Speed Kills

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What do you think of shuffle machines? Susan C.

Personally, Susan, I do not like them at all, in spite of these shuffle mechanisms finding wide acceptance by casino operators and players alike. With a shuffle machine, dealers do not have to waste time manually shuffling cards. From the casino perspective, time is money. The more hands you are dealt per hour, the better. From a player’s perspective-your perspective-speed kills in a casino environment. The more times you are exposed to the house advantage, the more it will wreak havoc on your bankroll. I recommend playing each hand correctly with the lowest table limit you can find and with the fewest decks possible. These conditions force the dealer to shuffle more, which, with smart play, keeps your exposure to the casino’s edge at a minimum.

Is there any value in counting cards at video poker? I figure that if I count down the 10s and face cards, I will better my chances of when to bet five coins for the royal flush. David M.

In past columns, David, I have exhausted in depth the reasons why you should always play all the coins required to get the bonus money. As for counting the cards down, spare yourself the effort. Each hand is dealt from a freshly randomized deck. No card counting strategy can yield a higher payback for video poker, since each hand dealt is independent of all preceding events. Your advantage against the casino comes from knowing how to select the best cards to hold and to discard.

Next month I am going on my first cruise. Do you happen to know what the return is on the slot machines? Do cruise ship slots have the same payback as casinos in the U.S.? Carl C.

Before setting sail, Carl, know that you are over your head in such waters, as your chances of winning on a cruise ship are less than in most casinos in all major U.S. gaming jurisdictions.

Because no gaming commission or other governmental agency oversees gambling on cruise ships, there is no way of knowing how much cruise ship slot machines return. In speaking with some friends who were former casino executives on cruise ships, the inside scoop is that most machines return between 80-92%. Besides selling a sailing vacation experience, these flotillas of chance increase on-board revenue by maximizing the amount of money taken in from the casino. The casinos, Carl, are one of the biggest money makers for the cruise lines. The sinking feeling you may experience while on the briny deep will most likely come from the lower (than shore-based casino’s) payout on slots.

Is there ever a case where you would break up a hand that had four cards to the royal flush? I was dealt one but instead kept a straight flush (9, 10, J, Q, K of spades). Did I play it right or should I have dumped the 9 and gone for the ace? Karen S.

You made the correct move, Karen. If you have a hand that contains four cards to the royal flush, you should always discard the lone aberrant card and draw to the royal with two exceptions: (1) a naturally dealt straight flush or (2) four-of-a-kind. Your “pat” straight flush is considerably more valuable than four cards to a royal.

Gambling thought of the week: “My advice to the unborn is, don’t be born with a gambling instinct unless you have a good sense of probabilities.” Jack Dreyfus of Dreyfus Mutual Fund

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