Only one dog has his day

Dear Mark,
Are there any types of "reel" slot machines that can be mathematically beat? James M.

Theoretically yes, any "progressive" with a big enough jackpot can have a mathematical edge in your favor. Progressives are jackpots that continue to increase in size until someone finally wins. The trick is to find a jackpot that has grown large enough to overcome the machine's built-in edge. By shopping for value, you will occasionally find a progressive machine with this disproportionately large payoff. Keep in mind, James, that even if you do find a theoretically profitable machine, you will lose in the end, unless you hit the jackpot. There is only going to be one fortunate lucky dog while thousands of other luckless canines' feed the fortunate winner's monster payday.

Dear Mark,
I played a $2 five-spot and hit it solid for $1,500. Before I got my winnings, I was issued a tax form. Is $1,500 the legal limit on being taxed? Can I expect any help from the IRS? Larry C.

Larry, you have a legitimate beef with the casino where you hit your keno ticket, but not with the IRS. With respect to keno, the casino should only issue a W2-G for all winnings of $1,500 or more, less the cost of tickets bought on the winning game. So for your example, playing a $2 five-spot, you would knock the $2 off the $1,500 win, giving you a net win of $1,498, which should not have triggered a W2-G. Unfortunately, protesting to the IRS will not reduce your tax woes. According to the IRS, all winnings, from all forms of gambling, are taxable and must be declared on your tax return. And yes, Larry, they have already received a statement from the casino of your gambling win.

Dear Mark,
How about a short little refresher course on how to make a pass line bet in craps? It has been 20 years since my last casino visit and I don't want to look like an amateur once I'm on the crap game. Mary B.

For you, Mary, 30 seconds of craps tutelage is all that is needed. At the beginning of a roll, simply place a bet on the pass line. If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11, you win. If the shooter rolls a 2, 3, or 12, you lose. Stay with me, Mary. Now if the shooter rolls a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, that number becomes your (and his) point. For you and the shooter to win, he must now roll that number once more, before he rolls a 7. If he rolls a 7, everyone loses except for the casino owner, who follows his grin to the nearest Mercedes dealer.

Dear Mark,
I like to play nickel slots in Reno, Nevada. What do the machines return and what are your thoughts on some of the progressive nickel machines that have some huge jackpots? Stacy G.

Where you gamble, Reno, the average return is just over 93% on your typical nickel machines. As for playing slot machines like Nevada Nickel's, it's not too shabby a way to kill some time at three coins a pop, chasing a quarter million dollar jackpot. At 15 cents a whack, you can have a terrific time watching your money go up and down, mostly down, daydreaming of how you are going to spend $250,000.

Gambling thought of the week: "When I played pool I was like a good psychiatrist. I cured 'em of all their daydreams and delusions. -Minnesota Fats