not Bodog's problem, and it's not your problem, it's your bank's problem. (At least that's how my layperson-mind understands it.)

Free Book Drawing Winner

This month's winner of the Wizard's book, Gambling 102, is James S. — subscriber #4022 (alphabetically) of 10,091, and who subscribed way back in November 2003. Congratulations to James!

By the way, if you're wondering how we have fewer subscribers now than last month, we just removed a whole slew of dead addresses.


Until next time, set your expectations high.
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