Every casino game has its own dangers as well as potential for players. Some of those built-in woes can be overcome by smart betting and maneuvers. Others cannot. In this column, I will try to show you some of the strategies you can adopt to gain a winning edge over the House as well as the other players.
Let's start with baccarat, a game that gives the casino a small advantage over the player. While the advantage is tiny, it is a consistent one that is hard to overcome. Frank Sinatra discovered that when he nearly got himself killed one evening at a Strip casino when he tried to push his edge to the extreme.
Old Blue Eyes was drinking heavily (a favorite habit) and feeling his wild oats after doing a show. He enjoyed a perk the average Las Vegas player never sees -- nearly unlimited credit. But that night Frank discovered that every road comes to an end.
Playing the High Roller to the entourage of friends and tourists who had gathered around the table to watch him gamble, Frank, cocktail in hand, kept increasing the size of his bets. He was on a losing streak, but never mind. He had unlimited credit with the casino that had his name in a huge neon-lit blinking billboard on the Strip and it was good to be King.
Sinara kept losing and he continued signing chits for more credit. Finally that was enough for the casino manager. He abruptly cut off Frank's credit and told him in as gentle a voice as the gods can use that it was time to call it a night.
Sinatra was Sicilian and had a temper. He took a swing. A gun magically appeared in the manager's hand. For one swift moment, Frank Sinatra was no longer the blue-eyed singer that everyone worshiped. He was just an intoxicated gambler from New Jersey had gone beyond his limits.
What happened that night at the Sands brings me to rule number one on gaining the winning edge: never bet beyond your limits and keep your drinking under control.
Dice or craps is a game where the average player doesn't have an edge. However, there are things you can do to improve your chances of winning. One is being around a shooter who has developed a controlled roll.
When you take a position at the dice table, look for a new shooter who sets the dice. Place your bet on the pass line and follow the action closely. If he rolls a seven or 11, you win. When he rolls a point -- four, five, six, eight, nine or 10 -- place your money on all the numbers as well as behind your bet on the pass line. From that point on, each time he rolls anything but seven or craps, you win.
I have won some big money by pressing my bets on my favorite numbers -- five, six, eight and nine. Ride those numbers as long as the shooter continues to make his points and hope that he has a long successful roll. At some point, you will want to take down some of your bets. When the shooter sevens out, which will happen at some point, everything on the table belongs to the House.
Blackjack is another game where a player can gain a winning edge. Find a friendly dealer -- not the sour-faced one who made fun of Chevy Chase in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S LAS VEGAS VACATION.and who took all his money -- and put your money down.
Before I play blackjack, I always re-read Ed Thorpe's best-selling book, 'Beat The Dealer.' Nobody has created better strategies for standing, doubling down, surrendering if the casino permits surrender as most of them do, and increasing the size of your bets when the deck is rich in aces and tens. Remember Sinatra and limit the amount of money you can afford to lose.
Slots. This is a tough one.
In the old days before the micro-chip, casinos hired change attendants who walked around weighed down with vests that contained change for the players. It was easier to win at the slot machines. Today that has changed because of the micro-chip that controls the reels. I once hit a big slot machine payoff in the Caribbean when an attractive change attendant led me to a machine that had been paying. The tip she received and the smile she gave me still warms my heart.
Today I look for the machine that has made the biggest payoff. You can discover that by 'reading' the machine's last payoff. Some machines are set up by the attendants to pay off more consistently than the others and you may be lucky enough to have found that machine.
While most slot machines have no skill factor involved, video poker is an exception. I have hit several $1,000 jackpots on video poker machines and have a fondness for deuces wild I always go for four deuces or a royal flush on such a machine. All the other hands, with the possible exception of a straight flush, will not overcome the House edge.
My final piece of advice for gaining a winning edge is for you to fine-tune your powers of observation. It pays to watch the other players and what they do, especially at slots. It paid off for me one night when I invested some time in watching someone play Big Bertha, then the largest slot machine in Las Vegas.
Big Bertha stood over eight feet tall with a handle half the size of a person. It stood in a prominent section of the casino. To win the top two prizes, the reels had to show three pink elephants or three monkeys -- hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
I was waiting for a cab to arrive take me to the airport for my flight back to Phoenx. The cabs were running late, so I had a 30-minute wait. I ordered an Expresso and began watching the player at Big Bertha.
For some reason, the guy could not lose. Two pink elephantts kept appearing, along with those monkeys hiding their faces, eyes and ears. Although none of the big prizes happened, the player kept winning. When the cabbie arrived, I was convinced Big Bertha was about to hit and promised myself the next time I visited Las Vegas, I would give the lady a try.
Lo and behold, the following week a business appointment came up in Las Vegas. I scheduled my plane ride to arrive early. I wanted a chance at beating Big Bertha.
When I arrived at the casino, nobody was playing the machine. I placed a $20 into the slot and -- I kid you not -- five handle pulls later, three pink elephants lined up, lights and sirens exploded, and I had won the jackpot.
Good luck in your next gambling venture.
May the winning edge be with you.
Let the games begin.