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Closer look at Guaranteed BJ

Dec 10, 2007 3:04 AM

Las Vegas has changed a lot in the past two decades. I remember when you could wander up and down the strip and take advantage of all the coupon books and 25 cent hot dogs. Some of the coupons used to allow the player to get $100 worth of play for only $20 or the like. Of course, there was always a gimmick. While most of these offers have disappeared, it would appear that IGT is trying to bring back this type of offer with Guaranteed Play Blackjack.

Guaranteed Play Blackjack works like this: You pay $20 for 30 tokens and a stack of $5 chips that you are in essence ”˜borrowing’ because you need to pay these back at the end of your session. There are a variety of different buy-ins that you can do that allow you to wager different amounts. This particular offer allows you to wager $5 per hand.

For each wager you make, you also place down one token. If you double down or split, you also have to place down another token along with your $5 chip. Your token is taken whether you win, lose or push. When your tokens are gone, your session is over. You pay back the $5 chips you ”˜borrowed’ and whatever is left, if any, is yours to keep. So, in essence, you are getting $150 in play for $20.

Without even looking at the math, the whole concept did not sit well with me for one major reason: It would seem to change the experience from gambling to pay-per-view.

I am a strong advocate that gambling is merely a form of entertainment, but as such, a portion of this is the ability to win. This would seem to limit the downside risk (the most you could lose is $20) and at the same time, greatly limit the ability to win. The numbers proved me right.

I created a simulation that played sessions of 30 wagers. For simplicity, if the player needed a 31st token for a split or a double down, I allowed this. In actuality, the player would be forced to use real cash in this situation for the additional wager(s).

In my simulation, the player wound up losing money just over 46% of the time. He wound up losing more than $20 about 21% of the time. With Guaranteed Play, this means the player will lose only $20 in these 21% of the cases instead of the actual amount — which could be as much as nearly the entire $150 bankroll. At the same time, in the 16% of the cases in which the player only lost $5-$15, he will now lose the entire $20.

But, this is only half of the picture. The player will push about 10% of the sessions. With Guaranteed Play, this now becomes a $20 loss. In fact, the sessions in which the player wins $5-$15 will actually now become $15-$5 losses. This accounts for nearly 16% of our sessions.

From this point on, every winning session will have the total win reduced by the $20 buy-in. In the end, less than 20% of a player’s sessions will wind up as winners as compared to nearly 44% in traditional blackjack. In my opinion, this is a lot to give up.

To be fair, there are a variety of benefits of Guaranteed Play, especially for the novice player. Firstly, my simulation did not take into account the situations in which the player may have only $20 to wager, and once losing it, his session would end. In these cases, his loss limit would still be $20. He may also only play a couple of hands, instead of the roughly 30 hands as allowed with Guaranteed Play.

So, for a player with limited funds (i.e. a short bankroll), Guaranteed Play can allow him to play for an hour instead of potentially only a few minutes. Of course, the downside is that the Player is far more likely to lose. Hence, why I termed this ”˜pay per view’ — you’re paying $20 for the right to play Blackjack for roughly an hour, with only a 20% chance of winning.

My simulation also assumed perfect blackjack play. While over the years, the average Player has gotten much better, which is a major reason for the dismal hold percentages the past decade, many Players continue to play below expert level. In these situations, which traditional blackjack, the Player is more likely to have a losing session, which means he would benefit from Guaranteed Play because it limits is his loss. Of course, it also means that the likelihood of a winning session may all but disappear due to the improper use of strategy.

As someone who has preached learning proper strategy as a means of increasing the likelihood of winning in the casino, I have a tough time suggesting that players try this approach as a means of reducing their losses (although, it may do so for the beginner).

I would strongly suggest you take your $20 buy-in, buy a good book on blackjack (sorry, I haven’t written one of those — yet) and learn how to play the game at an expert level. In the long run, you’ll wind up much better off using this strategy.

Next week, I’ll cover a second alternative that is offered as part of Guaranteed Play that allows the player to place down two tokens for each wager, but the tokens are retained if the dealer does not beat the player.