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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Odds and Ends

2 August 2000

This month I am going to take a break from the mathematics and just discuss some odds and ends that relate to previous articles and a couple of opinions on staying in Las Vegas.

To begin with, after my article last August about the Quick Draw promotion offered in November of 1997 by the New York State Lottery (Oh, New York, Bring Back Those Big Dippers), I fully expected that I would hear from the New York Lottery with some spin on what really happened or some sort of explanation about this giveaway. Not a word!

Since my May article about High Country Poker, the game has opened in Las Vegas at the Palace Station Casino on Sahara. I was in Las Vegas for the 11th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking at the MGM and after the conference was over, I stopped by the Palace Station and played the game for awhile. It was fun to play, but with the mandatory ante plus bet totaling three units, the game seemed a little pricey to me. I spoke to the game's creator, Glen Garrod, after I returned home and told him that I had helped out with his hold percentage (I lost $100) and he confirmed that the game may be too expensive for some players, generally those in smaller casinos. The game at the Palace Station was offered at a $3 minimum, so the per-game risk was only $9, not bad but probably too much for $5 players. So, I would not be surprised if some changes to the game will be made to lower the per-game risk in an effort to attract the smaller bettors. I'll let you know what happens via this column. Not everyone had the old Catlin luck playing the game. The dealer told me that the previous afternoon a couple playing on third base had won several hundred.

Last month I wrote about Derek Webb's new game JackBlack. I had dinner with Derek and his wife Hanna during the conference and he told me they were on their way to Mississippi to begin discussions there about putting the game on the floor. I'll be in touch with Derek and will let you know what is happening in that regard.

Here is a amazing story that did not, as far as I know, make the Las Vegas papers. On the night of Tuesday, April 11th, a woman player, a local, bought into the Blackjack game at Paris for $3000.00. She was not a skilled player but was sure lucky; the dealer was busting most of the time. By the next afternoon she was ahead 1.6 million! She quit playing at 5:00 PM and deposited $970,000 in the casino cage. I am unclear as to just what transpired after that, but some days later she did take a check for $800,000. I know this sounds impossible, but my source is very reliable.

One of my favorite places to stay in Las Vegas is the Santa Fe out on the end of Rancho Drive. It is a delightful little casino hotel. There is plenty of easy parking, great Video Poker, and one-, two- and six-deck Blackjack. They also have an ice rink and a bowling alley. Besides the usual coffee shop, buffet, and deli, there are three fine restaurants off of a very attractive atrium. One of them, Suzette's, is an absolutely superb French restaurant. The rooms are reasonable and the staff is very personable. I mention all of this because while I was at the aforementioned conference, the television news reported that the Santa Fe had been sold to the Station Casino chain. A spokesman for the Station Casinos, interviewed in the television report, said that they were going to make some "improvements". I hope their "improvements" are limited to rugs, furniture, draperies, and the like and that they leave the rest of it alone; it's fine the way it is.

Speaking of places to stay, in March I stayed at the Rio for the first time. Although we're now talking considerably more money than the Santa Fe, I was very impressed. My room had two sinks, an ironing board and iron, a coffee maker, a safe, a refrigerator, and a large sitting area. So what? For enough $$ you can find that at lots of hotels. Yes, but not with a convenience store right across the street where you can buy juice and milk and a huge pastry shop in the hotel where you can buy (and store in your fridge) delicious pastries for breakfast (about $2 each). Luxury to me is getting up in the morning and having breakfast right in my room while watching the morning news and not having it cost me an arm and a leg. It was wonderful. Another thing worth mentioning was the check-in. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a huge line of folks waiting to check in. "Oh no," I thought, "I'll be standing here an hour." This has happened to me more frequently than I care to mention, especially in Atlantic City. Not so this time. The management had sense enough to put more than two dozen clerks to work at the front desk and I was checked in within ten minutes. The dealers and the pit personnel are very friendly and seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs. One final word. I won't bore you with the details, but on two separate occasions, Assistant Casino Shift Manager Ron Whithead and Pit Manager Tom Hughes went out of their way to help me with an annoying problem of my own making; I want to publicly thank each of them for their courtesy and friendly help.

While I'm being so forthcoming with my opinions, here is another one that I think you would be well advised to take. Don't try driving down the Strip on a Saturday night, especially if you're traveling north from the outskirts. I have never seen such traffic jams save for New York City and Boston during rush hour. Commuting is one thing; you don't need that aggravation when you're on vacation. Along these same lines, if you are trying to go from the south Strip to the downtown area (or back), try Industrial Road and avoid the spaghetti bowl (especially from 4 to 6 PM). There is still traffic, but it is not as hectic (and it's safer).

Okay, if you're still reading all of this stuff, I'll get back to the mathematics and gambling next time. Do you know the difference between house edge and hold percentage? I'll discuss that next month. See you then.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers