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    This thing, you need. Run your smartphone for days.

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Entries in slots (3)

Wednesday
Nov182015

Why anti-gambling laws are stupid.

DFS players say that daily fantasy sports isn’t gambling because it’s a game of skill. Unfortunately, that argument sucks.

It is gambling. Of course it is. The typical DFS player will argue that if DFS is gambling, then the stock market is, too. They’re right. Both are gambling. But so is just about everything in life.

The argument is used primarily to try and dodge America’s ridiculous gambling laws. It goes, “if it’s a game of skill, it’s not gambling.” Wrong. Online Poker was banned in most states; it’s also a game of skill, but it’s definitely gambling.

However, (and though I’m not a fan) I appreciate Chris Christie’s line (regarding DFS): “Let people play, who cares?!”

It’s hypocritical for the government to allow gambling in most other areas of life but restrict it when bets are made on games. Yes, our government does tons of other hypocritical things… but why are we letting it?

Some may argue that gambling is a destructive, addictive habit — that the government should step up and protect people from themselves. I’m in the libertarian camp on this; I don’t believe that the government — especially Federal — should be stepping in to control and define morality whenever they feel like it.

Anti-gambling laws are stupid; it’s all about control and money. “I know better than you, so I’m going to force you to live the way I think is best.” DFS was just banned in Nevada. Why? Because DraftKings and FanDuel aren’t licensed by the state. No other reason other than “give us money.” It’s not like you can’t bet on sports here… in a sportsbook.

How everything in life is a gamble.

Gambling can be broken into three categories: pure chance, skill and chance, and pure skill. It’s all gambling.

Most people play “slot machines.” This is a pure luck-based game. A random number generator sets odds on the machine to pay out a certain amount a certain amount of the time (over a theoretically infinite number of bets). There is no set schedule, no hot or cold machines. Playing craps? Odds of rolling 12 is 1/36. Can it be thrown three times in a row? Of course. That’s variance. You could also roll 200 times and never throw 12. But over hundreds of thousands and millions of rolls, it will average out to approximately once every 36 throws. Slot machines run on similar math.

Other examples of slot machines: keno, bingo, lotteries, scratchers and roulette.

Most people gamble on everything else like they’re playing a slot machine.

Blackjack, Video Poker, Texas Hold’em, sports… games of skill that people just take a shot at without skill or much thought. These are games where there’s a mathematically correct thing to do; if you know this math and act on the knowledge (making a correct decision), you will have an edge (over acting randomly or making a suboptimal choice). But most people don’t care to make correct decisions — they just want the action. People do this with other life decisions, too.

But… so what?

Gambling, for most people, is entertainment. Like TV, an amusement park or a movie. All of those things cost money with close to a 0% chance you’ll make money while enjoying those activities. Looking at most gambling like other entertaining things makes sense; you pay money (place a bet) and some action happens (reels spin, numbers appear, cards are dealt).

Some people don’t see it that way. Those people are wrong.

I don’t tell you what shows you can or cannot watch — what business is it of yours to tell me or anyone else (adults) how we can spend our money? If you choose not to gamble on games, good for you, that’s probably a good decision. If you do gamble, good for you, too.

Yes, some people get addicted, and it’s very damaging. Some people skydive and plummet to their deaths. A better analogy; some people spend all day in front of the TV and slowly kill themselves in the process. Some people drink themselves to death. That doesn’t mean that we should ban any of those things. Individuals make choices and those choices have consequences. That’s why there are some things children can’t do — as a society, we don’t believe that they’re fully aware of the rammifications of their actions, so we protect them. Either being an adult means something or it doesn’t.

Games of skill with chance.

In contrast to “slot machines” of various sorts, there are games where good decision-making leads to victory. This most closely resembles everyday life.

Daily Fantasy Sports and Poker are both games where, if you make better choices than your opponents, you’ll win over time. However, both are incomplete information games filled with uncertainty and randomness.

As a first example, football: a star player could get the flu or have a migraine that hinders his performance. You’re not likely to know about it beforehand, or to what degree his performance will be affected. Likewise, a player in your lineup could suffer a devastating injury removing him from the game. You can’t know with certainty that this will or won’t happen. That’s just chance. Bad luck. However, a skilled DFS player will still pick the best lineup, hope for the best, and win more than lose.

In Texas Hold’em: the best hand you can be dealt preflop is two Aces. The odds of this? 1/221. Very rarely your opponent will be dealt two Kings in the same hand — the second best hand, but very unlucky for him. Heads-up (one-on-one against two Kings), if all five community cards are dealt, your Aces will win about 81% of the time. However, it’s not a surefire win: about 19% of the time, your opponent will catch a King (or two) for three or four-of-a-kind, a King-high straight or perhaps a King-high flush.

Still, if I have Aces, I will stick in as much money as I can because I’m a big favorite to win, and most of the time, I do.

Then there’s complete information games of skill with practically no luck. Most things in life aren’t like this.

Chess is probably the best example. All the pieces are in full view 100% of the time. Every move can be seen and is recorded. The most skilled player will win practically always. There’s no random element that could remove a piece from the board, switch sides mid-game or reconfigure the pieces. If you play Chess for money, and you’re highly skilled, it’s a fairly safe bet.

But you’re still gambling, because you’re betting on whether or not you’re more skilled than your opponent.

If you risk money on something, you’re gambling.

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a new business, buying a house, or getting some Chinese take-out. Your business could fail, your house could end up underwater (figuratively or literally) and your food could make you sick.

Everything else in life is also a gamble.

If you leave your house, you’re gambling. You could be hit by a car or get attacked by a rabid animal. If you stay in your house, you’re gambling. It could catch fire or a robber could break in and shoot you. You can’t know with 100% certainty that these things won’t happen.

You can mitigate these risks by gambling intelligently — gambling with an edge.

You can make a business plan and make sure you have proper capital (a bankroll). You can choose to buy a house in a good area and actively maintain it. You can prepare your own food, and select restaurants carefully (even inspect them first). You can avoid the likelihood of getting hit by a car by watching traffic and by not walking in the street. You can keep your distance from wild animals when you see them. You can make sure you have working smoke detectors in your home, and purposefully live in a safer neighborhood where home invasions are rare.

DFS and poker players make these kinds of intelligent, deliberate choices every day. You can do everything right to set yourself up to win, but sometimes you won’t. It’s a gamble, but if you make good decisions, one you’re likely to win.

Adults are free to make all sorts of decisions, good and bad. All carry consequences.

Do you go to college? Do you drive in the rain? Do you apply for a new job? Do you stay out too late on a worknight? Do you have another drink? Do you bet it all on red? Do you sit down at the poker table or play $5 DFS game online?

All of these carry risks and rewards, and adults should be free to make these choices without government interference. If you decide that the bad outweighs the good, don’t partake — but don’t make that decision for me or your neighbor. I highly doubt you want me telling you how to live and spend your money — even if I’m right. And I’m almost certain that you don’t want people like me using government force to make you do what we like.

So just let people play.

You play the odds, take risks, take chances — with your money and your life. Just like everyone else. Sometimes, these decisions are made intelligently; other times, it’s a slot machine. Let others make good and bad choices with their own lives.


Next: how poker teaches life skills; why it’s not just a gambling game, and why everyone should learn it. (But obviously, I don’t believe that they should have to.)

Monday
Jan262015

Finally, a Royal Flush

A progressive Royal Flush at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV.

After a Royal Flush draught, it's really nice to hit one. There are a number of things that I don't like about GSR — the lines, the parking — but there is a game there that's pretty cool. A progressive Double Double Bonus game.

Despite its high variance, I like playing this game. Maybe more than 10/6 DDB non-progressive. I like the mini-progressive jackpots for Aces, 2,3,4's — I like the excitement of four-of-a-kinds. It's also great that I've been really lucky playing this machine.

Without a four-of-a-kind (4oK), you could lose more than $100 per hour. At a minimum, a 4oK is worth $62.50. If it's a special 4oK (2's-4's, Aces, 2-4 w/ a kicker A-4, Aces w/ kicker), it's worth a minimum $100. The game is more exciting than grinding away to profit $2.50 to $5 at a time.

Unfortunately, the machine GSR uses for this game also has Blackjack and Keno on it, so people are often playing 5¢ Keno on a machine that gives me a good (albeit risky) game.

Yes, there are other places in town to play. But I've never been more lucky at a machine. I know that that luck will likely run out, but for today, despite my cold and broken car (I was rear-ended earlier in the month, still nothing from the insurance company USAA), things are okay.

Saturday
Dec202014

Winning Video Poker and a much needed change in luck

Video Poker is a game of variance, skill and luck.

Even a knowledgeable player playing an advantage game can lose a ton of money really quickly. An advantage game one is where the player actually has an edge over the house — in Video Poker, this advantage is usually no more than a few percent if you include cashback, comps and casino perks. The best consistent game in Reno offers players a 0.762% advantage on the base game (Full Pay Deuces Wild).

I’ve been on a bit of losing streak, aka negative fluctuation. These fluctuations are the real world results of variance, or the standard deviation from the expected return (ER). Example: holding four cards to a Royal Flush has a 1 in 47 chance of turning into a Royal Flush; on single play, I’ve been dealt over 60 of these (RF4) without completing the Royal Flush. This isn’t very unusual, but it does suck.

Because the Royal Flush makes up, on average, between 2.5-3% of a game’s return, any given cycle without a Royal is played at a negative. Royal Flush Cycles (the average number of hands played between hitting Royal Flushes) are usually between 37,000 and 44,000 hands, and unfortunately, it’s not unlikely that you’ll play through several cycles without a Royal.

Understanding the math behind the game makes session losses a lot less painful, but it still sucks when you’re trying to make money and leave with less than you started with. Playing Video Poker is not an easy moneymaking endeavor; if you play less than perfectly (failing to hold the mathematically most valuable cards every time — not always intuitive or psychologically easy), you cannot expect the theoretical return in the long run.

And then there’s Lady Luck.

Good luck, or bad, makes up a significant part of the Video Poker experience. Any given day, you can do everything right and lose your entire bankroll while the idiot next to you plays poorly a terrible short-pay game, hits Four-of-a-Kind after Full House after Flush and feels like a genius. Although mildly irritating, I accept it. I also know that that sort of player will be a long-term loser, and that that type of play keeps casinos open 24/7.

As stated, recently, my luck hasn’t been great. I normally play Deuces Wild ; when dealt three Deuces (or any three-of-a-kind), drawing two leaves a 1 in 23.5 chance of getting that elusive final card. I’d been dealt three deuces 51 times on single-play and 11 times on triple play (three line Spin Poker) without getting a fourth Deuce. Many times I’d thrown away Straight Flushes (such as WWW45) and Five of a Kind (WWW77) when 5oK pays 75 instead of 80 coins (as it does on NSUD, normally a 99.73% return game) and ended up with a 25 or 20 coin Four-of-a-Kind.

And then finally on Sunday, magic happened.

I was essentially killing time before a slot tournament, playing off $20 free play with a 5¢ Spin Poker machine with the NSU version of Deuces Wild, playing three lines (75¢ per play). A few hands go by, some missed Wild Royal Flush chances… and then I’m dealt Three Deuces — and it completes in the center line. Woo! Though only a $50 win, it was still a relief to finally see the elusive hand.

I played a few more hands, was dealt a Straight Flush playing nine lines (+$22.50) cashed out, and moved to my usual 25¢ “progressive” NSU Deuces Wild game.

(It’s called Progressive, but the reality is that the Royal Flush is just set at a perpetual $1199 — one dollar underneath the W2-G amount and $199 more than a normal quarter machine Royal Flush.)

Initially, I was dealt into several Flushes and natural Full Houses (no wild cards), drew into a bunch of Full Houses some Straights. And then luck turned and $70 turned into $1.25 really quickly.

I dropped in another $20 and fluctuated between $30 and $2.50 over five minutes. I was considering quitting to walk around a bit because nothing exciting was happening. A lot of Wild Royal misses. Not fun. Last hand, I suppose.

I was dealt a single Deuce and garbage. On average, holding a solitary Deuce is worth about even money. I’ll get my bet back and cash out. Draw.

The remaining three spill out. +$250

Up about $300 for the 35 minute session with hours until my slot tournament round, I played for an hour or so and stayed even. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so at 5pm I went to the Chinese restaurant in the casino and had a decent fried rice while relaxing, resting, writing/working a bit and watching some YouTube videos. After eating, I still had a few minutes to kill, so I sat down again. Put $25 in and lost most of it really quickly, and then drew a Five-of-a-Kind.

At 6:30 I played my slot tournament round, got a decent score but nowhere near the top ten (I did manage to place finally last week, somewhere between 21st-40th, at JA Nugget in Sparks, NV — winning $100 free play), and headed over to another casino (Grand Sierra Resort) to pick up a free gift that they give away every Sunday. It happened to be a Christmas dinnerware set; apparently, it was extremely popular because they ran out and needed to get more from the stock room. Twenty minute wait I was told. Sigh.

At this casino, the best game I’ve found is a particular Progressive Double Double Bonus quarter machine.

Recently on Instagram, I was indirectly criticized for playing $1199 Royal Flush Jacks or Better (99.956% return) instead of (probably 9/6 — Full House returning 9 coins per coin bet, Flushes returning 6) DDB (a practically unplayable 98.98% return). However, because the GSR progressive was at a decent number, it’s playable, albeit volatile.

The night prior, I hit four Queens twice in five minutes ($125) so psychologically, I felt good about the game. Plus, I needed to earn some tier points to get the next level card (Earning me a free buffet every Tuesday. My parents like to go there on Tuesday).

I sat down and started playing, staying fairly even. A few Flushes and Full Houses, many Three-of-a-Kinds and tons of duds. About 25 minutes in, I thought that the sets were stocked so I hit the service button so an attendant could watch the machine for a moment. A minute later, a slot guy came by. Right then, I was dealt a Full House, Aces and Eights. I immediately hit hold on the Aces.

While many people are probably happy with a guaranteed 45 coins, ($11.25) it’s the wrong play. By a lot. Playing Double Double Bonus, Aces are worth so much that you toss the pair and keep the three Aces. Most of the time, this will end with a 15 coin Three-of-a-Kind; on a rare occasion, it will become a Full House again (albeit with another pair since it’s impossible to draw discarded cards). Very rarely, it will become Four Aces (worth 818 coins on this particular machine, though normally 800).

But when luck is on your side…

I was just about to leave to get the free Christmas set before drawing two replacement cards, but thought, I shouldn’t leave the machine mid-game. I hit draw.

Woohoo!

Very, very rarely, three Aces becomes Four Aces w/ 2,3,4 — a hand that normally pays 2000 coins, or $500 on a quarter machine — but this progressive was at $547, or 2188 coins. That’s why you don’t just hold the Full House with three Aces. Most of the time it’ll be disappointing, but occasionally: jackpot!

In this DDB game with the 2188 coin progressive 4 Aces w/ Kicker and 818 coin Four Aces, a Full House is worth just 9 coins for every coin bet for a total guaranteed return of 45. Holding three Aces and drawing two is worth an average of 13.1665 coins — about 1.46 times more than the Full House.

In the long run, holding the Full House instead of just the Aces on a quarter machine will cost you about $5 each time.

After this big win, I cashed out, got my free Christmas dish set and checked my tier points. I was close to upgrading my card, so I went back to play the machine. (Incidentally, since hitting the Aces with kicker, the game went from being practically even to a slightly negative game.) Unfortunately, someone was sitting there playing Video Keno (a game with a huge house edge) 5¢ per play. With several bucks in the machine, I thought it’d be a long wait. Unfortunately, there’s only one in the progressive bank of machines set with a good payable, and he happens to sit there and play a game he could find on dozens of nearby machines. I almost offered $5 for the seat; I wasn’t thrilled about it however, because the game was worth slightly less due to the progressive reset. Fortunately, he ran out of money and left after several minutes.

Since I only needed a few tier points, I didn’t need to play too many more hands. Fortunate, since I wasn’t really feeling well. Twenty or so hands in, nothing exciting. I was about to leave, down about $20 or so. And then I hit four Sixes.

With perfect play on a positive game, you’ll still lose about 60% of the time.

If you’re going to play Video Poker with the goal of making money, know that after any several hour session you play, you’re likely leave the casino with less money than you started with. Competent players can play 500-900 hands per hour; most people play quite a bit slower than that. Within a several thousand hand sample size, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit a jackpot hand, which can account for 2-3% of the game’s payback (depending on the game type).

It’s a very risky way to try to make some money, but if and when you do hit that big hand, it’s pretty nice. If you’re going to play, remember the odds and the math — and practice, practice, practice.

For more Video Poker stuff, check out my Instagram (@bradtastic).


Since I normally play Deuces Wild, here’s a bit about the variations worth playing:

The NSU game paytable (99.73%), betting five coins, should have the following numbers from Royal Flush down to Three-of-a-Kind: 4000=1000=125=80=50-20-20-15-10-5 — With the $1199 Royal Flush, this game has a slightly positive return.

Full Pay Deuces Wild (100.762%): 4000-1000-125-75-45-25–15-10-5 — It seems like a lesser paytable, but the 25 coins for Four-of-a-Kind makes all the difference. In Deuces Wild, 4oK is a common hand due to the presence of the wild cards, mathematically more frequent than Full Houses, Flushes and Straights, appearing about 6.5% of the time.

Note: These variations of the same game cannot be played the same way. There are numerous strategy changes based on the payout.

Lastly, I’m not a “video poker expert” — if you’re looking to learn, check out books by Bob Dancer and Dan Paymar. Good place to start. If you’re looking to check unique paytables, check out the Wizard of Odds Video Poker Strategy Calculator. It lists the odds of the game, probabilities and generates a strategy chart.