Gambling City

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Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I go to Atlantic City about two times a month, stay overnight and lose a bundle. I just love it. My question: I play a “Reel- em-in” 25-cent slot machine. Now you can bet up to 45 quarters on these machines. Well, after losing so much money, I found these same machines in the nickel denomination. Now I find that I can play 45 nickels and it is only $2.25 a hand compared to $11.25 a hand on quarter machines.

Would it be better to play a dollar slot with 2 coins in ($2) or play the nickels at $2.25 with 45 nickels in? Same with the quarter slots. Play with 45 quarters at $11.25 a hand or play a $5 slot with 2 coins in ($10.00)? I always believed the higher the denomination, the better your chances of winning. Please give me your feedback.
L. K.

You have many questions, Loretta, but let’s start with “lose a bundle and just loving it.” I can’t help but think: are you really enjoying it when you’re losing? Taken as known, the casino has only two goals: separate you from your money and put a smile on your face while they are doing it. Evidently with you they have achieved their objective.

Your manner of play creates this scenario. Insert multiple coins, play for a short while, lose, go home. Essentially, you are aggravating an already poor situation by risking more, at a much faster rate, on a game with a high negative expectation.

For every dollar you play, Loretta, the casino is going to keep around nine cents, and it doesn’t matter whether you pump in 5 or 45 quarters. This is a certainty for two reasons. First, slot machines are pre-programmed to return a certain percentage to the player and second, New Jersey casinos, by law, make public the average percent of each wager that is returned to the player.

Quarter machines (25¢) in Atlantic City return on average 90.5 cents of each dollar played compared to 91.7 on a dollar machine. Hardly a break on the Jersey Shore when you bump up to a higher denomination machine. Furthermore, weigh the 90.5¢ return on Jersey’s quarter machines against the following gaming jurisdictions and you’ll notice that Atlantic City slot machines are no bargain: Colorado 94.1; Illinois 92.4; Iowa 92.4; Nevada 94.7. My gambling recommendation to you is as follows: Bet much, much less, like nickel or quarter machines with a five coin maximum, or make nominal wagers on a few of the smarter bets I suggest weekly in this column. Then, write me back and let me know how much more you enjoy gambling when you break even for a trip or, better yet, actually win and put a few of the casino’s dollars in your purse.

Dear Mark: I would like to know the correct basic strategy play for a soft 18. I learned that when one has an ace/seven, the smart play is to stand on a dealer's 2, 7, 8, and hit all others. With my limited mathematical skills, I have come to accept this as correct. However, I still get looks from dealers when I play out the hand. What do you think?
S. L.

Your play is nearly correct. An ace-seven is one of those problematic hands about which numerous experts disagree. The overall consensus is to stand on 2, 7, 8; double down when playing rules that allow it against a 3-6; and hit against a 9 or 10 count card. But against an ace the pros are neatly divided between hitting and standing. I side with the half that recommends hitting versus standing when fronting an ace.