Opportunity of a lifetime

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You recommend always playing the full coin amount when playing progressive machines. I only wish my wife had heeded your advice when she put one coin in a $250,000 progressive and hit the big jackpot. Her payout was just pennies compared to the possibility of an early retirement. Hopefully, this misfortune does not fall on a future reader. Jeff R.

The one-coin cataclysm of playing a progressive and hitting it occurs more often than you can ever imagine, Jeff.  Readers take note: Next time you are in a casino, look closely at a progressive slot machine: Most machines will indicate how many coins the last player had inserted before leaving the machine. The indicator remains that way until the next player comes along and inserts more coins. I have walked past innumerable progressives over the years revealing that the past player, perhaps Jeff’s wife, had improved the shining hour for the casino by tossing in one coin.

The main reason for playing a potentially life-altering progressive machine is that the jackpot can actually reach a size in which the player has a positive expectation. This does not mean the house suddenly loses its huge built-in edge, only that the money deposited earlier with no one hitting the “big one” has pushed the jackpot to the point where it overpays. Note that when a progressive jackpot is hit, despite its size, the money being paid out is collected from previous losing players, like Jeff’s wife (I don’t mean to rub it in, Mrs. Jeff. I’m sure you feel horrible) and held by the casino in trust for the eventual winner who was keen enough to play all the coins allowed.

You briefly mentioned in your Best Bets column that us lost souls who want to play roulette should find a table that has the “en prison” rule. What did you mean by en prison? Tim M.

The French word en prison means that if you’re playing an even money outside wager, and the next number called is either green 0 or 00, the dealer won’t whisk away your losing chips. Instead, he will put a small marker on top of your wager. They call this en prison (or “surrender” for those of us who never took a second language) because your bet is temporarily captured until the outcome of the next spin. On the next spin if black or the green 0s appear, you would lose your original wager. If red reappears, the dealer will remove the en prison marker and you are free to either pick up your bet or let it ride. Essentially, en prison gives you second chance of not losing your wager when 0 or 00 appears. Using this simple rule allows the house edge to drop from 5.26% to 2.63%. Better yet, Tim, find a European game (single zero) with the en prison rule and you have unearthed one of the better plays in the casino. Here, the casino advantage is reduced to 1.35%.

Is it true that smart players have a better chance of hitting a royal flush in video poker on any given draw than the average tourist who plays once a year? Jennifer G.

The experienced gambler has no better chance of hitting the royal than your typical tourist, but the skillful player does hold an advantage over a wondering wayfarer in the ability to choose machines that are statistically the best to play, and in skillful decisions in playing each hand. This strategic combination can virtually eliminate the house advantage, allowing the canny gambler to ride the machine a whole lot longer than can the once-a-year visitor.

Gambling thought of the week: “Gamblers play just as lovers make love and drunkards drink-blindly and of necessity, under domination of an irresistible force.” -Anatole France, The Garden of Epicurus (1926)

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