Low level poker rake can be expensive

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Marv A., like me, is a senior citizen who enjoys playing poker. Recently, at the gym, he was telling me about his home game.

He and his poker buddies meet once a week, rotating in each player’s home, and play $1-$2 limit hold’em. No one wins or loses a lot but they all have an enjoyable evening – a welcome break from the routine. The host provides refreshments.

Marv is intelligent and well informed. He has viable opinions on many matters. So I asked him why they don’t play in brick-and-mortar casinos. I have observed lots of empty tables on the nights I play at local casinos. While many members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group do visit local casinos – some also enjoy “playing against the tourists” in Las Vegas (“they are easier to beat”) – quite a few do avoid the casinos.

Why? Aside from the need to drive through heavy traffic to a casino, miles away, the general consensus is playing in a casino takes too much from the players’ chip stacks. This is especially so in the low-limit games most seniors – and many others – prefer to play.

Remember, they play for recreation and, perhaps, socializing with others. They thoroughly enjoy the challenge of the game – but sure hate to lose. A quick calculation concluded it costs each player, on average, about $22 per hour to play in the casino, seated at a table of nine players.

That includes the casino’s $4 rake, the $1 drop for the Bad-Beat Jackpot, and a $1 tip to the dealer per hand, based on playing 33 hands per hour – it could be more. And that “cost-to-play” further increases if the table is not full (more hands dealt and fewer players to spread the cost) or if it’s a tight table (smaller pots).

That’s a “big nut to crack,” one of our members, Peter B., emphasized. I have to agree. In fact, I have observed that most low-limit players in casinos leave broke and the costs do lessen the likelihood that any but the most skilled – and lucky – players enjoy a sizable win.

I explained the casino needs to earn revenues to stay in business. It has big expenses (paying off the mortgage, taxes and other debts; salaries to employees, utilities, repairs, maintenance and other operating costs) and should yield at least a modest return-on-investment for the owners.

But the fact remains that the cost to players, especially in low-limit games, is a rather high fraction of their buy-ins. In a recent column by Ashley Adams: “Why Am I Losing?” (Poker Player Newspaper, July 18, 2011), he estimated “an effective tax on winnings … as high as 20% or more.”

The minimum buy-in for a $3-$6 limit game is $30. (I recommend buying-in for at least double the required minimum.) Theoretically, then, with a cost of $22 per hour, unless a player takes several pots, he would likely go broke in a few hours.

Another way to look at it: If all nine players started with $60 in chips (a total of $540 on the table), in less than three hours none of the original buy-in money would be left on the table.

In the home game, on the other hand, a player could have a “bad night” and still go home only $25 out – or ahead by as much as $50 if he gets lucky. On average, if all players have equal skill, the only one who pays is the host for the evening who provides the refreshments; but that’s just a normal part of home entertainment for a group of friends.

Arizona Stu – a big winner at the poker table and a super entrepreneuer/businessman – offered this advice: Play in a bigger stakes game where the pots are bigger, and then the rake and tip are a smaller fraction of the pot. That’s true.

Problem is most of us play for recreation; if the stakes are high, we are prone to feel uncomfortable and hesitate to make the aggressive moves and brave calls the situation might demand.

So, what’s your opinion?

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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