Pros and cons of
low-stakes games

Feb 14, 2006 1:56 AM

There are two primary types of casino patrons, those who come for the experience (i.e., to play) and those who come to win. Limited stakes gaming as practiced in Colorado results in a hard nut to crack in terms of the latter.

The card games are especially difficult to conquer since, on most tables, the minimum and maximum bet are both $5. There is no room to increase one’s bet if the deck is positive or vice-versa.

What was truly surprising on my visit to Cripple Creek was that even the multi-game based video blackjack did not provide a "decent" game. One could not split pairs, surrender, double down at all, press the win (i.e., double or nothing), or receive anything but 1:1 payout for a natural blackjack.

I cannot claim to be an expert on 21 or to have ever "Beat the House", (the only M.I.T. I attended was "Mom I Tried" University), but these rules do not make for a "player friendly" game.

The reason the provision of this limited game is frustrating as a marketer is that it does not promote longevity of play nor loyalty to a property. A gambler must feel that although he is playing a negative expectation game, he still has a reasonable chance to win. Most individuals play badly enough (e.g., basic strategy ”¦ what’s that?) that the game rules do not need to tilt the advantage any more in the house’s favor.

Still, and in direct contrast to the majority of my gaming industry peers, I actually support loss limits and other measurements to keep gambling for entertainment purposes (especially in convenience and historical tourism arenas). Sometimes it behooves a government to act in loco parentis. Playing high stakes is not the end-all be-all of a trip to Colorado’s charmingly historic mining towns.

When the first casino boat cruised in Iowa, there was a calliope player on the roof deck and a $200 loss limit per cruise upon the historically themed boat to which one actually paid admission to board.

Missouri still has (phantom) cruises and a $500 loss limit per "cruise," although all of the vessels are either "boats in moats" or semi-permanently moored.

The spirit of the legislation has been corrupted.

At first in Missouri, only games of skill were allowed (i.e., those where an active decision must be made that affects outcome such a video poker or blackjack), then pure games of chance were allowed (e.g., random reward games such as roulette and RNG-based slot machines).

Finally, the river boat cruise that was intended to emulate the free wheeling days of Mark Twain no longer even had to leave the dock.

Of course, the eventual twisting of the raison d’etre of Missouri gaming allowed for multiple "boats" attached to a single property to avoid the "cruise time" regulations, and the latest perversion is a Pinnacle property being developed six city blocks away from the Mississippi riverfront in St. Louis where the casino is "within 1000 feet of the river or its tributary."

I truly do not believe that when individuals approved limited stakes gaming, they envisioned a building next to the football stadium with an existence justified by a trickle of water engineered to touch the gaming structure from the mighty Mississippi.

Just like the original trips on the Dubuque Casino Belle, where one actually could imagine the riverboat gamblers of old plying their trade, the historical mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek offer an element of history that supersedes the gaming experience.

Colorado must be sure not to start on the slippery slope of losing the respective town’s character in pursuit of the elusive increased gaming (and subsequent tax) revenue. Still a more equitable blackjack would allow those visiting to enjoy the experience a bit longer.

(David Paster serves as Strategic Database Manager with National Hirschfeld, LLC of Denver, Colo., a single-source printing, digital imaging and direct marketing company offering clients targeted solutions aimed at increasing profitability. He can be reached at [email protected])