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Playing for Fun vs. Profit in Casino

Strategies for balancing the pleasures of the game

by Basil Nestor

This is a fact. You have a better chance of walking away with a profit if you play in a casino that is in North Las Vegas, in downtown Las Vegas, or on the Boulder Highway, compared to playing in a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

It is also a fact that some of the most beautiful and exciting casinos in the world are on the Las Vegas Strip.

Similarly, there are a few poker rooms in Southern California that are legendary. These immense and iconic temples to the poker gods will leave you breathless with exhilaration. But the tables in these venues can be so tough that they suck money faster than the tightest slot machines. Meanwhile, down the road there are card clubs that are less famous, less exhilarating, and more pedestrian, with poker tables that are much easier to beat.


So it goes, all across the nation. Casino A on the left side of the street has a nicer feel and better restaurants, while Casino B on the right side of the street has the ambience of a supermarket, but it has better games.

And of course, individual casinos often mix and match their offerings. Loose games here. Tight games there. Good restaurants, but maybe the rooms aren’t so nice, or whatever. It’s a potpourri in which pleasurable choices are not always in line with profitable decisions.

What is a player to do?
The wrong choice can cost you a lot of money. Or you might win some money, but lose the fun. Ideally, you want to get the most from your playing experience; you want to balance fun versus profit. Here are some tips to help you do that.

Gambler, Know Thyself
The first step to finding the right balance is to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your “inner player.” Consider the following questions. Keep in mind that your answers probably will not be absolute. However, let’s begin with some extremes:

• Do you want chandeliers and tapestries hanging overhead while you pull for a seven-digit jackpot, or will standard track lights and chain-restaurant-style decorations suffice?

• If you walk into a casino that looks like the inside of a warehouse, but you see an awesome selection of loose games, will you be mostly excited or mostly disgusted?

• Now flip it around. The casino looks like heaven. It’s a sensual dream, but the machines and tables are tight. Does that make you feel ripped off, or will you swoon at the view, sit down, and order a drink?

• Two machines sit side-by-side. One of them is a whiz-bang multi-line game with a long-term payback of 90 percent. The other one is a video poker game with a complicated strategy, but it has a long-term payback greater than 100 percent. Which game will you play?

• Would you rather play poker for an hour with a famous poker pro like Phil Hellmuth who will surely beat you like a rug, or with an anonymous casual player who has poor poker skills and is likely to lose his entire stack to you?

Obviously, you want it all. But which way will you lean—toward pleasure or profit? There is no right answer, but you must know your heart. When that question is settled, the next step is to find the venues with amenities and games that suit you.

Finding Your Bliss
You already may have a favorite casino or favorite game, but it is always good to shop around, especially when there is a new place and new inventory down the street.

Like most things involving gambling, there are some basic strategies to follow.

Know the market and the games. You can’t judge the value of a particular game if you don’t know that game’s average payback. This takes some homework. For example, consider blackjack. You must be able to evaluate the rules in a particular casino at a particular table and calculate the long-term edge (check out my book Playboy Complete Guide to Casino Gambling for more about this). Once you have calculated the numbers for your favorite game, ask yourself if the payback in this particular casino is better, worse, or standard for this market. If the game is exceptional, go ahead and jump onto a table or sit down in front of a machine. But otherwise…

Do a property tour. If the game you prefer has paybacks that are poor or just okay (rather than exceptional), take a walk around the casino. Check out the inventory of other games, poke your head into the restaurants, get a feeling for the place. If you’re not loving it, and if you’re not inspired to sign up immediately for the players club, then don’t bother. Keep walking right out the door. You can always come back if the casino across the street is worse. Remember, it is always a drag to pump money into a mediocre game, lose quickly, and then look around to see that the casino is a dump and you don’t want to spend any more time there.

Pay attention to the little things. Some casinos will make you inexplicably happy. It may be the lighting, the layout, the décor, or something else. It is up to you to put a price on that happy feeling. Whatever the price, just be aware when you’re absolutely loving a casino (those experiences are special). Likewise, you may be in a foul mood, blaming it on bad luck, when it is really the casino’s atmosphere that is irritating you.

Pay attention to yourself. This is when you put “know thyself” into practice. Let’s say you drive across town to play a particular video poker game that has a 100 percent payback. You get there, the machine is exactly what you expected, and you’re fortunate enough to be ahead by $40 after 10 minutes. But you’re absolutely miserable because the casino is drafty, the drink service is awful, and the whole place smells like cheap sanitizer. Don’t fight your instincts. If you’re pining for another casino, embrace this truth and play where you are comfortable. Accept the fact that you’d rather “spend” some of your potential payback by playing a less beatable game if that allows you to be in a space that you like.

The Practical Realities of Playing for Profit
Frankly, most casinos are counting on you to choose luxury over payback. If you see a casino vigorously promoting super-loose games and super-liberal rules (and they’re telling the truth), this is usually a tip-off that the property won’t be tempting you with dancing waters and crystal chandeliers.

The reality of playing for only profit is that you go only where the money is. If a game is beatable, that is what matters. The restaurants, drink service, hotel, other perks, and other games become unimportant. You’re there for one particular contest.

Also, playing for profit involves a lot of real work. You have to do pesky calculations, plus a lot of research, and you must practice constantly. You have to manage a bankroll and skillfully handle the politics and math of the players club. You have to think about the game when you’re away from the game. Above all, you must be able to immediately step away from the table or the machine if you feel that you can’t get a 100 percent-plus contest.

Playing for Fun vs. Profit in Casino.

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