Mark Pilarski's Corner

Ready, set, gamble; that is, if you can answer these questions correctly
By Mark Pilarski

1. In blackjack, when the deck is rich in aces and face cards, it favors whom?
a) the dealer.
b) nobody, because unless you have the ability to count cards it won't make any difference.
c) the player.

2. Because nobody ever loses eight bets in a row, one of the smartest money management decisions you can make in a casino is to double your bet after each loss.
a) True.
b) False.

3. Which casino game is generally a loss leader for the casino?
a) bingo
b) odds on a crap game
c) high limit baccarat

4. You hear a lot of excitement coming from the crap game; that means:
a) the table is sizzling so you should rush over and get a piece of the action.
b) you don't know how to play craps so don't get involved.
c) just because the game is hot, it does not mean the dice rolls will be good for you.

5. When the dice fly off the table on a crap game you should:
a) Make a bet on the number 7 because historically every time the dice go off the game the ugly 7 appears.
b) Stay the course. The next toss is a random roll.
c) Ask for new dice to be put on the game.

6. Cheating in a casino is:
a) a transgression you can get away with because the eye-in-the-sky (cameras) is probably not watching you.
b) a felony.
c) a $250 fine in Nevada, $375 in Atlantic City.

7. The reason the casino exchanges your money for chips is that:
a) It is a Regulation 6A IRS rule.
b) It makes it easier for dealers to handle chips versus loose coins and paper money.
c) You probably won't treat chips the same way you'll treat real money.

8. Nickel machines return less than quarter machines, which return less than dollar machines because:
a) The cost to maintain a nickel machine is the same as other machines.
b) Casinos know that low rollers play nickel machines so the sooner they get their money, the better.
c) Not true. It is all in the discretion of the slot department manager on what each machine returns.

9. The house edge is:
a) a mathematical percentage that the casino takes on each bet.
b) shown on the casino Profit & Loss statement as a win.
c) because casinos are, by law, regarded as private clubs, management can throw a player out at its discretion.

10. A common player mistake is to:
a) drink too much.
b) advise players on how to play their hand.
c) allow greed to set it.

11. The smartest bet you can make in a casino is:
a) following the lead of the player you see with the most money.
b) taking the betting advice of a cagey dealer or pit boss.
c) making bets that have less than a 2% house advantage.

12. High table minimums and low table maximums are:
a) an advantage to the player because you won't blow all your money.
b) an advantage to the dealer because you will tip more.
c) an advantage to the casino because you'll lose your money faster.

13. Why is it better to play on a single deck blackjack game over a multiple deck game?
a) The dealer shuffles more giving you more time to discuss blackjack strategy with friends.
b) Blackjacks occur more often on a single deck game.
c) The table minimums are generally lower.

14. The "special bonus" ticket offered in keno is a great deal because:
a) You can bet just $1 and have a chance of winning $250,000.
b) It's not. Avoid keno at all costs.
c) It is a losing proposition for the casino because of its large payout.

15. The life or death of your casino visit would be:
a) the ability to get comped for your play.
b) money management skills.
c) finding a bathroom.

16. A rogue blackjack dealer can affect your chances of winning by:
a) They really can't because dealers are closely monitored by casino management and camera observation.
b) constantly giving you bad advice so you will lose.
c) preferential shuffling.

17. Casinos don't mind an infrequent winner because:
a) casino operators realize they will suffer short term losing streaks.
b) winners tell losers where they won their money.
c) the longer you gamble with the house's money, the more exposure you have to the casino edge.
d) all of the above.

18. When you misplay a hand in blackjack, you:
a) affect the outcome of all hands dealt
b) have zero affect on the other players hands at the table
c) only affect the eventual outcome of your hand
d) both B and C

19. Card counting in blackjack is:
a) not illegal, but expect harassment from casino management and possible banishment from playing in certain casinos.
b) illegal in all gaming jurisdictions.
c) illegal in most gaming jurisdictions except Atlantic City.

20. It is better to play on higher payback machines because:
a) It really makes no difference because in the end the casino is going to get all your money anyway.
b) Players of higher payback machines will take advantage of more comps.
c) It keeps you in action longer, long enough possibly to hit a decent jackpot.

21. In blackjack, you should:
a) Never split 8s.
b) Always split 8s.
c) Split 8s against every dealer up-card except the 10, face or ace.

22. Red has just come up five times in a row on a roulette table; you should:
a) Switch to black because it is due to appear.
b) Stick with red and ride the streak.
c) It makes no difference because every spin is a random event.

23. A pit boss approaches you and introduces himself, then asks you if you need anything. The hidden message here is:
a) He is only being friendly because he's wearing a "certified friendly" button on his lapel.
b) Your betting patterns warrant further investigation to see if you are card counting.
c) Your cash play may deserve some form of player perks.

24. All money won in the casino is:
a) your hard earned money.
b) the houses money so you might as well keep gambling on their loot.
c) not subject to taxation.

25. The main objective of a casino is to:
a) Average a return of 18.5% for owners or stockholders.
b) Create an adult Disneyland for your pleasure.
c) Take all your money and put a smile on your face.

And the answers are...

1. C - The player and there are two reasons why. First, blackjacks will appear more often when there is a higher proportion of aces in the deck, and as you know blackjacks pay the player 3 to 2. Second, the dealer will bust more when he has a "stiff" (12 through 16). The player, given the same opportunity, would stand on stiffs, whereas the dealer is forced by the rules of the game to hit away and hopefully bust.

2. B - The Martingale System is a gambling system based on progressively doubling up after every loss. In essence, you the gambler double your previous bet (after a loss) to recoup that loss plus win back your initial wager. It is probably - no, IT IS - the worst money management system you can use. You would think, logically, this form of betting is foolproof because you have to win sooner or later. The problem is, you don't have an inexhaustible bankroll, and our friends who own the casinos will limit the maximum size of your wager. Also, ask any gambler you know if six or eight losses in a row is not unusual. I'm experiencing it now with a computer program that picks the pros in football.
I really want you to think this through. You bet $2 and lose, then $4 to recoup your losses. Then $8, $16, $32, $64, $128, $256, $512. You just invested $1,020 to get your measly two bucks back. Oops, but you were playing on a game that had a table limit of $200. A string of six defeats and the casino automatically protects itself plus sets your loss limit at $252. Wiped out in less than three minutes. The Martingale system is not logical, it's downright lethal.

3. A - Most players don't realize it, but bingo is one game the casino offers that generally operates as a loss-leader for the house. Casinos can actually show a net loss by paying out more in guaranteed prizes than they take in. Now for those who think $5 is a hefty price for a buy-in, try a
special noncash game, yes, FREE, that casinos occasionally advertise. Bingo does offer a great return and is a nice, relaxing change of pace if you're on a losing streak and need to slow down your losses.

4. C - The dice might have been sizzling before you come aboard, but that doesn't mean they will stay heated because you're now there. The reason is that your dice timeline, the period you're on the game, is different from the earlier players. Understand, when you join a game in progress, you initiate your own personal sequence of rolls, with the dice possibly going cold from that moment on.

5. B - You would think that every time you hear a dealer call "It's on the ground, look around, it must be found" or "Too tall to call" that the smart thing to do would be to place a wager on the number seven because you believe it's going to roll again. You'd be thinkin' wrong, pardner. By making this wager part of your betting repertoire, you could easily be joining the most pathetic bunch of losers since my ninth grade remedial shop math class. Why? Because the probability of a seven showing on any roll, off the table or not, is only 16.67 percent. Forget what you perceive. Each roll of the dice always remains the same, an independent event. More bad news. The one-roll wager on the seven is the worst bet on the crap table. Casino advantage, 16.7 percent. What you perceive as happening all the time is anecdotal evidence, not reality. Stay away from this wager!

6. B - Be it $5 or $5,000, cheating in a casino is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in a rudimentary Nevada hotel - prison. Cheating is one mistake that a misinformed player who romantically envisions himself as a cagey cat should avoid. Most, if not all, casinos will prosecute to the full extent of the law.

7. C - A casino goal is to create a fantasyland experience for its patrons. One wily way is to devalue your money by having you bet chips instead of legal tender. Think of the deceptive nicknames chips have. A $5 chip is a "nickel" and a $25 chip a "quarter." Your best self-defense is to continue to bet with your own greenback. This way you'll always realize its genuine value.
If you do turn your bankroll into chips, take a moment and carefully think about the exchange. You must always treat chips as hard-earned cash - like the money you save for your child's college tuition, mortgage payments or your retirement.

8. A - The main reason nickel machines have poorer payouts than quarters and quarters less than dollars is because the cost to maintain any machine - slot personnel, floor space, maintenance, etc., - is exactly the same. Each slot has to yield a targeted number of dollars for the casino, so a larger percentage must be kept from the lower denomination machines to meet those goals.

9. A - The house edge is a mathematical percentage - always in the casino's favor - that the casino takes on each bet. This edge is the casino's true income and why they can build those high rises. For the house to pay for those construction costs, winning bets are paid off at less than true odds. Consider it a payment for playing in their establishment, or, an entertainment tax.

10. C - Yes, GREED is the correct answer. Too many players, when greed sets in, keep upping the ante on what they want to win. "Enough" is just over the horizon, and like the horizon, it recedes when they approach it.
I recommend having a predetermined win plan. All players should set loss limits and win goals. Without this money management strategy your typical player generally becomes a casino statistic called the "hold," a percentage of chips purchased by the customer and then won back by the casino. All too often, when the rapacity of a player goes unchecked, the player's entire bankroll slowly but surely reverts to the casino.

11. C - Always make casino bets that have of less than a 2% house advantage. Leave the other wagers to players interested in paying casino salaries, light bills and stockholder dividend checks.

12. C - It's a huge advantage for the casino, and here's why. Casinos win for two reasons. First, a statistical edge (percentage advantage) on each and every game, and second, they have a whole lot more cash and staying power than you do. For the latter, it's a simple concept called "gambler's ruin." In essence, it's how long will it take you - with your limited bankroll - to lose everything to a casino, which has a relatively infinite wad of cash. So even if you do have a short-term winning streak, when the house has this infinite stake, they can, and will, always outlast you.
Now to playing the high minimums/low maximums limits. When you have a casino with a competition-free monopoly, you tend to find table limits that, in my humble opinion, border on larceny. This scenario eliminates low-stakes betting (high minimums); plus, the ability to parlay your winnings by increasing your bets (low maximums) is removed. Unfortunately, when you play under these conditions, depletion of a low roller's bankroll in a matter of minutes is not uncommon. The long and short of it is this. Avoid playing high minimums/low maximums table limits like the plague!

13. B - Blackjacks, which pay 3 for 2, occur more frequently on a single deck versus multi-deck games. Example: Let's say your first card is an Ace. On a single deck game, 16 of the remaining 51 cards, or 31.37 percent, are the face or 10-value cards that would complete your blackjack. On an six-deck game, 96 of the remaining 311 cards, or 30.87 percent, would give you your blackjack.

14. B - The nerve of a casino calling it a "Special Bonus" ticket. Let me illustrate how appalling this ticket is. Let's say you were to play one keno ticket per second, 24 a day, 365 days a year. According to laws of probability you will catch 19 out of 20 once every 93,420,116 years. What are the odds of hitting it? Two quadrillion, 946 trillion, 096 billion, 780 million to one.
Unfortunately, this isn't the only ruthless ticket in keno. The chances of hitting 10 of 10 - and mind you they will only pay you $50,000 - is nine times harder than hitting a state lottery. Then the casino has the audacity to pay you what is called an "aggregate payoff," meaning if both you and someone else are playing the same numbers and it hits solid, you split the money.
Or how about this popular keno ticket: the 15 spot. Chances of your hitting it? 428 billion to one. Tall odds, but consider that no person has ever hit a solid 15 spot, a solid 14 spot, a solid 13 and to the best of my knowledge, a 12 out of 12. These long-shot tickets, or keno in general for that matter - are a game designed for the Tootsie-Pop crowd; known by the casinos as "a sucker's born every minute" club.

15. B - Without hesitation, I would call money management the life or death of your casino visit. What good money management principles will do is minimize your losses and in most cases protect your winnings. Furthermore, by combining sound bets with practical money management techniques you will always maximize your chances of leaving the casino a winner.

16. C - Your chances of winning at blackjack can be affected by an unscrupulous dealer who preferential shuffles. Here a dealer is counting the deck down (card counting) and is aware of all the cards that have been dealt. If a lot of high cards have been previously pitched, meaning the deck is now rich in small cards, creating an apparent disadvantage for the player, the rogue dealer keeps dealing. On the other hand, if many small cards have surfaced, allowing a positive expectation for the player, the dealer would shuffle. By card counting, the unethical dealer now has total control over any favorable situation the player might have had.

17. D - If the game is square, the casino shouldn't give one iota when someone wins a huge sum of money, even if he or she started with a meager bankroll. It is not all that rare for a player to take a hundred dollar bill and run it up to four digits.
Casino operators realize they will suffer short term losing streaks, even when every bet is in their favor. Besides, casinos are retail establishments. If none of the customers had any chance of winning big, how long do you think they could keep their doors open? They actually prefer a few winners. Winners tell the 90 plus percent who lose where they won it.
The way casinos guard against financial ruin during a player's winning streak is to set betting limits at the table. It is the "house limit" that protects the casino bankroll against a lucky assault by a hot gambler. Additionally, the house knows the longer you gamble, the more exposure you have to the casino's inescapable casino edge. The gambler's biggest advantage against the house is to quit on your own terms, not the casino's. Unfortunately, few have the internal fortitude to take the money and run.

18. D - One of the biggest fallacies in all of gambling is that your play affects the overall outcome of all hands dealt. Not true! Each card comes out of the shoe randomly and since you, the dealer, fellow players and yes, even the nitwit might insult you for lousy play, have no idea what the next card is, poor play will have no consequence on the game in general. Unfortunately, it does influence the outcome of "your hand," which leads me to third - playing perfect basic strategy.
Blackjack is a unique casino game because it allows players to make playing decisions that will affect the outcome of their bet. Poor play will allow the casino to have a 4-5% edge over the average player. If however you learn perfect basic strategy, that edge can be reduced to well under 1%, making it a terrific wager and one of the best player bets in the casino. Now if the thought of breaking even against the house does not offer you ample monetary incentive to take the time to learn basic strategy, maybe knowing that you will place yourself in the 99th percentile among all players will, as less than one in every 100 players uses perfect basic strategy.

19. A - Is using your brain illegal? No. Unfortunately, when it comes to card counting, the casino would prefer you check your brain at the front door. So though not illegal, what the casino can and will do is bar the counter from playing and back you off the game. If you're going to play this cat and mouse game to gain a one-percent-plus advantage, expect a pit bull (boss) to come and pleasantly say, "Sir, we appreciate your patronage but we're going to ask you to stop playing blackjack here. Feel free to play any of the other table games we offer." (Yeah, like games that have a house advantage higher than the interest rate you pay on your Visa card.)
Fortunately not all casinos bar counters. Atlantic City, by law, cannot run you off. Instead, they impose tougher blackjack rules, multi-deck games and limit deck penetration to keep the skilled counter at bay. Though many in the industry believe the casino has every right to back off proficient players, I personally feel the minuscule amounts lost to card counters are trivial compared to the money made from the uninformed masses of poor players - not to mention bad counters.

20. C - The casino knows the average Joe/Josephine doesn't play through their money just once but keeps playing their tray (credit) return over and over again during the course of their stay. That's why finding higher payback machines is so important. Example: On a 93% return machine if you were to play your entire $100, you can expect back, "in theory," $93. Of course, the casino anticipates your playing the $93, so expect a return of $86. Put in the $86, and your return will be $80. Play through the $80, get back, $74. Can you now see how the casino is grinding away at your crispy Ben Franklin?
Now, using the same example on a machine returning 98.5%, put in $100 and get back $98.50. Play that, and you'll get $97 back. Put in the $97, expect a return of $95. Of course this is all based on a pre-programmed computer chip in the slot, but see how much better it is to play the higher payback machines? It keeps you in action much longer, long enough possibly to hit a decent jackpot.

21. B - Splitting eights against a 10 is a phantasmal hand that stalks most players like Marley's ghost. But blackjack is a game where the proper hit, stand, splitting and doubling decisions are necessary in order to cut the house edge down to a minimum. These proper decisions are called basic strategy and have been arrived at by computer simulations of millions of hands.
But fallacious logic tells you that splitting this hand creates two losers. Seems every time you split those eights you get, at best, two 10s. Then the dealer always has a nine or 10 in the hole, and bang, the jingling you hear is not Marley's forged chains but all your money falling into the dealer's tray.
So what happens to the average player? He starts deviating from basic strategy because FEAR sets in. The FEAR is actually False Evidence Appearing Real. FEAR camouflages the logic of computer studies. But according to basic strategy, the proper move is to split 8s if the game you're playing doesn't allow surrender. Why? Because you will lose more money in the long run if you
hit instead of splitting. Mathematically, when you just hit the hand, you will lose $51 for every $100 wagered. However, if you split, you will lose $44 for every $100 bet. A seven dollar difference for every hundred dollars wagered. Granted, it's a character builder to come out of pocket with additional money, but the key behind basic strategy is: Win more money not necessarily more hands.

22. C - One thing a player who has been around gambling for any length of time knows is that the streaks can and will happen. It is one of the many life lessons you learn in the casino. Gambling, like life, is loaded with streaks. Many gamblers bet streaks so they won't get emotionally involved in bucking a trend. And when you are on one, oh the joys of telling your friends and family.
But along with the above advice comes this caveat. For a gambling analogy, note the agate type at the bottom of a mutual-fund advertisement. "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." In other words, just because red appeared five times in a row, that does not mean it will happen again. Assuming you are playing on an unbiased wheel, the ball has no memory, and red can appear again or not for the next 20 spins.

23. C - Anytime pit bosses or casino hosts offer you anything, they're not going out of their way to be overly friendly, but your level of action probably warrants some casino perks. Meaning, your cash play deserves a comp, and since they're asking, you should start taking.
Your reply, from this moment forward, should be immediate and direct. "As a matter of fact, there is," you should reply. "What are the chances of you comping me a dinner?" Why do you have to be forceful? Because even though most floor personnel have some form of comping authority, you generally have to initiate the request. There are times that you'll find your frontline pit boss can't board you for the night or allow you to go on a champagne and escargot feeding frenzy in their gourmet restaurant, but a buffet or a show room pass is within their limits. If they balk, the standard "Maybe I should take my patronage next door" always seems to work. Strike when they ask, because if your bankroll or bet size spirals downward, the casino's gratuity will probably wane accordingly.

24. A - Nowhere is it written - in the U.S. Constitution, the Talmud or the Nevada Revised Statutes - that the money you win at any neon carpet joint is still the property of the casino. Treat all winnings as YOUR hard-earned money.

25. C - Do you think you have much of a chance of winning in a casino when Bob Stupak, a major casino operator in Las Vegas, was quoted in US News and World Report saying; "We target everybody. That's the business I'm in. Money's money. What's the difference if it's a Social Security check, a welfare check or a stock dividend check." Or saying; "When we put 50 machines in, I always consider them 50 more mousetraps. You have to have a mousetrap to catch a mouse." He also said; "It's our duty to extract as much money from the customer as we can, and send them home with a smile on their face." In reality my friends, that's the truth of it.