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Your $5 Won't Save This City

By MikeE on Wednesday, 1st December 2010 3:13am
  » filed under Note To Self...  comments: 23


Can I rant for a bit? Throw a bitchfit if I may?

Maybe I scour the internet too much, but I see it all over. It's rampant on various Vegas forums and a heated topic for every gambling aficionado. I'm talking about gaming conditions. People complain about gaming conditions a lot. A whole effing lot. And let me join in on the complaining.

6:5 blackjack can go to hell! Oh, and when the dealer busts your 18 because he hits on a soft 17? Well, that pretty much defines "dickpunch." Bad video poker tables can kiss my ass, too.

It's true. I do wish my favorite city had better odds, but Vegas can't. Vegas absolutely can't. And this rant isn't about odds so much as it is about people who try to justify why the city needs good gaming conditions. VT reader Detroit1051 brought my attention to one such complaint in the form of a letter to the editor in the Las Vegas Sun a few days ago.

Before you call me a consumer nazi, let me reiterate that I wouldn't spend a dime gambling at Harrah's because I know I'll always find far better value for my table game playing dollar a few blocks away. My issue comes from the notion that Vegas can help itself out of a recession with good gaming conditions. That notion is worthy of every synonym for LOL imaginable (including ROFL, ROFLcopter, and LOLlerskates).

They walk on nearly four miles of billion-dollar land adorned by multi billion-dollar edifices and yet these people - a tiny fraction of tourists - feel deserving, almost entitled, to a $5 blackjack minimum with liberal rules. Okay, $5 table, 100 hands per hour, and a few mistakes in your basic strategy drops you down to about a 1% house advantage. That hourly theoretical loss won't pay the minimum wage of the dealer dealing to you, let alone the floor crew, security, the waitress you're milking every possible drink from, and countless other expenses. Multiply that loss by six players, some with slightly more action than others, and the casino's still far in the red.

So why are these low limit gamblers spewing venom all over the net when simple math and logic illustrates that it's bad business? My guess is that this little bitch of a thing called "inflation" snuck up on them because it doesn't apply to gaming the same way it does the rest of the nation's goods and services. Gaming just doesn't work gradually. $5 tables 10 years ago can't now be, say, $6.73. In the end, when the infrequent visitor first steps into a property, they come to the unwelcome realization that they're either going to have to double or even triple their gaming budget or settle for bad odds. I'm too young to remember and the internet (read: everybody's soapbox) was in total infancy, but I can only imagine the rage people felt when $5 tables became the norm and $3 a thing of the past.

Couple that with this fake nostalgia that Vegas was a better town back in the mob days as though to believe that they actually rolled out the red carpet to the lowest rollers. Suuuuuure. I'm much happier this day in age knowing the Gaming Commission is keeping things fair and that an epic streak won't threaten my livelihood from suspicion of cheating.

Either bring a small fortune to gamble right or just simply enjoy the fruits of the losses from those who gamble wrong. Great odds at the same minimums you saw five years ago won't keep the lights on.

Tagged: blackjack   dickpunch   loveman   


Comments & Discussion:

Just for the record. Even Harrahs and their lot have 3/2 blackjack tables. They just aren't in the traveled areas. Look around people before you bitch so much.

Oh and yeah. If you don't like it, wake up earlier or get up and go somewhere else. M pays 3/2. As does Wynncore, often with midweek 10-15 dollar limits in the ayem.

it's just tough to swallow when you couple higher mins with lower odds, worsening service, resort fees, more and more cheaper eating options being replaced with the latest celeb chef's 3 star restaurant, etc etc etc.

there are always places to go for better odds/lower mins, cheaper eats, cheaper hotels, etc., but when the conglomerates keep nickeling and diming us, it gets frustrating.

I'm with you on this one Mike. People will complain about being "nickel and dimed" by casinos but what they can't seem to accept is that the #1 goal of any business is to maximize profit for their shareholders.

If they could turn a great profit by offering great gaming odds, cheap food, and top shelf booze for free...then they would. Instead, most properties are stuck in the red and the city has fewer visitors and a lower take at the window than before.

If a casino is sticking to $10 minimums with restrictive rules, worsened the VP odds, and tightened up the slots...can somebody please explain how dropping to $5, offering better rules and opening up the pay tables on machines will help? Please don't tell me that it will bring more people to Vegas. 90% of gamblers couldn't tell you what a pay table or what "S17, DAS, RSA" means. I've never once heard a person say they are going to Vegas because it's got the most liberal gaming out there. They go for the fun, separation from reality and the fantasy of hitting a jackpot that will change their life (won't dive into that how idiotic that last thought is here).

When you travel to NYC, you expect your experience to be better staying at the Peninsula or the St Regis than you do at the Hampton in Harlem. When you visit Miami, you expect the Delano to be a celeb-filled, lux hotel and the Hawthorne Hacienda to provide you a place to lay your head and not find an eight ball of coke in the nightstand.

In any other city you travel to, you expect a certain level of luxury, service, and atmosphere that corresponds to what you pay. Why then do people think that Las Vegas should be the city that gives you a level of luxury, service, entertainment, etc that is far beyond what you are willing to pay?

Just seems that it was easier to find the lower minimum tables and good odds back before we had the monopolization of the Strip. Even when fancy pants Bellagio opened it wasn't hard to play blackjack or craps there for $5. Granted, I guess you can say that we have indies now (Wynn, Adelson, Ruffin) and their casinos have high mins.

I guess when your frame of reference is Atlantic City, you see it a little differently. AC's minimums were historically high.....never was easy to find a $5 table....so yes, for me, the Vegas of the '90s was attractive from a table minimum point of view. AC hasn't felt the need to raise their mins higher than they were during the same timeframe.

And I also think you can cite inflation all you want, but there's only a certain level you're going to be able to raise the minimums too. The average joe might not mind risking a certain bankroll for a weekend of playing $5s and $10s. I think if $15 minimums start becoming widespread, you're going to see a significant dropoff of customers.

I disagree with the $5 table assessment, on two points -- one, on average, there's no way that a $5 player is playing with a 1% house edge. Let's drop a $5 3/2 table in the middle of Flamingo. No DAS, Surrender, RSA, 6 deck. That gives a minimum of 0.78%. People playing at $5 tables aren't playing perfect strategy. Far from it. I've seen horrible things happen at $5 tables. For every person who knows perfect strategy and only makes a few mistakes, there's five more at the table who don't. Being generous, let's say 6 people at the table. One is perfect (0.78%), two are close or are mimicing the first guy as best as they can (1%), one uses "Never Bust" (about 4%), one follows dealer rule (about 5.5%), and one assumes dealer has a 10 (about 10%). All are posted "strategies" on WOz's site. That's a combined average of 3.71% -- much closer to what I'm guessing the "average" is at a $5 minimum table. 100 hands per hour gives a table loss of $111/hr -- more than enough to cover the dealer, 1/6th of the floor supervisor's pay (since he's got multiple tables), 1/50th of the security operator's pay, and three rounds of drinks for the whole table (18 drinks at approx $1 per drink casino cost).

While the huge corporations probably wouldn't want to take the risk, I'm one of those who definitely believes that a casino who specifically marketed themselves as having better odds would do well. If average penny slot payout for the Strip is 87.7%, and you can truthfully advertise on a giant marquee that your average payout is 94%, I think more people will be there playing, knowing they're getting a better chance at winning.

I think the one thing that is forgotten is variance in relation to this, while I can understand the need for casinos to hold their house edge, raising it tends to increase variance dramatically (although I don't know the numbers for it). That change in variance can have drastic effect on the gambling experience especially if you couple it with higher minimums. I think that's the area that casinos need to be aware of. Yes, a 1% house edge should mean that the casino only keeps 1% but all who gamble know that's not the case, unless you are working with a budget that allows you to experience the variance swings.

To the point of house edge, I get tired a bit of the rant too, while I'm not in favor of 6/5, the fact is 'good' blackjack hasn't been highly available on the strip in a while and for those "House edge" fanatics, 6/5 is still a better bet then many other table games.

Also to the point of pay tables, I like to play better pay tables, but I consider it a tax at the bar or on the strip over all for reduced odds, the thing that gets me the most though is that VP is a losing game without a royal, period. And as a matter of fact it's a fairly high house edge without that royal. HET's pay tables while being criticized previously are actually not horrible in comparison to where MGM's are right now and in some cases better. Full pay on the strip has been gone for a long period of time at lower levels. I do get irritated though when I see MGM (Mirage specifically) sabotage their Bonus Poker 4oak tables, to me that's fairly underhanded. I'm also not a fan as I pointed out in the TR of them offering gambles with lower house edges and not recording play for it when their sister properties do, but that's another rant entirely

Read Herbert Asbury's "Suckers Progress",it's a history of "gaming" in the US.

It will make you think 6/5 was sent down from above.

You want to talk proven business model, then you need look no further than McDonald's treatment of the McRib. I propose the strip casinos follow suit, and bring back $5 tables sporadically. Why, I can see the Wynn marquee now...

"IT'S BACK! Sweet, tangy $5 blackjack is back! Try it with a Dr. Pepper! (For a limited time only. Price and participation may vary. Consult your doctor if you experience an erection lasting longer than 4 hours. Know when to say when. Who is John Galt? Not available in AK and HI. My Child is an Honor Stundent at Kennedy Elementary. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena. Excludes tax, title, and license. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.)"

Well, its any public business interest to make money, but I know plenty that do and provide better service than the casinos.

Trust me, suppliers see it. Casinos want tighter games. I'm pretty sure slot manufacturing sees the worst of it, since casinos freely voice preference for conditions by simply not buying. The kind of payback percentage that you once saw only in the airport is what is desired everywhere today.

And no, you can't pay off an $8b casino on five dollars. That's the whole point, really. Our last construction boom resulted in no casinos for the common man, who is becoming poorer and poorer all the time. The average American worker wants Uncle Jim's Valu-Hut And Casino, not a virtual city for the bankers and Hollywood sluts still holding onto the money.

How about this? Instead of using theoretical win, use the state average for actual win percentage. It's actually fallen by over 20% since 1992, from 14.25% to 11.31%.

So as a whole BJ tables are giving back more to players than they were 20 years ago. This isn't just a recession thing--as you can see from the data, the decline's been going on since the mid-1990s.

And it's not just BJ--we find the same trend across all table games.

Mike E said that "gaming just doesn't work gradually, and a $5 table can't become $6.73."

Give me a reason why we couldn't have $7 minimum tables. $3 tables used to be commonplace, and some AC casinos have tables now where people are allowed to be between $1 and $5......with the caveat being that you have to ante 25 cents per hand.

Dave, what do you think the reason is for the fall in win percentage? More educated players?

Dave, what are your thoughts on the effective communication/dissemination of data like that to the public?


i thought it was interesting that in the relatively recently linked cyr interview, while he talked about a few "crazy requests" he said the vast majority of "requests" were about table rules or whatever theyre called. and that was what he focused on in terms of what hosts offer players.

"Your $5 Won't Save This City"

What's this, Chapter One of Phil Ruffin's "How to Win Friends & Influence People"?

hail2skins--I'm not totally sure. It looks like people haven't been letting it ride like they had before, but it's impossible to say.

I'd be interested in getting some table games folks to share data about length of session and bet size over that period, if they keep it.

Kagehitokiri--Visiting gaming.unlv.edu and browsing our reports should be mandatory for all Vegas visitors. J/K.

Sumorez pretty much sums up most of my blackjack sessions at a $5 table in recent years. The $5 tables at many casinos ought to be called the "training wheel" tables, as you tend to get the casual player or those just learning the game. I've typically stuck with the $5 tables in an attempt to make my bankroll last longer.

Downtown, you can find $2 or even $3 blackjack (and sometimes craps) at places like the Fremont and the Gold Spike. My last trip, Binion's was running some $1 tables (craps & blackjack) during the graveyard shift.

When I was staying on the Strip, I got used to playing $10 tables because while many of the casinos were promoting $5 tables, it was usually only one table during certain times of the day.

I remember the first time I ever set foot in a casino (Harrah's New Orleans back in 2000) and looked at playing some blackjack and balked at the $10 minimums and went back to playing the nickel slots.

It's also of note that most of the casinos in the greater Chicago area (Empress and Harrahs Joliet as well as Horseshoe Hammond) feature limits no lower than $15. You see no complaints. But they also stay on soft 17. And offer some enticing side bonuses.

The last time I was in LV in early September there were a good amount of $5 craps and blackjack tables at the Monte Carlo on a weekday night. The blackjack had decent rules.....dealer hit soft 17, but 3/2 on naturals and offered late surrender as well.

The average ploppy may have $100 to play with. If he has to bet $10 a hand and 6/5 rules, his risk of ruin % goes way up. He loses his money too quickly to enjoy the game. Sure the casinos want to take your money, but they shouldn't kill the chances of return business either.
I'd love to see someplace actually try a good game at somewhat better odds and advertise it. If even for a short time just to see what the hold % is.

Running a table at a lower denomination for a short time isn't going to give you a great sample as the return on blackjack varies from month to month (and even year to year).

Sumorez - You're assuming that at a $5 table is 100% full for the entire hour and that no hands are missed. You're also assuming that nobody bets anything but $5/hand and that there is not any variance at the table.

When a property is budgeting for expected return, there are a lot of factors that come into play and one can't reasonably assume that tables are 100% full most of the time. Using your take of 3.71% then a table that averages out to 2.5 players @ 100 hands/hour earns $46.375/hour. If it gets up to 3.5 players @ 100 hands/hour then you earn $64.925. You could point to the $5 table at Bellagio that's always full and say, "you should assume 6 players if you're running a $5 table." However, you have to consider all available tables. It's not like if the Bellagio dropped all of their tables to $5 then they would all fill up like the first table. Yes you might add a few additional customers if you had multiple $5 tables available...but you'll also have customers that are willing to play $10-15/hand instead playing $5 so that their money "lasts longer" and that takes away from your return.

In summary, there are a lot of outside factors in play for why casinos don't offer $5 tables like they used to. We could collectively brainstorm for hours and we likely wouldn't consider everything that needs to be factored into the equation to create an accurate model.

As a random side thought, you have many "aspiring counters" that aren't necessarily going to break the casino to consider (they typically aren't going to bust an advantage player that's a green chip player.) Any counter that can will play at a table with a low minimum so that when the count is very negative they can drop down their bets as low as possible.

Last year's 33% increase in the hotel tax still bugs me more than 6/5 Blackjack and resort fees.

"Couple that with this fake nostalgia that Vegas was a better town back in the mob days as though to believe that they actually rolled out the red carpet to the lowest rollers. Suuuuuure."

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for remembering your Vegas history correctly!

Back in the supposed "Glory Days" of the mob, slot machines were limited, some casinos (like the old DI) catered almost exclusively to high rollers, and one would be in BIG trouble if caught wearing anything less than a full suit/evening gown.

Oh, and let's not forget segregation, murders, skimming (aka cheating the feds and state out of tax dollars), mostly homogenized entertainment, and much more!

And another thing, when certain low rollers wax nostalgic about "the glory days", they're really remembering Vegas' nadir of the late 1970s and early 1980s. By then, the corporations were already taking over (as the feds and state were finally cracking down on the mob). And because the high rollers were mostly getting sucked into the big new casinos of Atlantic City, the companies running the town then (such as Circus Circus, Hilton, and Holiday Inn) decided their best option for survival was to offer loads of cheap slots, cheap tables, cheap (crappy) food, cheap (crappy) rooms, and cheap (crappy) entertainment. Now do we really want to go back to "the glory days" of inedible $2 buffets, cracker jack box motel rooms (more of Imperial Palace, anyone?), and the "creme de la creme" of Las Vegas shows consisting of... Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Rogers?

Atdleft, you raise an interesting point of discussion, and one that kind of flows from what MinVegas said about "no casinos being built for the common man." While I remember some people complaining on message boards around 2000 or so about declining service, etc., I think a lot of people today would probably regard the 90s as the good old days. I just think some of the hotels built recently and their pricetags have become a bit much for what the places are delivering. Maybe its just the law of diminishing returns, but I think you can only make these places "so" nice. Is Wynncore at $5 billion total that much nicer than Bellagio at probably half the cost? (Granted, Wynn's new place has 700 more rooms and was built roughly a decade later). How much of the $9 billion City Center costs does Aria take up? What about Cosmo, close to $4 billion? I remember staying at MGM Grand in 1995 and thinking the room was pretty good. And played $5 blackjack very easily. As for entertainment, I'd probably rather see Kenny Rogers sing some tunes than plop down $100 plus for yet another Cirque du Soleil production, the latest of which are just featuring people dancing to old music anyway.


"I think a lot of people today would probably regard the 90s as the good old days."

Well, those days are definitely NOT coming back. Vegas was at a unique turning point then, as Mirage Resorts and Circus Circus capitalized on mass marketing Vegas as a "family friendly destination". We ended up learning the hard way that The Strip as a whole can never really be considered "family friendly", and the exponential growth we experienced then could only last so long.

And funny enough, as Steve Wynn was growing Mirage Resorts and Circus Circus was transitioning to Mandalay Resort Group, both started implementing many of the policies and practices that low rollers and old timers now love to hate. Remember that during the 1990s, hotel room rates soared on average, single-deck blackjack became an endangered species, slots were tightened and computerized, old school coffee shops and gourmet rooms were being shuttered to make room for new celebrity chef restaurants, and old school gift shops were being outshone by brand new malls sporting dozens, or even hundreds, of designer boutiques.

There were just two key differences then. One, obviously, was the "family friendly" end of it, and MGM bombed the most with the theme park that barely lasted 5 years. The other was construction of a number of middle-tier and low-end casinos, which essentially started the self-class-segregation of The Strip. In the 2000s, sin was in again and nearly everyone wanted to cash in on the high-end luxury extravaganza, so the themes were dropped and especially MGM, Wynn, and LV Sands rushed to get as many top tier rooms online as possible... And remember that even off Strip, this was when Station Casinos started to introduce high-end hotels to the 'burbs by opening Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock.

And yes, I think when factoring in inflation and new technology, it would be more expensive to build Bellagio today. And remember, the $5 billion figure is for both Wynn AND Encore.

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