Over the past several months, I have received some interesting questions from article readers and casino clients. I have selected a number of questions and answers that I thought would be of interest to other people in the gaming industry. I’m always available to answer table game-related questions, and you would be smart to take advantage of this opportunity. When I first started in the gaming business, I had very few sources in which to seek advice. If you have a question, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to your interests. Here’s a sample of the more interesting email questions I have received so far in 2013.
Industry Standard on Blackjack
What is the industry standard on blackjack? I am told 16 to 18 percent, which is fine in a non-ante environment. Oklahoma with the ante is a different environment all together, and what would you say the typical hold percentage should be for that type of environment? We typically hold around 25.5 percent between the ante (11 percent) and player’s pool (14.5 percent). I just am repeatedly told I should be holding 16 percent or greater because that is industry standard. In my opinion industry standard with the ante is going to be different.
To answer your first question, there is no industry standard. For example, Wendover, Nev., casinos hold 19 to 20 percent in blackjack with primarily 3:2, hit soft 17 single-deck games. On the Las Vegas Strip, the blackjack games hold 10 to 11 percent with 25 percent of the games, 6:5 on blackjacks. Every region and different casinos in those regions maintain different hold percentages, primarily influenced by the amount of time the players sit at the table and gamble. If anybody tells you there is an industry standard, you can challenge them with complete confidence.
Fight or Let Go?
Hi Bill—quick observation—our company is now utilizing internal auditors to look for efficiencies in the business, and they have come up with eliminating the riffle procedure on carnival games and double deck blackjack after the cards are pulled from the auto shufflers—we are using the Shuffle Master i-Deal and Deck Mate shuffler. I guess the dependence on accuracy of the machines was always my concern, albeit their randomness is probably sound enough, the riffle was just another precautionary procedure. I’d like your thoughts before I either fight it or let it go.
The cards do not need to be shuffled before or after they are shuffled by the i-Deal or Deck Mate shuffling machines. Any pre- or post-shuffling or strip is unnecessary and very time-consuming. The only “pre-shuffle” maneuver I might recommend is to break the deck in half and spin one half 180 degrees on hand-pitched double deck and single deck games, TCP and Mississippi Stud. This will prevent any problems due to playing card “sorts” problems. Your casino’s playing cards with a full back design are notorious for sort problems. My two cents.
Card Counting on Baccarat Tables?
Recently I have heard from sources that there is card counting on baccarat or midi baccarat table. Is it possible [there is] card counting on baccarat tables so patrons could be able to sweep big amounts? Please provide me such kind of information if there is.
Thanks for the email. Any game where there is deck depletion—i.e., dealing the cards more than one round without shuffling—can be counted. The real question is whether or not it can be counted profitably. Blackjack can be counted profitably under most conditions; baccarat cannot.
What you are hearing about are baccarat’s side bets. A number of them can be counted profitably. Please check out the website www.apheat.net. Eliot Jacobson lists several side bets in baccarat that are beatable. Fortunately for the casinos, most side bets provide a marginal return to the person counting. If you have any questions after reading Jacobson’s material, please let me know.
Do you have any information on Mike1 and his method of marking cards? He was at my property over the weekend and was playing Mississippi Stud for a little over an hour before we caught him.
I'm not familiar with Mike; however, I've been following a similar situation in Delaware. At first I disagreed with the claim the player was daubing cards. Then Jacobson and I played with the theory. It appears that marking Aces and Kings, or even just Aces, gives a player a huge advantage in Mississippi Stud. This gain is due to the player's ability to make multiple times wagers when they know an Ace or King is on the board.
Daub is a form of marking cards that allows the player only three or four markings. Any other poker style game would require the cards to be marked in 13 different places or styles to indicate the 13 different ranks, which can't be done using daub. However, Mississippi Stud is attackable with daub since you mark cards in one spot indicating Ace, and another indicating King; unmarked cards would be all others.
In order to read daub, the suspected card needs to be placed on a lighter surface (white paper works), and the person looking for the daub needs to back away from the card. Daub is read better from a distance. There are daubs where the player could use a lens to read, such as contacts; however, a good daub player trains his/her eyes to read a slight daub smear that the average supervisor or dealer can't spot. When you learn how to spot daub, it starts to jump out at you. Use a lighter background surface, and you should be able to spot it. If you caught the guy, do you know what cards he marked? It would be interesting to see what the combination of markings used was. By the way, a big “tell” for catching someone daubing in Mississippi Stud would be the player staying in hands that go against normal hand play/betting strategies.
Problem with the Hold on our Mini Bac. Games
I was given your name as a contact to ask some questions. I work with Ben2 at X3. He has asked me to contact you and ask about a problem we are having with the hold on our Mini Bac games. We have an i-Shoe on the game; we have the dealers wash the cards after every shoe. The players are given match play coupons when they arrive on the bus. The coupons are only accepted on the banker. The dealers are dealing on an average of almost two hours per shoe. Could you possibly give us some ideas on how to fix this? The game is always at a loss.
Just from your email I detect two reasons why your hold might be lower than it should be. First, let me start off by saying that most casinos throughout North America hold around 12 percent with their baccarat games, whether dealt mini, big table or midi style. You are probably suffering from a slow game pace, especially if you’re dealing one eight-deck shoe every two hours. It should be one shoe every 1 ½ hours, or 55 hands dealt per hour. The extra half hour spent dealing the shoe will decrease your hourly revenue production, which will decrease your hold percentage. Personally, I would eliminate the wash and use a MD “batch” shuffling machine. The wash is extremely time-consuming, and most manual shuffles are too slow. Also, coach your dealers to move the game along and not let the player set the pace of the game.
Second, the match play coupons might be hurting you, too. It usually takes 40 additional hands to make up for the cost of one match play coupon at the same wager value. If you give out two match play coupons of $50 to each player ($100 total), and they wager an average of $50 every hand after playing the coupons, you are allowing the customer to play for two hours for free! Executives don’t understand the cost of a simple piece of paper and how it will cut into your earning potential. I would limit the match play coupons.
Stop Betting on Next Shuffle?
I am working on bringing a new table game called 21+3 into the game mix. The cost of the game after the trial period is $XXX per month. The game is a combination of blackjack plus an optional three-card poker side bet. The plus three bet is won or lost before the blackjack hand is played. The game is dealt the same as a normal game of blackjack, and the plus three hands are made of a combination of the player’s two cards and the dealers up card. The plus three bet wins with a flush, straight, three of a kind or a straight flush and is paid at nine to one on the highest winning combination only. This will be on a six-deck table with a $1 to $25 limit on the plus three bet, and the plus three bet cannot be more than the blackjack bet. Our gaming commission wants to restrict the players from betting on the side bet once they stopped betting on it until the next shuffle. I told them that it will hurt the profitability of the game and will cut back on the ability to cover the monthly cost of the game. Please give me your feedback.
21+3 is a very popular side bet, and I think you would do well with it. Inform the gaming commission that the side bet has a limited exposure due to the $25 maximum bet, and you do not see any additional risk from allowing the players to wager on whichever hands they wish to play. There is a count play that is used in 21+3 side bet; however, the return on a $25 maximum bet is minimal; about $9 in 220 hands of play. Check out www.apheat.net/2012/08/07/beating-the-213-blackjack-sidebet. I doubt any professional advantage player will attack 21+3 for $9 in an hour or two of work. I would let the side bet play on every hand regardless when the player bets. Just inform the commission that you are aware of a limited card counting possibility, and your staff is trained to detect that rare occurrence. My two cents. Read up on the information in the link I gave you before talking with the commission.
Hold Percent in Roulette
Good morning, I have a question. Is a 20 percent hold on roulette (non-European Wheel) accurate when it comes to, say, the typical roulette percentages in Vegas?
Hold percent in roulette normally runs anywhere from 18 percent to 28 percent. The hold percent on the Las Vegas Strip is very low, at around 18 percent. This is due to the fact that roulette players do not stay and play very long. Your hold percent is based on how many gaming decisions the customer experiences during their period of play. If the customer’s average stay is less than an hour, and your dealers aren’t motivated about optimizing game pace, your annual hold percent will hover around 18 to 20 percent. If the customer stays and plays for a couple hours, and the dealers are educated and evaluated on their ability to maximize hourly spins (spin management), then your hold percent will climb into the 25 to 28 percent range.
The number of mistakes a dealer makes will have some influence of the hold percent, but normally hold percent levels have very little to do with other common beliefs that it’s due to cheating or stealing. Keeping the players in their seats, and stressing the importance of spin management with your dealers, will help keep your average annual-hold percent at a higher level on the hold-percent spectrum.
We are getting ready to put UTH4 in our pit. I have been asked to find out what the PAR is for this game. What exactly is the PAR definition and how do you find out what it is? From what I can tell in looking at the PARs for our other games, it looks like PAR is the house edge. I just want to make sure of the information I pass on so they can set it up in the system is right…I have talked with others and have gotten a couple of different answers and I know you are full of knowledge so I thought I would reach out to you. Thank you for your time and any info you can help me out with!
The term PAR comes from the slot department. Slot PAR is the same as mathematical house advantage (HA percent), and in slots (not live games) it is also the hold percent since you compare win with coins played. Another issue with the use of the term PAR is that it is expressed as the amount of pay back by the slot machine. For example, a machine PAR could be the HA percent such as 2 percent, or the payback percent expressed as 98 percent. For your purpose you only have to determine the HA percent for UTH, but you still need to know the difference and similarities between the two terms, PAR and HA percent.
The HA percent on a game like UTH is the base-lined result of a person who plays 100 percent perfect UTH hand strategy. Whatever the customer wagers on the ante and blind bet is subject to a perfect playing strategy edge of 2.2 percent. However, nobody plays a perfect hand strategy, and it can be argued that the average player will actually be subject to a HA percent of 3 percent. Remember, that’s applied to the money wagered on the ante and blind bet only. The total of those two bets are the player’s average bet for rating purposes.
1 The name Mike has been used to ensure anonymity.
2 The name Ben has been used to ensure anonymity.
3 The name X has been used to ensure anonymity.
4 For more information on UTH, please see the Wizard of Odds website at: http://wizardofodds.com/games/ultimate-texas-hold-em/
Bill Zender is a former Nevada Gaming Control agent, casino operator, professional card counter and present gaming consultant. He has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. He can be reached at wzender[at]billzender.com.