Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gambling options for Texans: Las Vegas (The LINQ)

Continuing an intermittent series that I started here.

The following is a fairly comprehensive look at casino gambling options for people who reside in the State of Texas.  Now that the 84th Legislature has completed, and Tillman Fertitta has completed the Golden Nugget: Lake Charles, the expectation is that casino gambling is a long-way from coming to our State, if ever.  Of course, that doesn't mean you don't have options if you want to get your gambling on, only that each of them have plusses and minuses that should be considered.Introduction

Louisiana Part I: Lake Charles
Louisiana Part II: Other Options close to Houston

Las Vegas Part 1: The LINQ

Over on the other blog, the non-gambling one, I posted a review of my trip to The LINQ at Las Vegas.  Here I wanted to expound a little bit further on the gaming options at the Casino, and speak further on the scourge that is 6/5 blackjack and why it's creating problems for the serious player.

General Gaming Feel.

First off, I liked the layout of the LINQ, especially in the pit areas where the tables did not feel too closely packed together. I also liked the friendliness of the dealers, who seemed to be genuinely rooting for the players to win. (As they should, because they get tipped more when we do)  I was a little surprised, on a Saturday night, to find most of the black-jack tables set at $10-$25 limits as this seemed low. Although I think one of the larger errors most casinos make is to have 4-5 dealers standing alone at a $100 table while the $10-$25 tables are jam packed, sometimes with waiting lines 2-3 deep.

A little more detail. (Thanks to Wizard of Odds for the numbers below)

Blackjack

As I stated earlier, there were several tables available offering $10-$25 per hand blackjack. Unfortunately, every one that I could find was 6/5 instead of the much more reasonable 3-2 payout for 21.  All of the tables also had the unfortunate rule that the dealer must hit on soft 17. Combined these two house-advantage rules increase the house "edge" by 1.5%. It brings a six-deck table from around a ,5% house edge to around 1.9% house edge, if you play perfect strategy. It also seemed that doubling on any card was not allowed, which would further bring the house edge up over 2% and it was unclear (since I only watched but didn't play) whether or not doubles were allowed after splitting.  If they're not the house edge for these games were a ridiculous 2.218% which is at the low end of what you can expect to find in Las Vegas.

The worst rule in all of these is the 6/5 payout for 21, which increases the house edge almost 1.4% HUGELY detrimental to the player attempting to use basic strategy. For the casual player (who plays against a house edge that is much, much higher) the effect is catastrophic. I'm not sure if it's possible to calculate the effect of 6/5, hit on soft 17 and all of the other rules above with hunch-play but I'm guessing the house edge would be well North of 15%, possibly even close to 20%.  I would think on 3/2 that would lower down to 10%-15% because of the power of blackjack.

As I did on the other blog, I'll repeat this plea:

"PLEASE, IF YOU'RE PLAYING BLACKJACK IN LAS VEGAS DO NOT PLAY AT 6/5 TABLES"

The only way to stop this practice if for everyone to stop rewarding it.

Three Card Poker

When all of the blackjack is 6/5 my go-to table game of choice is 3-card poker.  Compared to the blackjack edge above the 3-card edge of roughly 3.5%-4.5% is fairly tame when you consider the higher payouts for a good hand. If you're playing on a short-session strategy you can come out ahead in this game just by hitting one of the premium hands.

All of the Caesar's properties play a version of 3-card called "Million Dollar 3-card". In summary, there's a Million dollar payout for a six-card royal flush suited Diamonds.  That would be A-K-Q-J-10-9 D. Amazingly, there was a lady at O'Shea's casino that hit this recently.  Talking to the bartender she took home around $675K after taxes, and they paid her in chips.  There's also a $100K payout for a 6-card royal in any other suit, and a 1000-1 payout for a straight (non-royal) flush in any suit. I came one card away from hitting this (frustratingly). The house edge on a $5 bet on this number is around 18%.

When I first started playing 3-card I almost always played the 6-card bonus. In all cases the house edge for this best is over 15%, but at the Total Rewards casinos, with the edge over 18, I abstained from placing that bet. As a matter of fact, it's been a while since I've placed this bet once I started gaining a basic understanding of the house edge. Whether or not you do is up to you. This is not like blackjack where the rules are horrible, you have the option of playing this or no. If you don't, there is no penalty to you. (Unless you would have hit the jackpot, that's a risk/reward analysis you'd have to make)

One final item: Do not let the dealers try to guilt you into playing any bet you don't want to. If they want to play the 6-card bet and try for the Million then they can go to a casino themselves and lay down their own money.  Of course they want you to win big, because they perceive a better tip for themselves, but they have no risk in the game and their betting advice should be ignored.

Other table games

I don't play any of the other games below but I did see Let it Ride, Blackjack Switch, Four Card Poker, Casino War, Pai Gow Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold-em and Baccarat (mini).

Of course, the casino also had Craps, Roulette, and Big Six (Which, in my opinion, you should never play).

Video Poker

When pressed, my game of choice is video poker. At the LINQ (and most other strip casinos) the pay tables are pretty bad.  For the most part I found the payouts on the Strip to be middling, at best. Most Strip casinos these days offer 7/5 Jack's or Better, 9/5 Double Bonus and 8/5 Double Double Bonus poker.

Despite those fairly weak pay tables video poker is still one of the best values for money on the Strip when gambling.  With the advent of the "Casino Groups" (MLife, Total Rewards) most video poker odds are now fairly standard.  You can still find some very good odds on Fremont Street, but the corporations are running things on the Strip, gambling revenues are falling, so they're looking for ways to increase their edge across all games.

Summary

Early on in it's life, World Casino Index ranked the gambling at the LINQ as "among the worst in Las Vegas". I will say that this has improved a little bit, but (sadly) not because the LINQ has improved, but because the rest of the Strip has raced to the bottom.  Where the LINQ used to be unique in short-paying blackjack now almost all strip casinos do.  The LINQ is also very limited in their high-end betting options (if you are that type of gambler) and many of their rules and pay tables are on the south-end of what's good for the player. Were I playing blackjack I'd recommend taking my money to casinos off the Strip, but for 3-card poker and other games I think the LINQ is just fine.

For serious gamblers, take your action off the Strip to Fremont Street. You're going to find better odds, and better games, North rather than South.  For the casual gambler who understands a little bit about basic strategy and odds?  You can still do just fine playing short gambling sessions at the LINQ and other Strip casinos provided you keep disciplined in your betting strategy.






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