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Golden Riviera Casino

Golden Riviera Casino

John Grochowski's Gaming Column
By John Grochowski

May 12, 2006

Games played on machines - reel-spinning and video slots, video poker, video blackjack and others - share a common strength in that they have low minimumbets, but also have a common weakness in that they play very fast, with so many wagers per hour that players tend to risk more money than they think they do.

On the tables, the situation is the exact opposite. Minimum bets are much higher but play on the tables is slower. A slot player betting threequarters at a time actually risks more money per hour than a blackjack player at a full table betting $5 a hand.

Of course, there's more to the strengths and weaknesses of casino games than bet size and speed of game. The last two weeks we checked what machine games had to attract, or repel, players. This week and next, let's do the same for the most popular table games.

Strengths: One of the few casino games in which it's possible to gain a mathematical edge on the house. Its status as a beatable game, throughcounting cards, has long made blackjack the most popular casino table game, even though the vast majority of players can't beat it. More realistically,players who learn basic strategy can cut the house edge to about a half-percent, plus or minus a few tenths depending on house rules. Strategydecisions that make a difference in outcome make the game highly interactive.Variation in rules from casino to casino gives the smart player the opportunity to shop around for the best deal. Easy to play at a beginner'slevel, with many people having played blackjack for fun at home before ever playing in a casino. Fairly easy pace at a full table. If all spots are fullat a seven-player table, the game moves at about 50 hands an hour, only a tenth or so of the speed of playing slots.

Weaknesses: It takes some work and study to master basic strategy and narrow the house edge. Against most players, house edge is about 2 to 2.5 percent, and even higher against pure hunch players. Variations in rules from casino to casino are a trap for the unwary. If you don't know what you're lookingfor, you could be caught in a game with an unusually high house edge - Las Vegas Strip games that pay only 6-5 on blackjacks instead of the standard3-2. Minimum bets tend to be fairly high - there are some $1 and $2 tables in Nevada and a few other jurisdictions, but in the Chicago area, it takesat least $5 a hand to play, and most tables have minimums of $10, $25 or more. There is an intimidation factor. Some players berate others they thinkhave made strategy mistakes. The ones doing the berating aren't always right, but the situation can be uncomfortable.

Strengths: The most social of casino games - camaraderie among players is stronger at craps than anywhere else in the house. Players who bet with theshooter win together and lose together, and a shooter on a hot roll draws some of the most raucous cheers in the casino. A wide variety of wagersincludes some with very low house edges - 1.4 percent on don't pass or don't come; 1.41 percent on pass or come; 1.52 percent on place bets on 6 or 8.Those with the bankroll to back their pass/come with free odds, or lay the odds behind don't pass/don't come, can drop the house edge into the tenthsof a percent. Dozens of possible wagers allows players to choose bets or make multiple bets that suit their own gambling personality, whether theywant to grind it out with the lowest house-edge wagers that take multiple rolls to decide, or take a chance on bigger wins and faster losses onone-roll propositions. Perhaps the most interactive casino game - players pick up the dice and roll, and feel as if they're in control.

Weaknesses: Most of the dozens of wagers available at craps are bad bets, with house edges up to 16.67 percent. Players looking for quick, large winsgravitate to the bets that deplete bankrolls the fastest. Game is faster than most table games - 100 rolls of the dice an hour even at a full table.Players who like rapid action will see that as a plus, but it does mean a high risk per hour, especially for players who make multiple bets. Craps canbe intimidating to a newcomer - the layout is busy, the sheer variety of bets can be confusing and there is nothing on the table that indicates howto make the bets.

Strengths: As simple as a table game can get - choose whether to bet on banker or player and let the cards tell you whether you win or lose. Playersmake no hit/stand decisions. Lowest house edge around on a no-strategy bet - 1.19 percent on banker, 1.36 percent on player. At some big baccarat tables,ceremony of passing the shoe and players dealing the cards makes for a tradition-laden, almost majestic feel.

Weaknesses: Lack of decisions to make is boring to some players. Minimum bets are high - usually $25 and up at big baccarat tables, rarely under $10at mini-baccarat. Mini-baccarat, with no passing of the shoe, moves even faster than craps, 200-plus hands an hour, raising risk. Wager on ties is asucker bet, with a house edge of 14.4 percent.

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