By Max Fontana
The Need for Speed
Most players are aware of the fact that whenever they gamble in a casino, the house has an advantage over them. The size of this advantage, or “edge,” depends on the game; it’s different for Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and every other table game. Within each game are a myriad of different bets you can make, which all have their own odds. You can shave the house edge down to a minimum by learning to play correctly, and taking advantage of the smarter bets while avoiding the lousy ones.
But there’s another crucial factor which will impact your bankroll. This is the speed of the game, or the number of decisions (or bets) you place per hour. Some games are played much faster than others, which gives the casino far more opportunities to whittle away at your bankroll. Baccarat, for example, is normally played at a leisurely pace. Over the course of a playing session, you’ll place far fewer bets than you would while sitting at a Caribbean Stud table.
Roulette and Caribbean Stud have the same house edge (5.3%), but the Caribbean Stud player will lose, on average, 30% more money per hour than the Roulette player, because the game is played faster. At a crowded Roulette table, a player will wager on about 30 spins (or decisions) per hour. At a Caribbean Stud table, the number of decisions per hour is about 40. Sure, you might get on a hot streak and pile up wins faster, but on average, this sped-up play is going to wear down your bankroll. Remember, players depend on luck; casinos only need to depend on the math.
For this reason, casinos love fast games—the faster, the better. They also love fast dealers. At the Blackjack tables, you’ll often see Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSMs), which eliminate the need for the dealer to pause and shuffle cards. These devices allow about 20% more hands to be dealt per hour.
Slot Machines, the bread and butter of any casino, have also incorporated technology to speed up play. Years ago, you had to deposit coins one at a time, before every spin. Now, “coinless” slots allow you to feed bills into the machine and start hammering away at the buttons, enabling you to spin the reel hundreds of times per hour. These machines never run out of coins, (when you cash out, you receive a printed voucher), and never fill up, which used to require an attendant to come over and empty the machine. These factors speed up play further, which can decimate your bankroll quickly—and really kill you when you’re on a cold streak.
We’re all hoping to come out ahead whenever we sit down to gamble. But just as importantly, we’re looking to enjoy playing for as long as possible. If you’re going to play Blackjack, never play alone against the dealer. Sit at a crowded table, preferably one that doesn’t use a CSM. If you’re a Slots player, slow down, pace yourself, and enjoy the free cocktails. Whatever your game of choice is, always remember that the faster you’re betting, the more “exposure” you are giving the casino to your bankroll. Over time, the speed of a game can crush you faster than the house edge you’re up against.
The Art of Doubling Down
Blackjack is one of the best games in the casino for players—if you play correctly and utilize the special moves that are available to you. These moves include doubling down, splitting, and at some tables, surrendering.
The casino’s advantage over you in Blackjack comes from the fact that the player must act first. If you hit too many times and your cards total more than twenty-one, you “bust” and you lose your bet. No matter how lousy the dealer’s cards turn out to be, if you bust, you automatically lose.
Having to act first puts you at a major disadvantage. This rule alone would mean a whopping 8% edge for the house, and make Blackjack a terrible game. The great equalizer in Blackjack is that you have moves available to you that the dealer does not. If you play correctly and know when to double down and split your cards, you can reduce the house edge dramatically, making it almost an even proposition.
Let’s look at how to correctly double down. Doubling down means that once you receive your first two cards, you are doubling your bet and in return, you receive one more card. The purpose of doubling down is to capitalize in certain situations, and hopefully double your money. Let’s say your two cards are a 5 and a 6, for a total of 11. If the dealer is showing any card besides a 10 or an Ace, you’re in a prime position to double down. What you’ll do next is place a second bet next to your original bet, for the same amount. (If you’ve got a $10 bet on the table, place another $10 beside it.) The dealer will take this as a signal that you are doubling down, and give you one more card. In this case, you’re hoping to receive a ten (or a picture card, which is worth 10). This would give you a total of 21. Now, the dealer plays out his hand. If you wind up winning the hand, you will receive $20.
The risk of doubling down is that you only get one card. If the dealer was to give you a lousy card, (like a 2 or a 3), you’re stuck with that total. At that point, you’ve just got to hope that the dealer busts, in which case you’ll still win.
There are tons of web pages on the Internet that show Basic Strategy charts for Blackjack. These charts include the correct situations in which to double down. As a rule of thumb, when your first two cards total 10 or 11, this is when you should consider using this strategy. This is because a deck of cards contains a lot of cards worth 10, and if you double down and get one, you’ll be in an excellent position to win the hand and double your winnings.
Rewards & Risks of Casino Credit
Avoid casino ATM machines like the plague; their fees and service chargers are significantly higher than normal bank machines. If you’re a regular player and don’t want to carry around wads of cash, it’s much smarter to establish a credit line in your favorite casino. This means the casino will give you a short-term, interest-free loan whenever you want to sit down and play. Setting up a credit line is a fairly simple process, involving a short application and the casino verifying with your bank that you can pay off your loans (which the casino calls “markers”).
Just be aware, when you establish a credit line and request a marker, it’s the equivalent of you writing the casino a personal check. The amount of time a casino gives you to repay your markers depends on their size. (If it’s less than $1,000, you’ll get seven days.) If you fail to repay your markers within the allotted time, the casino will deposit your marker and the money will be withdrawn from the bank account listed on your credit application. If you don’t have enough money in your bank account to cover it, you’re bouncing a check, which is considered fraud, and you’ll face serious legal action. Casino credit can make gambling a lot more convenient, but never take this step unless you know you’ve got the funds to back up your bets.