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My wife and I have spent a good portion of the summer moving her mother from the East Coast to where we live. 

Parts of the process have been eye-opening. I am responsible for managing her finances and setting up accounts has been, well painful. 

It seems easy at first. I go online and create an account. I then set up some external accounts to move her money from the East Coast to more local firms. And then the fun starts. They beg you to create the accounts online and then when you do what seems like perfectly normal follow up transactions and they tell you that something doesn’t look right and you need to actually go into the firm to prove that you are you.

They claim it is all in the name of security. But two days later, they have a data breach and hundreds of millions of people’s data is stolen. It’s like they are watching the pennies with 100 security cameras, while they don’t notice someone has broken into the vault and stolen all the gold. 

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Well, that felt good to get off my chest, but there really is a connection to this week’s column. I think a lot of casino players do the exact same thing. Go to the Red Rock Buffet and you will see a lot of people waiting in line with the “buy one get one free” coupons. I’ll be honest, I use them too. For dinner, it will save you about $15, so that’s not a bad deal.  

Now, I wonder if they are as careful with their money when they are earning those coupons? 

First of all, are they picking the right games to play? If they’re playing slots, the answer is no. Slots average payback is about 93 percent. This compares to video poker which can have a payback near 100 percent. Even a ‘poor’ paying one will be in the 97 percent range.  

If you’re playing Blackjack, are you playing at a table that pays 3 to 2 for Blackjack or only 6 to 5? A $10 player playing for three hours will wager about $1,150. The difference between 3 to 2 and 6 to 5 over that time is about the same cost as the buffet.   

So, while you’re worrying about saving that $15 on the buffet, are you worrying as much about the $15 or more you’re giving away at the Blackjack table?  

In Expert Strategy, we have three components to our strategy. The first is knowing which games to play and this is exactly what I am talking about. If you sit down at a double-0 roulette table, you’re giving up an awful lot to the casino compared to a lot of other games. If you’re playing a less than full-pay video poker machine, you’re playing right into the casino’s hands. You’re earning a $15 buffet while you’re losing $50 more than you have to playing the wrong game. 

The second part of Expert Strategy is knowing the right strategy to play.  Obviously, you should be playing the games with the highest paybacks. But, even if you are not, you still need to play the right strategy. So, you found a 3 to 2 Blackjack table, but you’re too timid to double on soft hands. Or maybe you don’t know which soft hands you’re supposed to be doubling on.  

These cases of not playing proper strategy can very well cost you as much if not more than picking the wrong table or machine in the first place. Pick the wrong machine and play the wrong strategy and the casino will be happy to hand you $15 buffets which you’ll effectively be paying $100 apiece for. 

This is essentially why the casinos hand out all sorts of freebies so long as you are willing to drop by and gamble often. The interesting part is the only piece of information that is relevant to the casino is the amount of money you gamble. This is not the amount of money you buy in at the beginning. They don’t care if you put a $20 or $100 in the machine. They care how many hands you play and how much you wager on each one. 

If I’m sitting there playing perfect video poker and the person next to me is playing like they’ve never seen a deck of cards and we both play 1,000 hands at 25 cents per hand, we’re both going to get credit for playing $250. We’re going to get the same cashback, comps, coupons, etc. 

Now, the casinos may look at your betting totals over a period of time to determine how much you’ll get, but they do not look at how good (or bad) of a player you are. 

So, this means that the proposition is not an either/or one. It is totally acceptable for you pick the game, play the right strategy and to use a coupon for the buffet. I do it all the time. 

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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