The Great 38
Learn the answers to gaming’s most frequently asked questions!
By Frank Scoblete
I love giving talks to my fellow casino players, and I can always be certain they’ll bombard me with plenty of questions. Here are 38 of the most common queries I’ve answered over the years, organized by category and followed by my replies.
While some of my answers are biased (hey, I’m going to have a few opinions after spending decades in the casinos), the facts are the facts—and hopefully this information will help you to avoid the sucker bets and get the most out of your casino experience.
- Which games make the most money for the casinos? Slots are the money-making champions of casinos throughout the country. They’re so profitable that some casinos don’t even have table games, and aren’t hurting for the lack of them. The fact is, slot machine play, which includes video poker, makes up between 67 and 90 percent of a casino’s revenue. House edges on slots can range from less than one percent all the way up to about 17 percent! Ouch! Next in line comes blackjack, then craps, roulette and “carnival games” such as Three-Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud and others.
- What are some games with good win percentages for players? If you lay against the 4 and 10 in craps, you have a 66 percent win rate. If you lay against the 5 and 9, you have a 60 percent win rate. But just because you have this win rate does not mean these bets are great. You have to put up more money to make these bets than you are paid if they win. So the casino still has the edge. The Bank bet at baccarat comes in with a 50.5 percent win rate. On the Pass Line bet, you have a 49.3 percent win rate. At blackjack, ignoring pushes, the player wins approximately 48 percent. Even money bets at roulette come in with win rates of 47.4percent.
- How much money should I bring to play with? If you’ve just lost most of what you brought and think to yourself, “I could have used that money for my heart operation,” then you shouldn’t have been playing with that much money. Here are some guidelines: Have about 40 to 50 times your average bet at blackjack for a session. So, if you are betting $10, bring $400 to $500. Have 10 times your spread at craps, so if you bet three numbers and have $120 in action, bring $1,200. Bring about 300 times the number of coins you play in a machine for a given session. If you play $3 a spin, bring $900.
THE ONE-ARMED BANDITS
- Which machines should I play? If you’re looking for the fantasy of a life-changing win, then those big progressives are the ones to go for. But they come with a hefty price, as the house edge is usually around 15 percent. If, on the other hand, you want the best chance to go home with money tonight, you are better off playing stand-alone machines that are non-progressive. These machines will have the lowest house edges. Most machines with brand names (Hollywood movies, television shows, etc.) tend to have higher house edges, as do machines in very low denominations.
- Are there really loose and tight machines in the casinos? Yes. Right now, go to the back of this magazine and look up low and high denomination machines in various venues. You will probably see a difference in percentage payback. You’ll see that there are loose and tight machines. But don’t get too giddy. A smaller percentage of a lot more money is worth more to the casino than a larger percentage of much less money.
- What does “hit frequency” mean on a slot machine? The hit frequency is what percent of the time a player can expect to get something back from the machine. It’s not the same thing as a win. (If you put in three coins and get two back, that’s a hit, but not a win). You could theoretically have a 100 percent hit frequency and lose!
- Is there any way to tell if a slot machine is going to hit on the next spin? No. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have a clue about how slots actually work.
- What are the odds of getting a royal flush in video poker? It’s about 40,000-to-1 for Jacks or Better, and somewhat different for the other games. It’s a longshot for sure, but nowhere near as long a shot as hitting Megabucks.
- What is the RNG? The RNG (Random Number Generator) is the machine’s internal program that selects a number sequence that relates to the symbols on the screen. The RNG is constantly selecting number sequences, even when the machine is not being played.
- Do the reels and computer screens really matter? No. The reels and the screens are just there to entertain you. They have nothing to do with winning or losing; they just inform you of what the RNG picked. Those “near misses” are thrilling (or may cause your blood to boil), and that’s part of what compels us to keep playing. But there is really no difference between the reels and the video screens; they simply display the result of the RNG.
- Can someone steal “my” jackpot? No. The RNG is cycling through number sequences at lightning speed. In the span of time between you leaving the machine, and someone else sitting down to play, millions of possible outcomes have been cycled through.
- Can slot workers tell you when a machine is about to get hot? Nope. But some of them, being cunning, will point you to a machine and tell you, “This machine is hot. I’ve watching it.” If it hits, they will take full credit and expect a nice fat tip.
- If I keep using my slot club card will the casino tighten the machine, loosen the machine, give me more comps, or give me fewer comps? None of the above. The casinos use the slot club to keep track of how much you’re spending so they can comp you accordingly, and increase the likelihood that you’ll return.
- Do all of those new nickel and penny machines make more money for the casinos than the higher-denomination games? You bet—just look at those fearsome new low-limit machines and see the dozens of ways to win and lose, depending on how many credits and how many lines you put into action. The percentage paybacks are generally lower than higher denomination slots, but you’re putting a heck of a lot more money into the machine than nickel players of the past. A lot of so-called nickel players are actually now in the dollar-player range.
- Poker has been the “hot” table game for a while. What skills do I need to beat poker? Heck, just put on a baseball cap, a pair of sunglasses, strut around the poker room like a bloated wrestler and you’ll win millions. Or, realize that you have to understand some of the math of the game for making the right hands, and to know whether it’s wise to get into a particular pot. Then figure out how your seating position affects your hand playing. And so on. Poker is a competitive game against other players, many of whom are absolutely terrific (especially now that the Internet allows anyone to practice endlessly), and more of whom stink. The stinkers are the ones whose money you can take if you know what to do. There are many good books on poker. Start studying.
- Is online poker the same as live casino poker? No, they are quite different. First of all, online you have no idea who you are playing. You can’t look at his or her face. You can’t tell if you’re playing one person or several people connected by computers. At a casino, in the words of one poker player, “You can smell your opponents.” However, there are also a lot of truly awful poker players online, and good on-line poker players can feast on them.
- What is the house edge in blackjack? All over the map! Most multiple-deck games range from about three-tenths of one percent to about seven-tenths of one percent, depending on the rules. Single-deck games can be almost even money, all the way up to about a 1.5 percent edge on those abominable 6-to-5 blackjack payouts. Spanish 21 has a house edge of about eight-tenths of one percent. How do you know which is the best game? Look for these rules: doubling on any first two cards, splits and resplits, doubling on splits, 3-2 payout for blackjacks, dealer stands on soft 17.
- What kind of edge will I get if I learn how to count cards? Depending on the game and count system you use, between one-half and slightly over one percent.
- Are there good bets at craps? If a good bet is one where the house has about a 1.5 percent edge or lower, then there are many good bets. For example, the Pass and Come bets with a 1.41 percent house edge; the Don’t Pass and Don’t Come bets with about a 1.36 percent house edge; and the place bets of 6 and 8 with a 1.5 percent house edge all fit that definition.
- What are the craps bets I should avoid? Craps has a host of bad bets—the Any Seven (or Big Red) comes in with a 16.67 percent house edge. This is followed by hop bets, the 2, and the 12 coming in at 13.89 percent; the horn coming in at 12.5 percent; and the 3 and 11 coming in at 11.11 percent.
- What’s the average number of craps rolls before a shooter sevens out? From the shooter getting the dice to the seven-out, the average is about eight rolls.
- What is the longest dice roll in history? In 2005, my mentor, the Captain, rolled 147 numbers before sevening out, which is the world record. That roll took two hours and 18 minutes. The longest roll in terms of time was Stanley Fujitake’s three hours and six minutes for 118 numbers in 1989. My own greatest roll was an 89 in 2004.
- Can craps be beaten? There is no betting system, trend-finding system or hedging system that can beat the game of craps. The only way to beat the game is to develop a controlled dice throw. Combine dice control with proper betting and you might be able to do it. This advantage-play technique requires a lot of practice to get good at it.
- Can roulette be beaten? If any of the following conditions exist, the answer is yes: find a wheel that is biased; find a dealer who can hit certain segments of the wheel; figure out a dealer’s spinning signature; or be able to predict where the ball will and based on watching it spin. If none of these things are possible, the answer is no.
- What is the probability of the same number coming up four times in a row in roulette? Once in 2,085,136 spins for a double-zero wheel.
- Are there any good strategies for roulette? Look for single-zero wheels, where the house edge is about half as much as on a traditional double-zero wheel. If you can’t locate one, play in casinos that return half of your wager on losses of the “even-money” bets. This will also cut the house edge almost in half.
- What are the odds of a royal flush in Caribbean Stud or Let It Ride? On a five-card hand, the odds of getting a royal flush are 649,739-to-1.
- What percent of the time does the dealer qualify in Caribbean Stud? Approximately 56 percent of the time, which makes the game very frustrating. And it’s probably why Three-Card Poker has become the top carnival game.
- I love Three-Card Poker! What is the best strategy? Raise if you have a queen, 6, 4 or better. One king is better than this hand, so you would raise. A queen, 8 and 2 is also better. That’s the strategy and it isn’t too hard to learn. Unfortunately, the game isn’t easy to beat. The house edge is well over two percent and the game is quite fast. And don’t make the Pair Plus bet. It’s like playing a slot machine.
- Can some players really beat the casinos? Yes. Card counters at black-jack, such as Speed Counters, can beat the house edge. So can controlled shooters at craps. Also good poker players, good video poker players, savvy pai gow poker players, good sports bettors and believe it or not, some slot players who know about the few advantage-play machines. All these “winners” can be lumped under the phrase “advantage players.”
- Is it hard to become an advantage player? According to one survey, there are roughly 54 million casino gamblers in the United States. Of these, maybe 5,000 to 10,000 have the skill and knowledge to become long-term winners. So, yes, it’s hard to become an advantage player.
- Can casinos throw you out if you are good at the games? They can throw you out even if you are not good at the games. In most cases, they have the right to ask you to leave their premises. They are private businesses and do not have to serve anyone they don’t want to.
PEOPLE, PLACES & ALL OTHER THINGS
- Is there such a thing as good luck and bad luck? Players can experience winning streaks, winning sessions and winning days and weeks. That’s good luck. Players can also experience bad sessions and rotten streaks that last days or weeks. That’s bad luck. Casinos do not worry about luck since they have the math on their side, and expect to win the percentage edge they have on their games. This is called “fluctuations in probability,” a math term. So, for players, it’s luck; for casinos, it’s math. Math wins in the end.
- How important are comps? Comps are nice little rewards forgiving a casino your play. They aren’t really freebies, as you are paying for them with your expected losses. But you have nothing to lose, and lots to gain, by always using your player’s card and getting whatever comps the casino will give you for your play. But don’t play for more money than you can afford, or for longer than you planned, just to get something for “free.” You’ll pay through the nose for that way of thinking. Just play your game and happily take whatever comps they give you.
- Should I get a host? Hosts can certainly make things easier for you. They can make your room, dinner and show reservations, get your name on the “party list,” and generally take care of odds and ends. Usually casinos don’t extend hosts or host services to low-level players, but different casinos have different definitions for what a low-level player is. At major Strip casinos, low level can be green chip ($25) players, whereas at Vegas locals casinos, a green chip player might be considered worthy of a host. Players who put in many hours a day, even if they are “just” red chip ($5) players, might bet enough in that time to merit some hosting arrangements.
- How do you get a host? If you’ve never played at a casino before and you start playing for big money there, a host will invariably come to your table or machine and introduce himself, give you his card, and tell you to call him if you need anything. Another way to get a host is to call the marketing or player development department and ask to speak to one. If you are a card member of a multi-casino empire, the play you gave at one of their casinos will count at all of their properties, so if you deserve a host you’ll get one no matter which of their casinos you play in.
- What’s your opinion on tipping dealers? Dealers are in the “service industry,” just like barbers, waiters, waitresses, valet parkers and others. Their base salary hovers near the minimum wage, so a good dealer deserves tips. Even though tips are normally shared with all the other dealers, I believe the unprofessional, unfriendly, uninterested, morose, nasty and scornful dealers should not be tipped. I also believe that if you get a really good dealer at a table game, or even a great crew of dealers at craps, a nice letter to the shift boss or table games manager praising them is in order. Very few dealers receive praise, but all of them hear players moaning and groaning and being nasty. And please keep in mind that the dealers are not responsible for your good or bad fortunes at the tables.
- My friend is often able to get a suite even though he didn’t book one. I am too embarrassed to ask how he does it. If you’re a steady player at a casino, ask your host to upgrade you to a suite if there are any available. This will often work, especially mid-week, when many of the suites are empty. The other way to do it is to bribe the clerk at the check-in desk. Usually $20 to $50 will be more than enough. I wouldn’t brag about doing this since it is somewhat unsavory, and not every front desk clerk will play along. The other thing to consider is this: Do you really need a suite if all you’re going to do is sleep in it?