Vegas Gambling Lessons

October 15th, 2012
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Program Reminder: The Halloween edition of Career Changers TV is currently airing on OC16 and will not be preempted this weekend, so you can catch it on Saturday night at 8:30 pm or earlier in the week at different times (click here for schedule). Keep your eyes -- and ears -- open for special effects we added!

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On one of our first trips to Vegas many years ago, my wife and I learned some quick lessons the hard way. If you're over 50, you may remember the Bob Stupak's Vegas World direct mail offers of an almost free vacation at his casino resort. The guy was outrageous and a great promoter. He's the one who started the Stratosphere tower project, which ended in financial disaster for himself, but is now a Las Vegas landmark.

As a former direct marketing exec, I admired his mail packages that made it very difficult to resist. So we went to Vegas World, and right away I hit a slot jackpot for over $600. A cocktail waitress congratulated me, then warned that sometimes the worst thing is when you have beginner's luck. You can get a false sense of confidence. She was right too, because I immediately began to play back all of my winnings into other slots and made some reckless bets.

Meanwhile, Isabel was intent on hitting her own jackpot and had scoped out a slot she wanted to play. Except some other lady got to it first. So Isabel sat at a nearby slot, and began dropping in one silver dollar at a time, waiting for the lady to leave. Then Isabel looked up and saw 7-7-7 on her machine! But nothing happened. Why? Because that slot only paid the top jackpot if you played the maximum of three coins per spin.

After that, we made a rule: always read the small print and play the max bet if you're going to take a chance on the progressive jackpots. Otherwise, find slots that if you only play one coin, you won't lose out on a major jackpot. In fact, I've been finding that I have been hitting more small jackpots in the $100 to $500 range when I play one dollar at a time instead of the max bets. My theory is the new slots are programmed to give more frequent payouts that are smaller, yet large enough to entice a player to put it all back in while trying to hit the big jackpots. Whereas we used to hunker down and play for long periods on machines that seemed to be "hot," we now use a hit and run approach. Take profits, however small, and move on.

The other thing we learned was not to get emotionally attached to specific machines. Many times I would sit down at one slot, then on a whim try the machine next to it -- and boom, you hit a jackpot when you least expect it. I've also walked away from machines, then watched as another player takes a couple spins and hits a jackpot that could have been mine. Rather than feel like I "lost" out, I tell myself that I picked the right machine... just go out and find another. Don't dwell on the past, and don't get negative (easier said than done when you're on a losing streak though!).

We use the same approach with blackjack, which offers even casual players like ourselves, decent odds. If you know the basic rules and win on a couple of double down hands, it's not that difficult to find yourself up $50 to a hundred after a few minutes. However, most players we sit down next to will play until they lose what they started with instead of cashing out while they're still up. They'll also reach into their wallet and shell out more on a losing table. Years ago we also learned that if a table is empty, it's usually because that dealer is "strong" and wiping everyone out. Do not try to bet against the trend or the House.

And by that, I mean if you win in one place, don't hang around there too long -- or they'll get it back. That was the problem with Vegas World. It was a trap, a place where you could not easily walk out of and head to another casino, or take a break and do something other than gamble. Bob Stupak promised you something for nothing, knowing that even if you had some luck early on, eventually most folks would get greedy and wind up losing it all back to him. Unfortunately, he fell victim to that same mentality when he rolled the dice on his grandiose Stratosphere plans. But you have to admit, he dreamed big.

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Speaking of which, my own big dreams took a hit after I came back down to earth last week. As I mentioned in a prior post, my hot streak continued when we returned home and via Facebook (ironic since I recently pooh-pahed social media in this blog) I had received a request for my Menehunes screenplay from a major Hollywood producer. It was totally out of the blue, and I suspect it was because he knew my former manager back when she repped Quentin Tarantino. I thought this could be the big break I've been waiting for -- that elusive jackpot, so to speak. Anyhow, it's been a couple of weeks and haven't heard back from him, so it's probably what is known in the business as a "soft pass." Sigh.

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Below is a photo from our 1992 trip to Vegas en route to the Holiday Bowl, when the UH RAINBOWS beat Big 10 opponent, Illinois. Offensive coordinator Paul Johnson, now head coach at Georgia Tech, had that spread option going back in the day, and I sometimes wonder if that's a better fit for the kind of athletes UH is able to recruit... anyway, the jackpot was a quarter progressive at the Las Vegas Club on Fremont Street. I won over $1,600 and a comped five night stay for a return trip. And when we came back, sure enough the Las Vegas Club got it all back from us!

Vegas 1992

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