No Eggheads Allowed

Dear Mark,
Is card counting illegal? Frank K.

Frank, is using your brain illegal? No. Unfortunately, when it comes to card counting, the casino would prefer you check your brain at the front door. So though not illegal, what the casino can and will do is bar the counter from playing and back you off the game. If you're going to play this cat and mouse game to gain a one percent plus advantage, expect a pit bull (boss) to come and pleasantly say, "Frank, we appreciate your patronage but we're going to ask you to stop playing blackjack here. Feel free to play any of the other table games we offer." (Yeah, like games that have a house advantage higher than the interest rate you pay on your Visa card.)

Fortunately, Frank, not all casinos bar counters. Atlantic City, by law, cannot run you off. Instead, they impose tougher blackjack rules, multi-deck games and limit deck penetration to keep the skilled counter at bay. Though many in the industry believe the casino has every right to back off proficient players, I personally feel the minuscule amounts lost to card counters are trivial compared to the money made from the uninformed masses of poor players, not to mention bad counters.

Dear Mark,
I have been following your advice and making casino bets that have less than a two percent house advantage. I now consider myself a reformed player. My blockhead brother on the other hand makes bets with no rhyme or reason. Since we both play craps, show me why my pass line bet versus his favorite bet, hardway sixes and eights, will always do better? Susan M.

Susan, by using a simple mathematical formula, I will prove that by playing smart, your play will generally outperform your brother's. Let's first analyze your action. A pass line bet, with no odds, has a house advantage of 1.4%. With a $5 wager and 50 playing decisions per hour, your theoretical loss (all bets lose over time) is $5 X 50 X 0.014, or $3.50 per hour. Relatively cheap entertainment. In comparison, your brother's bet, the hard six or eight, has a house advantage of 9.1%. The damage to his bankroll would be $5 X 50 X 0.091, or $22.75 in the same amount of time. Multiply that by 15 hours of play and you've got a sniveling, unhappy camper with a long car ride home. Sibling rivalry aside, glad to see you're reforming your play. Now let's convert the blockhead.

Dear Mark,
Before going to Las Vegas my sister filled out a dummy keno ticket and asked me to play it 20 times. On it she had the number 55 circled by itself and the numbers 10 and 20 circled together. Each ticket cost $3. What exactly was I playing? Robin C.

It's called a combination ticket, meaning different proposition bets on one keno ticket. The singular number circled, 55, was her "king number," which was to be played in combination with the other two numbers, plus played alone. She was playing a one spot (55), a two spot (10 and 20), and one three spot (10, 20 and 55). By the way, does your sister happen to be 45 and born on October 20?

Gambling thought of the week: "Treat people with courtesy, feed'em good. Cheap. Good whiskey cheap. And give'em a good gamble. That's all there is to it son." Benny Binion, deceased owner of Binion's Horseshoe, downtown Las Vegas.