Casualties of the Progressive Wars

Every month or two I take a discretionary $20 and play the progressive quarter slots, hoping to hit the big jackpot of a few hundred thousand. (Would like to leave my kids something). I have frequently won a few hundred but put it back in, hoping for the big one. Am I being realistic or foolish? Dick M.

Dick, granted that there’s no law against being foolish, there are still two significant deficiencies in your playing strategy, and in view of your familial aim, one of them might rise to the level of culpability.

The first is in not quitting when a few hundred dollars ahead. Better to stash the century note for the kids and play on with whatever is left. The other big flaw is in thinking that gambling could rationally be a part of any investment portfolio. (I’m overlooking Enron, of course.)

On the plus side, you are paying with discretionary income, and there is nothing wrong with having a little fun, at $20 a pop, so long as your bets remain within your means. No surviving casino that I know of has ever returned money to the player who lost more than he could really afford to lose.

Casinos can only be beaten, Dick, by astute players who patiently settle for small victories, like your few hundred. With knowledge of the odds, probabilities, and correct strategies, you can eke out small wins, but no such luck when it comes to funding your own or your heirs’ retirement accounts by trouncing progressive slot machines. Can’t happen.

Playing progressives is a colorful but mortal combat against a supreme opponent with virtually infinite resources, who also stacks the deck: the probability of your hitting a progressive stands at 16,777,216 to one in the best case. And this, Dick, is the struggle that you have chosen to invest in? Tell me NO. Gambling on the off-chance of hitting a progressive for your progeny compares with David squaring off against Goliath, shy the slingshot.

I find the casino atmosphere very intriguing, especially those who play losing blackjack. Were there certain players you could identify as being sure losers when you use to deal cards? Henry P.

Oh yeah! As a quondam dealer in my front-line gambling career, I must admit I have been endlessly charmed by the different breeds of player I have met over the years, even-or especially-the washouts. But, two strains of losing players are dead giveaways even to the novice dealer: the steamer and the fevered player. The “steamer” is a player who bets progressively higher after each loss, trusting to a system of complete inutility, that a moment’s calm thought would have shown to be worthless from the get go. The febrile or fevered player is on a gallop away from Hell- but on an oval track, poor fellow. He has a maniacal gambling habit, destined, no matter how much he wins, to give all the money back, plus a little.

When it comes to basic strategies in blackjack, which do you recommend learning; single or multiple deck? Gary G.

Basic blackjack strategy has two classifications-single and multiple deck. The choice between them depends on the rules of the casino where you plan on playing. If in Nevada, memorize the rules for a single-deck game, as the Silver State has plenty of casinos that offer a single deck game.

If your travels take you to Detroit, Atlantic City, or to any of the multitude of Indian Reservation casinos, then I would suggest memorizing the multiple-deck strategy, as most, if not all, the games in those jurisdictions deal from a multi-deck shoe.

Gambling thought of the week: “What you don’t bet you lose, when you win.” -Flip Wilson