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Al Moe

Casino Gambling

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How Far Will You Go To Gamble?

Saturday April 19, 2014

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike about five miles to get to a little variety store in Pleasant Hill, California to buy baseball cards. It was the only place that carried them in my neck of the woods, but the weather in Northern California is great and the ride was fun. Sometimes a friend rode with me and while we never had more than enough money for one or two packs of cards, we didn't care. Sometimes we got shut out and they had no cards left. It was a gamble, but we didn't mind.

Sometimes we bought a pack and it had cards we already had! Bummer. A losing gamble, but it was still worth the ride. How far did you walk or ride to buy candy, a soda, or some baseball cards when you were a kid? Was it worth the trek? Was it worth the gamble? I lived in Japan for two years and never saw a baseball card, so when the family got back to California I remember borrowing my uncle's bike and riding seven or eight miles to a 7-Eleven (there's that craps number, hmmm) and since they had no baseball cards I bought a Slurpee with a baseball player on it. Two days later I did it again. Still worth the trip.

Not everyone gambles for the same reason, but the high and excitement is often worth a bit of a drive. Now I wouldn't drive all the way from Seattle to check out the casinos of Alaska, because it's just too far. Heck, it's almost 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Sitka just to play bingo, but I digress.

I have traveled 550 miles by car for a single evening of gambling. Is that crazy? How far would you go to gamble? How far do you travel on a regular basis? I'm just saying...............it might be a long way, and it's probably worth it, right?

Phil Ivey in Another Multi-Million Dollar Baccarat Dispute

Sunday April 13, 2014
Photo Courtesy (Getty Images) Photo Courtesy (Getty Images)

Poker pro Phil Ivey is neck-deep in another casino baccarat dispute, this time involving a $9.6 million win at the Borgata in Atlantic City. After having more than $10 million withheld by a London casino in a similar dispute, the player's use of all available information again comes into question. According to the Borgata, Ivey took advantage of the poorly-cut playing cards, some of which had full-circles at the end of the card (on the back) and some only had a quarter or a half, and those cuts were on specific card values. This type of scam has been going-on for 100 years, with many Nevada stories where blackjack players took similar advantage and either high-lowed decks, or were able to guess the value of the next card when the dealer exposed too much of the back of the deck.

There are two major things that jump out at me with this story. The first, if it is true that Ivey and his accomplice did actually have input on the arrangement of the cards (it is alleged they told the dealer which way to turn cards so they could see the top of the small circles and may have influenced their arrangement), then they are out and out cheats in my book - but of course that's for the court of law and public opinion to decide. The second issue is that if this is indeed what happened in London, what the heck is wrong with the Borgata? You know the issue is possible and you keep using playing cards with the potential for theft? OMG.

As for poker play and the use of all available information, that's what makes a player great. Whether you are reading your opponent to guess their hand, or just figuring pot odds to decide on a call, raise or fold, that's what it's all about. Phil Ivey has shown he is one of the best poker players in the world because he takes in all information and uses it to his advantage. If the casino offers a game where he can see the defects and profit - well shame on them. If he steered the cards to increase that advantage - shame on him, and wow, is that disappointing!

Roll the Dice

Friday April 11, 2014

I took my kids to a carnival recently and was surprised to see a version of Crown and Anchor, which is a popular three-dice game played in some casinos, especially in the Bahamas. It's virtually the same as Hoo Hey How, which is played in China, Malaysia, and Thailand, but you don't see it very much in the US.

The game reminded me of a carnival way back in my mind, way back when I was a kid in Ohio, and a field my buddies and I played baseball on was turned into a field full of rides, ring-tosses, and some very questionable games nobody seemed to win at. However, there was also one game that caught my interest (yeah, big surprise, right?) because it was an out-right gambling game. The game had two big dice sitting at the top of a slide and players bet on the number being low, medium, or high (for an even-money payoff), or on 7. As if the hold on the total number wasn't bad enough, the payout on a roll of 7 was just 4 to 1. I had dimes. I had no idea how the odds worked. I had youth and inexperience on my side. Yup, I was the rube they were looking for, and I decided to use my own system of just betting more and more until 7 rolled.

After playing for a while my system clearly wasn't working. So I kept playing. The guy in charge even said, "Kid, why don't you try the dart game, this isn't a very good game for you," but I persisted, and then the dice gods smiled on me. After that, 7 rolled almost continually. I bet more and more, until my original carnival stake of $2.60 was over $10. Then, unlike so many casino gamblers before me, I quit. I took my bucks, bought snacks and soda, lucked into a big stuffed animal, and walked home when my money dwindled down to $5.20 - double my starting cash.

Is there a moral there? Sure. When you have no clue about a game but get lucky, do yourself a favor and get out when you make some money, then learn the rules!.

Beating the old Snatch and Grab Poker Game

Friday April 4, 2014

Long ago and far away in the land of '60's and 70's Vegas Poker, there were plenty of poker games to choose from. Not like today, oh no, but still you had a choice. Unfortunately, the choices weren't great, since several of the games were what is affectionately remembered as Snatch and Grab games. That meant the dealer pretty much snatched whatever rake they wanted from each pot and stuck it in the rack. Not all games had a drop box for the rake. I recall hearing from older dealers that they would sometimes rake as much as 50% from drunk or unsuspecting players. That's terrible, but some of today's games aren't any better. In fact they are actually worse, because they get twice as many hands out per hour so the hourly amount taken off in rake is probably higher!

Now I know we can't expect poker games to be as low cost as baccarat, with a 5% commission on winning bets for a tiny house edge of 1.06%, but the rake on some poker games these days is getting ridiculous. Even the new poker table game of Three Card Baccarat has only a 2.41% house edge. I can certainly live with that, and, it's available in places where baccarat hasn't been legalized or approved. That's cool. What's not cool is paying 20% in rake per hand of poker.

I play mostly $1-$2 no limit. $2-$5 if the game looks good. I'm not too happy with limit, especially a game like $2/$4 or $3/$6, because I don't know how anybody can beat the game. I played in a $4/$8 game the other day at Ft. McDowell (Arizona) casino because they had a $300 aces cracked promotion. That's worth a drive, so there I was for a few days. Unfortunately they rake $7 from a $30 pot for the jackpot bank and the drop. That's more than a 23% rake. The promo made it worthwhile, but would I play regularly? Even if I had nowhere else to play at that limit it would be a tough go.

So, I played at Wild Horse Pass last night, still in Arizona. It's a nice room, I've been there before, except there was a wait list for the $2-$200 spread limit game (no-limit isn't allowed in Arizona, so the highest game is $5 to $500 spread), so I just took the first seat and ordered fried rice. The food was awesome. The players were friendly and ready to gamble, the dealers were good, and the rake was impossible to beat. More than one dealer raked $4 ($2 bonus pool, $2 drop) at $18, which is 22%. At $24 the total rake was $5 and when the pot reached $30 they pulled the last dollar. That rake isn't exclusive to Arizona, don't get me wrong, but how does any casual player beat a game with a 20%+ rake?

There has got to be a happy medium where the players aren't gouged to such a degree. I wouldn't mind a $1 jackpot pop and a $3 per pot rake. If the average pot was $40 the cost would be 10%. That's livable for players. I know we can't go back in time to the rake the games had 20 years ago when most tables were 10% to $2 max, but can't we get close?

I played long enough to enjoy my dinner, enjoy the players, get my Kings and Queens cracked, and watch $200 get raked off the table, not by the players, but by the house - in an hour. I guess I'm lucky to play mostly no-limit, were that rake isn't 20% of every pot. So, the obvious question is, do any of you have a preference at your casino? Would you rather have big jackpots and pay a 20% rake, or would you rather have little or no jackpots and pay 10%?

Ever wish you could start over again?

Monday March 31, 2014

I've played so many poker tournaments where I trap myself with a so-so hand and get all-in, only to find that the player I'm up against really does have the nuts. I should be smarter than that, but there's that patience bug-a-boo. I just get sick of waiting for the perfect starting cards and most of the time I lament not being able to start the hand over!

I did learn a new casino game that let's you start over, much like when you take that bad swing on the first hole playing golf and send your ball 175-yards south-southwest of the fairway and into some dense green forest. At golf, if you are playing with your buddies, they'll let you take a mulligan and start over. That's nice. The new game of Three Card Mulligan has a similar option for when you hate your drive and you get to start over with three new cards. It's like Three Card Poker with an option to spend more money and start over again. For those of you who are divorced, you know the drill!

Anyway, at the new table game, you'll find that the mulligan option helps about half the time! As for the old poker tournament game, I'm sticking with a three-part plan: under the gun - no hands; next four spots - pair of 8's or better and AK only; cut-off/button and blinds, you'll have to wait and see. That's pretty cut and dried, but I'm giving it a try. If you see me at the table, you've got an idea of what's up my sleeve, so good luck to us both!

Notice my Fingers never leave my Hands!

Sunday March 30, 2014

When I was a kid my family often went to Chinatown in San Francisco to shop and have lunch or dinner. One time I remember hearing some old men talking in Cantonese and asking my grandfather what they were saying. He had been in the CIA and was fluent in several dialects after spending several years in China, but he said he couldn't understand them.

Later, we went to my great aunt's house in Oakland where I played a slot machine for a while and my grandfather came downstairs and told me how much the Chinese liked to gamble - including in Chinatown. With my parents safely upstairs, I got the scoop about the underground casinos in San Francisco, and the favorite game the men in the restaurant were talking about called Fan Tan. Then, he showed me a picture of the game. It looked impossible to understand with Chinese symbols all-over the layout and hundreds of little pink tiles scattered across the table. I didn't learn until later that the game is really very easy to play, but he did give me a lesson in gaming:

He said, "never play in a game where the dealer's hands move too quickly for you to see completely what they are doing." An experienced Fan Tan dealer moves at the speed of light, but that doesn't mean they know how to scoop just the right number of tiles (beads) to change the outcome, but it was good advice. When I got older and played poker for more than a few bucks I did run into some pretty shifty characters, including a fellow who sometimes fumbled with his chips or fumbled with the cards, but dealt seconds like nobody's business. The fumbling was an act I guess, fooled me for weeks. Bummer! Today, it's nice to have lots of safe casino poker rooms to play in these days!

Miles and Miles without a Casino

Friday March 28, 2014

If you love to travel by car, you know the old back roads of America, including famous Route 66 and other highways that still give a glimpse of what the US was like 50 years ago. That's pretty cool. I've traveled nearly everywhere in this country, most of the vacation meandering by car, and these days you can find casinos most everywhere. Occasionally there might be a stretch or two where you can whet your whistle, get a bite to eat, and find lodging that isn't within shouting distance of a slot machine, but not many. You can take I-10 all the way from Los Angeles, California to Jacksonville, Florida, but you'll have to get off the highway once in a while to enjoy the old scenery, and, you'll find a few places without casinos!

Now Texas is probably the largest place to find yourself without a slot handle to pull, but also find yourself on a long road-trip after you get through Mississippi, which has plenty of casinos, and the eight places to gamble in Alabama, you can go all the way to the eastern shore of South Carolina without so much as a single jackpot. Tennessee (north of Alabama) and then Georgia and South Carolina are a few of the states holding out against gaming in casinos. Bummer.

Going south of the no-casino states, Florida has been trying to get open gaming legalized since the Sunshine State build dozens of hotels with HUGE lobbies ready for casinos in the 1960's. Today there are more than 30 places to gamble in Florida, from Native American casinos to race tracks, Jai Alai spots, and Racinos. Will the US someday have casinos in every state? Probably. Right now there is some form of gaming in all the states except Hawaii and Utah, and I wouldn't bet against Hawaii forever.

IRS Gives the Shaft to Table Games Jackpot Winners!

Wednesday March 26, 2014

A big gambling win or jackpot can really hit you in the funny bone, especially when it comes to taxes. If you didn't know it, the IRS demands that you claim any gambling winnings as income. Unfortunately, you can't just deduct your loses from your wins and claim your new amount. Instead, you claim the winnings on line 21, form 1040, and then to claim loses up to (but not exceeding, bummer) your win, you take a deduction for the amount you lost in "gambling losses," on schedule "A." Is that a problem? Yes!

The problem is that you have to itemize your deductions to claim the losses! And, you have to keep good records of your wins and loses! If they aren't correct, or you don't know if you won or lost, you could lose thousands of dollars. Of course your problems may be alleviated or exacerbated if you hit a jackpot and have taxes withheld on the spot!

The Shaft

And here is where the IRS gives the shaft to table game players who enjoy blackjack, Pai Gow, and even Let-it-Ride. If you play the bonus bet on any table game and hit a jackpot with a payoff of $5,000 or more, the casino is required to automatically withhold 25% of your payoff! According to the IRS, the casino must "Withhold at the 25% rate if the winnings minus the wager are more than $5,000 and are from: Sweepstakes, Wagering pools, Lotteries, or other wagering transactions, including transactions involving horse races, dog races, or jai alai, if the winnings are at least 300 times the amount wagered. Do not withhold at the 25% rate on winnings from bingo, keno, or slot machines. Also, do not withhold on winnings from any other wagering transaction if the winnings are $5,000 or less."

What that all means is that if you hit a $10,000 jackpot on a slot machine, or at Keno or Bingo, you get paid the whole amount. If you play Pai Gow and hit a progressive jackpot for $10,000 then the casino withholds $2,500 and pays you $7,500. Then, you have to itemize deductions to get that amount back! So, maybe that's good, since you won't be scrambling to come up with the money to pay your taxes on April 15, or maybe it's bad, because you can't itemize to get that money back is you are actually a net loser for the year!

Let's say you do win that $10,000 and have $2,500 withheld, and you are single with no other deductions, but you can prove you have a net loss for the year, even after that $10,000 win - and you can do it with correct records and a copy of your wins and loses from the player's club desk, then what? The IRS says, tough, because to itemize, your deductions need to be substantial enough to exceed what your standard deduction amount is. Hmmmm. I'm not a tax expert, but it seems you just get the shaft here! Anyone have a solution for the poor jackpot winner who finally hit it big, but can't itemize, or who would have a higher deduction without itemizing?

Why Baccarat is Big Money for Casinos

Friday March 21, 2014

Contrary to what some players think, a large casino cruses along with average bettors helping to defray the costs of business, but it's the handful of big players that make or break a club. In fact, even a large casino can be impacted by the monster bets made by the biggest players, and their favorite game right now is baccarat. If you ever hand questions about baccarat, don't feel bad, so do a lot of players.

In a nut-shell, baccarat as offered in most casinos is really Punto Banco, where you simply choose the Player or the Banker to win each hand, but the house edge is a tiny 1.06 percent, so big players put their big bets where they think they'll do the best! Some funny things have happened over the years at the bac tables, including a terrible weekend with $100,000 per-hand players at Harrah's Tahoe where they lost $3 million and shut the room down in frustration after the player left.

Another lucky player won $5 million at high-stakes mini-baccarat at the Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City a couple years ago, and he single-highhandedly put the casino in the red for the weekend. Of course by the end of the month they were just down 16 percent in revenues for the month!

Atlantic City isn't new to big bac play, back many years Trump Plaza used to cater to Akio Kashiwagi, who played $100,000 a hand for months on and off, until May of 1990 when he was allowed to bet $1 million each hand. By the end of his stay he was down just 10 bets, but that's $10 million to you and me!

More recently, poker pro Phil Ivey Poker champion Phil Ivey lost $80,000 playing at Crockfords casino in London, then returned with a female friend and had a dream (nightmare) session at Punto Banco, winning $11 million. Unfortunately, the casino refused to pay, stating there was possible collusion and Ivey's friend had recently had her membership at another casino revoked. Eventually Ivey got his buy-in of nearly $1 million back, but that's the last I've heard on that case. Anyone? Yeah, Baccarat can be weird!

Atlantic City Trop Gets a Facelift

Wednesday March 19, 2014

In this city by the sea, across the bridges and sitting on sand, the boardwalk at Atlantic City has held the public's interest for more than 100 years. The casinos have come and gone, the gamblers, the ramblers, the con men and the ladies of the evening have had their time, and while the Atlantic ocean breezes blow harsh, the citiy's casinos need occasional upkeep to polish their veneers. Today, it's the Tropicana that's getting a facelift, and thank goodness.

I happen to like the Trop, and know several people that worked there for years. They don't anymore. I also know several players who loved the property and played there regularly. They don't anymore. Don't blame the Trop, blame Atlantic City. Blame the new casinos in Pennsylvania. Blame storms, blame the economy, blame me for noting the city's struggles. And, if you're in the area, throw a few dollars their way if you get a chance. They're going to spend $35 million sprucing up and designing a light show and new views of the beach and boardwalk from FIN's restaurant, and that's just what Atlantic City should celebrate: the beach and the boardwalk.

The town, as beaten and scary as it was in the 1970's, was all about restaurants and the beach. Work on that and maybe gamblers will become loyal again. The town's dozen casinos were King of the East in the 1980's, but how do you compete with new gaming areas and new casinos? How do you compete with 200+ casinos in Nevada, or 100 (alright, 99 to be exact) in Oklahoma for goodness sake? Even Arizona, where the weather is wonderful and the sun shines everyday has twice as many choices (again, 26 to be exact) as the fading, faltering little old lady by the sea!

Can the casinos of Atlantic City be saved? No, not if you want what once was. Certainly a resort like the Borgata will always shine, but many of the others, well, they can only exist, dictated to by simple economics. When the Trop announces a $35 million refurbishing it's good to hear, but hard to get excited about, mostly because the dollars being spent are about 1/3rd of what the Revel down the block lost in it's first year, just a drop in the bucket to the largest casinos in the US. Too bad, but that's what happens when there's a casino on every corner. Good luck Trop, see you on the flip-side.

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