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Better pay tables worth some travel

John Grochowski

John Grochowski

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Updated: August 8, 2012 8:31PM

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. You’ve mentioned that video poker pay tables in the Chicago area have gone down. I asked a slot manager about it, and he said it’s because of the high gaming tax in Illinois, and they can’t do anything about it. Do you think that’s right?

Jake, Plainfield

A. The gaming tax paid by casinos in Illinois is high, with marginal rates on a sliding scale from 15 percent to 50 percent of gambling revenue. Indiana also is high, with a top rate of 40 percent, compared with 22 percent in Iowa, 21 percent Missouri or 6.75 percent in Nevada.

However, that same Illinois tax structure was in place five years ago, and players then had a large selection of games returning 99 percent-plus with expert play. There were even more good plays available a few years earlier, when Illinois imposed a top tax rate of 70 percent. Weaker pay tables clearly are not directly linked to tax rates.

Still, we have seen a de-emphasis on shot to win as a way casinos attempt to attract players. We see it not only in video poker, but at blackjack where nearly all tables in the area now have the dealer hit soft 17. That adds two-tenths of a percent to the house edge, a huge jump for a basic strategy player.

Should I be telling you to play tougher games because the tax rates are high? I don’t think so. I’m willing to drive to Majestic Star in Gary, Ind., for their 9-6 Jacks or Better, or play the quarter 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker at Par-A-Dice in Peoria, or save my money for jaunts to Las Vegas, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa to get better games. How you bet your money is up to you, but I won’t recommend that you settle for lesser games.

Q. When you write about craps, I see the house edge goes down the more free odds you get. Could the house edge ever disappear entirely? Have you ever seen a craps bet where the house gets no edge?

Tom, Orland Park

A. Pass with odds is really two bets in one. The odds portion of the bet has no house edge, but there is a house edge on the pass bet. That house edge on pass is always there. Putting bigger portions of your bet into the odds dilutes the effect of that house edge, but it can never eliminate it entirely.

I have seen one craps opportunity with no house edge at all. For a short time in the 1990s, Harrah’s Joliet offered a field wager that paid 3-1 when the roll was either 2 or 12. Usually, some casinos pay 2-1 on either 2 or 12, for a 5.56 percent house edge, and some pay 2-1 on 2 but 3-1 on 12, for a 2.78 percent edge. When Harrah’s paid 3-1 on both 2 and 12, it created a wager with zero house edge.

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer. Look for him on Facebook (; Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at

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