How Would You Play This One?

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I received an email from a player, “Sam,” discussing a promotion that has come and gone, in an unnamed casino in an unnamed state. He wanted to know how I would have analyzed whether or not to play it. 

The gist of the promotion was that for two consecutive days, four hours per day, each W-2G received the following free play bonuses:

$1,200 – $4,999 jackpot $250 free play
$5,000 – $9,999 jackpot $500 free play
$10,000 and higher jackpot $1,000 free play

He told me the best game to play, $5 Double Double Bonus (DDB) in the 9/6 pay schedule (98.98%), only came in Triple Play, Five Play, or Ten Play versions. There were four machines in the high limit room with these games on them. (There might have been single line $5 9/5 DDB games, but that game is 1.1% tighter and has a much more difficult strategy.) He didn’t expect much, if any, competition for the machines — but you never know. The slot club benefits are worth a little, but aren’t a major consideration.

He figured it out for single-line $5 9/6 DDB (which didn’t exist at that casino) and the promotion was worth 101.7%. He didn’t have the tools to figure out how much it returned in Five Play, which was the stake he decided upon. (I would probably have played Ten Play, if I had four machines to work with. That way I’d also get W-2Gs on dealt flushes and full houses, while dealt trips which end up with seven trips and three or more full houses also generate a $1,200 or greater W-2G. But I’ll limit the discussion to Five Play. If Sam and I both showed up on the same day and had to share two machines, I would have played Five Play as well.)

a. The return for the Five Play version will be similar to the return for the single line version. The only time it differs is when two or more $1,200-or-higher jackpots happen on the same deal. Like starting out with trip kings and converting two of them to $1,250 quads, where you only get one $250 free play bonus instead of two. If you’re dealt a quad, that’ll move you up to a higher free play level, unless you’re already at the highest level.

While possible, these are fairly rare events. The overlay on this promotion was so large that knowing it was “only” a 1.6% advantage instead of 1.7% wouldn’t affect the decision to play or not play. At least for me.

b. Does Sam file as a professional gambler? If so, gambling wins may be offset by gambling losses. If not, the W-2Gs will generate taxes far in excess of the amount of the free play bonus. Answer: Yes. And for state taxes as well, he can offset the losses against the wins. 

c. How fast does the casino process W-2Gs and how are they paid? (This is when I found out there were four machines.) Some casinos let you sign a W-2G at the start of your session and allow you to use your pin number to key off the jackpots into credits. Some casinos pay everything in cash. Some casinos will create TITO tickets for jackpots. Answer: At this casino, each jackpot is paid off in cash. 

d. If the jackpots are paid in cash, you want to have $20,000 to $50,000 in TITO tickets prepared ahead of time, and you want to bring along a helper to create TITO tickets out of each jackpot when paid. Answer. He didn’t think of pre-making the TITO tickets, but he had somebody there to create such tickets out of all jackpots. That extra person was able to ‘hold’ a machine by sitting in front of it. That way, once he got two machines, he was guaranteed to be able to keep at least those two. This extra person has a fairly unskilled job to do, but it has to be somebody you trust, and the job is important.

e. Does the state have any withholding on W-2G jackpots? Yes, but it’s refundable when you file your state income tax form at the end of the year. So, not a problem.

f. How well do you know 9/6 DDB? Answer: Sam knows the basic strategy pretty well. He doesn’t know all of the penalty card situations, but figures his accuracy is better than 99.9%. He believed that to be plenty good enough for this promotion. (I agree.)

g. If he loses $40,000 – $50,000 on this promotion, will that cause a problem? Answer: Sam and his wife took $30,000 with them and told each other that if it went, it went. They had no more money on hand and no line of credit available. They wouldn’t be happy about it, but it wouldn’t be a disaster for them. 

h. Does he realize that he will probably lose money during this promotion? Yes, the odds are very nice, but so much of the return is on royals and the premium quads — especially those with a kicker. Dealt regular quads for $6,250 would also be nice. You’ll probably only get 1,200 to 2,000 dealt hands per day, depending on the casino’s staffing and eagerness to work, where the total number of hands would be five times that high. That’s definitely a short-run play and if you don’t get one or more of the good hands, you’re going to lose. 

There have been plays where the casino realizes part way through the promotion that they were losing big and the manager told his people to each take some long breaks. There ended up being numerous hands “on the machines,” but not recorded until the staff got around to it. Eventually everybody got paid (some had to wait three hours), but all the relevant machines were tied up and everybody was grumbling. If this happens here, Sam will only get in a few hundred deals — if that. Answer:  Sam has been a professional gambler for a number of years and knows about swings. He and his helper had books to read in case there was a really long wait for services. After the fact, it turned out the casino staff kept working hard and made no effort to slow things down.

i. Had he considered extra big tipping to improve service? Answer: He didn’t, but agrees that if he told all the workers that he’d pay at least $20 for every jackpot, and more for a $10,000 or bigger hit, he might have gotten faster service. But with four machines, it wasn’t really necessary. 

j. Does he realize that if he does really well (perhaps a $100,000 dealt royal, or perhaps several $20,000 aces-with-a kicker hands), some casinos kick out players for having the nerve to win so much. Answer: He knows that. He doesn’t think it will be a problem here, but if it does happen, it’s worth it!

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