May 8, 2008
From the Wizard....
Craps Tournament at the Venetian
One of my favorite forms of gambling is playing tournaments. I play about six to eight a year, usually baccarat, blackjack, or craps. In the tournament world, it is feast or famine, and until recently I had been in a famine for about two years. However I'm happy to say I finally had a seat at the feast.
The tournament was a $100,000 craps tournament at the Venetian in April. About 100 players were invited. The format was players were assigned tables and times, then everyone played free-style for half an hour. At the end of the half hour any unresolved bets on the table were returned. Then play resumed for five more rolls or a seven-out, whichever happened first. For these final five rolls, players bet in order, starting with the same player every time. Depending on the session, the top three or four advanced, out of 10 to 12 at the table.
In my first session I lost. I don't even remember why. However, the Venetian allows a second chance "rebuy" round, for a $500 fee. So I paid my $500 and was assigned a second time and table, with the other losers. It got to the final of the five rolls. The top three advanced, and there were only four players left. I had the second most chips, and was late to act. I spread my bets in such a way that I would advance on anything but a seven. If a seven rolled, I would be wiped out. Then the dice were thrown, and landed on 6 and 1. I know the probability of this is 16.7%, but I seem to have suffered this kind of bad beat many times before. It was not a new feeling. I mentally chalked up another loss, and stepped over the rope, not wanting to see or initial my big fat zero, as you are supposed to do.
However, a player who was watching stopped me and said, "Don't leave yet, another player has zero too." He was right. Two players had stacks of chips, but another player, who acted after me, also went bust on the seven. The dealers were not sure what to do, so the supervisor was called over. He looked at the rules, and said the other player and I were to have a five-roll tiebreaker. Unfortunately, I had to act first. The other player had only to use some kind of progression to get a little ahead, and then mimic my bets. With proper strategy, he had a huge advantage, but fortunately he didn't know the proper strategy. The first roll of the tie-breaker we both bet small on line bets. A point was established so no money was won or lost. On the second roll I did nothing, and my opponent placed the 6 and 8. A seven came up, which ended the tie-breaker. My opponent lost the place bets, putting me ahead. So, the player who stopped me from leaving saved me. I lived to play again the next day in the quarterfinals.
Two important lessons can be taken from that sitting. One, as a general rule, you should keep one chip without betting it. I've heard of tournament players winning with just one chip many times, but it had never happened to me. Had I, or the other zero player, held back just one small chip, we would have placed third and advanced without the tie-breaker. Also, it isn't over until it is over. I should have ensured nobody else busted out before leaving. It isn't natural to think you could not advance with zero, but in tournaments anything can happen.
The next day, in the quarterfinals, I also advanced. It was my strategy to be bet small the first 20 minutes. It was a cold table and most players busted out. It got to a point where I started to mimic the desperate bets of those behind me. Eventually the lowest two players busted out too. We never even needed to get to the five-roll ending. It was an easy victory.
At the semi-final table, the top four out of 11 advanced. The players who bubbled up to this level were stronger, and I used my best judgment to stay close to the top of the pack. Things got complicated on the last roll. I believe I was in fourth place with about eight players left. I tried to cover as many numbers as I could, but there was a lot of money out there, and was not sure whether I was over-betting or under-betting my numbers. The final roll came, and it was not one I bet on, but it didn't make me lose my bets either. After the unresolved bets were returned, I came in fourth, a small amount ahead of fifth place, and barely advanced to the final table.
I had never made it to a final table in a tournament before. Two years before, I took third place in another craps tournament, but that one was based on total chips over three sessions. In this particular final table everyone would win something, from $500 to $50,000. To add to the stress, craps tournaments are hard. The strategy is difficult, and I had only done two like this before, neither of which I went far in.
After the first 30 minutes of play I was in second place, and acted after the first place player. To make a long story short, it all came down to the final roll. I had covered the 5, 6, 8, and 9. Any of those would cause me to win. A seven would have been a disaster, and any other number would have put me in the middle of pack, most likely. I did hold back some chips this time. It seemed to take ages for everyone to take their turn, but finally the dice were ready to roll. It all came down to this, and the roll was a 6 and 2. Finally, after countless bad beats in past tournaments, a big turn goes my way.
It took a while to count everybody's chips, but I could see I had the most, by about $3,000. In the end I built my $10,000 in tournament chips to over $42,000.
They announced all the winners, poured champagne, and took a lot of pictures. I felt like Charlie Brown would have if he had ever kicked the football. The thrill of victory was sweeter than the actual money.
After it was over two experienced tournament players congratulated me on the victory, but took me to task for some betting errors I made. Suffice it to say some of my bets, including on the last roll, did not maximize the odds of winning. I learned a lot from the post-mortem, but it made me feel like my victory was a bit ill-deserved. Still, all's well that end's well.
My dispute over an expired winning football bet continues with the Stratosphere. At this I would like to let justice run its course, and will refrain from commenting on the status. I hope to provide some specifics in the next newsletter.
For the last few months I've been on a golf kick. Like most math geeks, I'm not the most coordinated person, but I try. The Mandalay Bay was kind enough to comp me a foursome at the Primm Valley golf course. One of the three I invited to join me was David Matthews (not the musician). He wrote about his experience (link removed), and in one place he writes, "At one point I was admonished by a staff member of the course because you're supposed to use the cart path only on all the par 3 holes." What he doesn't say is that I was the one who drove the cart on the green. Somebody evidently saw this and came over to scold us. By the time he got there, Dave was closer to the cart, and got the blame. Sorry about that Dave. That is not my first breach of golf etiquette. Once in Montreal I put my bag of clubs on the green. Then some guy came out of the nowhere, and yelled at me in French. I asked a friend what he said, and he told me we were all issued a "yellow flag" warning. One more screw up and we would be off the course.
Ask the Wizard!
Here's an excerpt from the newest
the Wizard, column #206.
(Q:) Las Vegas casinos, namely Caesars and Bellagio, have recently been giving me a harder time when cashing out over a few thousand dollars in chips. This past trip when I cashed out $8,000 at Caesers they asked for my Social Security number. When I naturally asked why, they said they couldn't tell me exactly and all they could do was give me a card mentioning something vague about Title 31. Could you explain to me and your audience in greater detail what exactly is title 31 and, specifically, what will and will not get your flagged by the IRS. Thanks! — James from Los Angeles, CA
(A:) Title 31 is a regulation stating that the casino should make a record of cash transactions of over $10,000 by a single player in a single day. In such cases, a CTR must be filled out, which stands for Cash Transaction Report. This includes making multiple transactions, adding up to over $10,000. If you cash chips close to, but under, $10,000, the cage will likely want to make a note of it, in case you come back later that day, and go over the $10,000 daily limit.
My advice is to give them what they ask for. You have a lot more to fear by looking like you are avoiding CTR's than the CTRs themselves. In fact, I think there is nothing to fear from a legitimate CTR; the casinos generate lots of them. Personally, I have generated hundreds, to no known detriment. However, it raises lots of attention when you look like you are going out of your way to avoid them. I know one person who was rebuffed when he tried to cash in chips, because he had too many previous redemptions of just under $10,000. So, that is my two cents. Better suited to answer this is "Brian," a current Las Vegas casino manager, and former regulator, whom I like to turn to for procedural questions like this.
In a nutshell, Title 31 is the U.S. Department of Treasury Code designed to prevent money laundering. It requires that certain large cash transactions be reported to the Government. These are filed on FinCEN Form 103 (link removed) Currency Transaction Reports by Casinos (FinCEN is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network). Casinos are required to report all currency transactions in excess of $10K in a single day. The day doesnt follow the clock &endash; a casino picks their day (e.g., 3 a.m. to 2:59 a.m.).
All Financial Institutions comply with Title 31. Casinos are considered financial institutions because of the types of transactions they perform, which are similar to those of a bank (e.g., check cashing, wires, loans, cash exchanges). Unlike traditional financial institutions, casinos conduct a great deal of transactions with unknown patrons. When you set up your checking account at the bank, you give them all of the necessary information needed to fill out CTRs. However, when cashing chips at the cage, the only way the casino can get this information is to ask. Casinos have to get all of the necessary information to fill out a CTR before the patron crosses the $10,000 threshold. Since the fines for non-compliance are hefty, they make a diligent effort to comply.
Casinos are apprehensive to give patrons too much information on Title 31 for fear of inadvertently breaking the law. Casinos are specifically precluded from aiding patrons in structuring transactions in such a manner as to allow them to skirt the requirements. When you ask questions, they prefer to point to a preprinted informational card and dont like to discuss the matter for fear of divulging inappropriate information.
Circumventing Title 31 is relatively easy for undocumented transactions (e.g., chip buys, chip redemptions, etc.), but why would you want to? If the casino has reason to believe that you are purposefully conducting your transactions in an effort to avoid the reporting requirements of Title 31, theyll fill out a Suspicious Activity Report by Casinos form (aka SARC). If a casino learns that you exceeded the $10K threshold and they didnt get the required information, they will bar you from gaming until they get it. — Brian
What's new on the site
- Printer friendly Wizard Way (PDF): Now you can easily print my one-page strategy for pai gow tiles. Apr 22
- Hi-Lo Count: Introduction to probably the most popular card counting strategy. Also see my Card Counting Introduction Apr 2
- Jumbo Keno Progressive: The rules, odds, and break-even jackpot amounts. Apr 1
- "21" Movie — Truth and Fiction : My two cents on the movie. Mar 31
- 21 to the River: Blackjack side bet seen at the Hard Rock Mar 28
- Mississippi Stud: Poker-based table game popular in Mississippi. Mar 3
- Sweat the Money: My new player-advocacy web site. This is where to go if you have a dispute with a Nevada casino, or want to know where to avoid playing. Feb 29
- Ask the Wizard columns #204, #205, and #206.
From Michael Bluejay....
Legal news about online gambling
As most of you know, in fall 2006 Congress passed UIGEA, prohibiting banks from processing transactions for online gambling. They didn't criminalize gambling itself, either for players or casinos, but most online casinos stopped serving U.S. players anyway just to be on the safe side. Since UIGEA was passed there have been efforts to strike it down. Here are the most recent developments.
- Lawsuit continues.An industry group
called iMEGA filed a lawsuit challenging UIGEA.
A judge ruled in March that iMEGA had standing
but dismissed everything else in the suit. iMEGA
is currently appealing. March
ruling (link removed)
- House hears testimony on UIGEA. The
U.S. House Financial Services Committee had a
hearing in April on UIGEA where they got an
earful from opponents, including the banking
industry, which said that the regulations are
burdensome and nearly impossible to follow. Said
one banking rep, "Punting this obligation to the
banking industry is an unprecedented delegation
of governmental responsibility with no prospect
of practical success."
April hearing (link removed)
- Ron Paul and Barney Frank try to stop
UIGEA. Reps. Ron Paul (R) and Barney Frank
(D) have introduced a bill which would stop the
feds from "proposing, prescribing, or
implementing regulations required by UIGEA."
It's unlikely it will pass, but they get kudos
- Party Gaming expected to settle. Despite all of the above this, the feds are still going after online gaming operators, and operators are continuing to pay fines and settle -- which is curious since ostensibly there's no specific law against online poker or casino gaming. The UIGEA regs address only financial institutions. Party Gaming is the latest company expected to settle with the feds to avoid prosecution. Party Gaming settlement (link removed)
- Calvin quits. Calvin Ayre, the
billionaire founder of Bodog, has suddenly
retired. Good move, I say. I've never understood
why billionaires keep working. Look at Bill
Gates, who took forever to retire. How much
satisfaction could he really have gotten from
running a company that makes mediocre software?
Now, Calvin at least was running a pretty hip
and exciting company. But I think the excitement
is really in building something successful. Once
you've created success out of nothing then I
think it's time to either move on and create
something else, or just kick back and enjoy your
success. But honestly, if I made a billion
dollars I'd still probably put out this
newsletter for the Wizard, because it is kind of
fun. And having bragging rights to being tight
with the wiz is something you can't put a price
- Bodog gives out iPhones. Bodog is
running a promotion on their Caribbean Holdem
game, where the first person to get a certain
hand wins an iPhone. The first hand was J-J-J-J,
and the first person who got that won a phone.
The next hand to hit was Q-Q-Q-Q, and someone
hit that and got a phone, too. There are 14
specific hands (and 14 iPhones), and four have
already hit. There are ten hands and iPhones
left, with the next hand to hit being A-2-3-4-5.
see Bodog's iPhone giveaway (link removed)
- Reload bonuses return — sort of.
With most payment processors pulling out of the
U.S. market, it's become more expensive for
casinos to process transactions. Faced with
either passing those transaction fees onto its
players or discontinuing its 10% reload
(redeposit) bonus, Bodog chose the latter. But
for a limited time, Bodog is giving poker
players a reload bonus of up to 100%. more on
poker reload bonus (link removed)
- Bodog now run by Morris Mohawk. We reported last September how Bodog licensed its brand to Morris Mohawk in North America, which means that Morris Mohawk now runs the business for North American players. Everything still looks and works the same, but under the covers it's a different company running the show. That means I'm working with a new account rep, in another city, Treva. (See picture.) She's the one who sends me all the spiffy new Bodog banners that you're seeing on the site.
Hanging with the Wizard
The Wizard and I did three fun and
exciting things recently.
Liberace Museum. The Wizard invited me to go to the Liberace Museum courtesy of his 2-for-1 coupon. Fortunately I knew exactly where it was because by pure chance I happened to go past it when I went out jogging a few weeks earlier. But when we got there the Wizard found that he forgot the coupon and I had to pay anyway. Drat! Anyway, the museum is pretty extensive, with several rooms displaying lots of different pianos, costumes, and personal items. There's also a timeline that started from when he was born up until his death in the 80's. The guided tour was starting just as we got there, and it was very well attended. During the Q&A at the end I was really tempted to ask, "Uh, I heard a rumor that Liberace was gay. Is that true? You can tell me — I won't tell anyone."
Visitors are allowed to play his big sparkling mirrored piano provided they have some skills, they sign a release form (what, like that I won't sue if I fall off the stool and die?), and that they wash their hands first. I complied with all their requirements and so I got to play it. It was really neat, but honestly I can't say it compares to playing the Beatles' studio pianos at Abbey Road which I did a year ago, or Ben Folds' Steinway, which I got to do at a soldout show in Dallas. I was a little nervous because I'm no Liberace, and I'm sure they have really talented players coming through there all the time (a disproprionate number of his fans are likely pianists themselves), but they said I did okay. I played mostly little snippets of stuff, not wanting to take too much time, but they encouraged me to play a full song, so I did my original "Something About You".
If you don't make it out to the museum (about two miles from the Strip), Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in the Venetian has a pretty accurate replica of Liberace's mirrored piano.
Game Show Spectacular. Let me tell you something about the Wizard: He gets really excited about the possibility winning any kind of game against someone else, even if the prize is small. He always wants to Rock, Paper, Scissors or play Liar's Poker to see who will pick up the bill somewhere. Now, you should know that the Wizard is a rich man (as you would expect from the world's foremost authority on gambling), so anything he wins is pretty inconsequential because he could just go out and buy it instead. But still, he gets crazy excited when he has the chance of beating somebody, for anything. As he explains it, it's not because of the value of what he can win, it's because of his competitive nature. His excitement about competition is significant because he rarely shows any kind of serious emotion otherwise, never excited, never angry, and he has a hard time passing himself off as a normal gambler when he counts cards at blackjack because he's like Spock and hardly reacts when he wins or loses huge bets. But put him in a situation where he can win some chintzy little prize in some competition and he goes bonkers. Similarly, the one and only time in my life I've ever seen him angry was in Montreal when he lost some inconsequential game because he didn't play it properly. So with that prelude, here's what happened at the game show.
So we went to the Game Show Spectacular at the Hilton, which is a real live TV-style game show, except it's not on TV. Depending on when you go your host will be either Bob Eubanks, Jamie Farr, or Chuck Woolery. We got Eubanks, which is what the wiz had hoped for. So right off they say they're gonna give a prize to anyone who has an American Express card, and I think the Wizard's going to break his arm struggling to frantically get his card out in time. He's leaping up and struggling to get his wallet out and fumbling with it like he's having a seizure, and I'm like, "Dude!" Unfortunately he wasn't the first to whip it out, though.
They gave away lots of prizes for people who had the right things in their possession, none of which we won. You could really feel the Wizard's anguish about not having the item they called for. I was thinking that if I ever had the thing they were calling out, I was just gonna give it to the Wizard so he could be happy about winning, although I don't know if he'd be as happy if he didn't win it of his own accord.
Then they did an opening number and the hostess came out into the audience and dragged me up onto the stage, while I protested that she should take my friend because he really, really, really, wanted to participate. But it turned out they just wanted someone to dance for a minute, so I did some crazy thrashing around and spinning on the floor to make them happy. But the real entertainment would have been seeing the Wizard dance, I'm sure. My guess is that he'd be reluctant to dance but if they told him that if he danced better than the next person he'd win a peanut then he'd do the best damn dance you ever saw.
Over the next hour or so they called various people up onto the stage to participate in games styled after the Newlywed Game, the Price is Right, and the Gong Show. The main prizes were cash, I think $100 to $250, not bad considering that they weren't getting any ad revenue to fund the prizes like a real TV game show would. My favorite bit was when Eubanks asked each of four women their weight, and then he brought out a bathroom scale and the person who was most truthful got the prize. I like honesty being rewarded. Even better, she was actually a pretty big girl. She was sitting near us so I made it a point to congratulate her and tell her that I especially liked how she won.
Anyway, with a fairly small crowd of maybe 150 people we had a good chance of being called for something, but we weren't. So no prizes for us. On the other hand, the show was FREE FREE FREE thanks to the Wizard getting it comped. Thanks, Wizard! And afterward we played blackjack and I won $500. And our dealer won something, because the Wizard gave her a marble cheese tray that a casino had given him for his gift of the month.
Van Halen concert. When I heard that David Lee Roth had rejoined Van Halen and that they were playing at Mandalay Bay, I knew nothing would stop me from seeing them. Fortunately the Wizard said he'd like to go too, and he scored us some comped tickets — third row, dead center! Does the Wizard have the hook up or what?! We were so close, that when Roth went out onto the catwalk thing into the audience, he was farther away from us than when he was on the main stage.
Roth finally chopped his hair, as had Eddie. The only one with long hair was Eddie's 17-year-old son Wolgang, who replaced Michael Anthony on bass and backing vocals — and was quite accomplished on both. I joked that they had to have the concert on Saturday night instead of Sunday because he has to get up early for school on Monday. Valerie Bertinelli was there, standing in front of the stage in front of Wolfie. When some people spotted her they were like, "Look, there's Valerie Bertinelli!" And I was thinking, "Uh, yeah, and up there on the stage is frickin' Eddie Van Halen!"
They did a long set of all their old hits, leaving nothing out. They didn't do anything post-1983 at all. Roth still sang really well, surprisingly so. It was one of the best concerts I've ever seen, and the third-row tickets were incredible. After the show I told the Wizard I loved him.
Free book drawing winner
This month's winner of the Wizard's book, Gambling 102, is "MJ Cousin" — subscriber #6452 (alphabetically) of 10,345, and who signed up for the list in April 2007. Congratulations MJ!Until next time, set your expectations high.
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