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I love buffets, but...

Dear Mark,
My brother likes to play single deck blackjack games, while I enjoy a casino that offers a decent buffet and a cocktail waitress that comes to the keno lounge more than once an hour. So, we cannot always gamble in the same casino. I probably already know what you will say, but what in your opinion of what makes "the best" casino? I am appealing to your love of the buffet. Jack M.

Granted, Jack, I have my favorite buffet stops across the American casino landscape, but that doesn't necessarily mean a superior feeding-frenzy-forum equals "the best" casino.

It is no secret that casinos have a mathematical edge over players on all their games. This fact alone makes it tough for players to win. The higher the casino's edge, the lower the chances the player will end up a winner. With the casino enjoying this mathematical advantage over the player, they key to "the best" is to know where to play, which games offer the best chance at winning, and learn how to beat them.

You should judge a casino "the best" if its gaming rules maximize a player's chance of winning. Consider this Starving Player's Checklist: single versus double zeros on a roulette table; blackjack dealt from a single deck with liberal rules like doubling on anything, re-splitting and surrender; a crap game with five or ten times odds in lieu of two-times odds; 9/6 video poker machines; a mini-baccarat table with low limits; casinos that advertise 98.5% paybacks on their slot machines, and then tell you which machines those are when you ask.

Besides, Jack, my New Years Resolution (authored by my wife) was to avoid the buffet chow lines, but not a decent-paying video poker machine.
Dear Mark,

I realize this question might be hard to answer in this setting (your column), but what is the exact pronunciation of Baccarat? Susan D.

My first inclination was to suggest you to look it up in a dictionary, but far to many players mispronounce baccarat. The "t" in baccarat is silent and correctly pronounced it's ba-ka-ra, not back-a-rat (a small rodent found nibbling on buffet leftovers).

Dear Mark,
Deuces Wild is my favorite video poker game. The casino where I normally play offers only a four coin return for four-of-a-kind. You suggest finding a machine that returns five coins for four-of-a-kind. How much more of an edge am I giving the casino? Grant S.

Plenty! Try six percent. With maximum coin play and perfect strategy, a five-coin return for four-of-a-kind gives you a slight edge against the house-a 100.76% return versus 94.34% if the machine returns just four coins.

Dear Mark,
I was reading one of your columns in which you mentioned 'scared money'. I'm new to gambling and wondered what this term means. A. A.

It's June 1 and your rent is due. With insufficient capital to pay your landlord, you decide to gamble, erroneously believing you can chase down luck. That's scared money! Which leads me to give any gambler this sagacious advice: Only bet what you can afford to lose. Money for rent, car payments or any of life's necessities has no place in a casino.

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