Buyer beware – part two – video poker mistakes to avoid

January 9, 2014

Video poker can be one of the best games for players offered by real casinos (the faux video poker in racinos should be avoided). However, not all video poker is the same, and the bad games can be among the worst, as can the better games if not properly played.

This post lists (and explains) some of the common mistakes I’ve seen video poker players make – mistakes that can cost a lot of money.  What I can’t do in this post is explain the proper strategy for each game.  That you have to learn on your own.  If you choose to, you will be rewarded both monetarily and, I believe, with greater satisfaction and enjoyment when you play.  I recommend starting with jacks or better, which is one of the more popular games, and on which many other games are based. has everything you need to teach yourself the right way to play jacks or better and most other video poker games.

1. As stated in part one of this post, many players assume all machines offering the same game at a given denomination are the same. In a grocery store, all one quart cartons of the same brand milk sell for the same price. In most casinos, this is not the case. A 7/5 jacks or better machine often sits next to a 9/6 machine. The pay table is the price tag. Don’t be the person playing the 7/5 machine. can help you find the games with the best pay tables. Don’t ever play on a machine with less than the best pay table for that game and denomination in that casino.

2. Most video poker machines allow you to play one to five coins. Given the same game and pay table, many players wrongly assume the odds are the same whether they play one coin on a $5.00 machine or max coin on a dollar machine. However, a close look at the pay table below (the vertical columns show the payoffs -which include return of your bet – for each hand with one, two, three, four or five coins played, respectively)  shows that the royal flush at max coin pays a large bonus – 4000 units, as opposed to 1250 without the bonus. A one coin royal on a five dollar machine would pay only 1250 (250 shown at the top of the first column times the five dollar base unit). I know of no video poker machine that does not offer at least one payout bonus for max coin. You never should play video poker for less than max coin. If you can’t afford to play a game at max coin, find a machine at a lower denomination that you can afford to play at max coin.


3. Don’t assume that the strategy for one game is the best way to play any other game. The optimum strategy for any video poker game is calculated based on the pay table. Any difference in the pay table requires a different strategy for optimum play. For some games, using the optimum strategy for a different game is not a huge mistake, but for others, it is. Don’t play games you don’t know how to play. They are not all the same.

4. Don’t assume that the pay table on the game you played on your last visit to the casino hasn’t changed. Casinos often change pay tables and move machines without giving notice. Even if a machine you played on a prior visit looks the same, take a minute before you start playing to make sure the pay table hasn’t been downgraded. And be sure to check the payouts for all hands, not just the ones that usually are changed, such as full houses and flushes in jacks or better.

Buyer beware – part one

January 8, 2014

With the expansion of gambling imminent in our area, it’s time for some advice. Unless you are very serious about gambling, your trip to the casino should be for entertainment, and you should bring with you only as much money as you want to spend on entertainment (gambling, dining, shows, etc.) for that visit. And leave the ATM card at home. Of course, one of the nice things about gambling is that you have some chance of winning, although it is more likely that you will lose. The casino, of course, will do everything it can to separate you from your money, but this series of posts will give some tips that even the casual player can use to do better at the casino.

Game selection

The best games for the player are the ones that require skill, such as blackjack and video poker, but they only are good for you if you know the good ones from the bad ones (not all blackjack games or video poker machines are alike) and know how to play them.  If you like to play blackjack, avoid any games in which blackjack pays six to five (it should pay three to two, and the payout is indicated either on the felt covering the table or on a sign on the table; if you can’t find the payout, ask, and don’t be shy about expressing your displeasure and walking away if the answer is six to five).  It does not matter if the 6:5 game is double or even single deck, and the 3:2 game is multi-deck – the difference in the blackjack payout more than makes up for the slight advantage you otherwise would get in a game that uses fewer decks.  Don’t play video poker in a racino – it’s not the game of skill it appears to be, and the house advantage is far, far greater than a real video poker game.  In a “real” casino, be aware that different machines with the same games (such as Jacks or Better or Deuces Wild) may have different “pay tables,” meaning the payouts may be different for the same hand.  Always look for “full pay” machines – the ones that pay the most for each hand.  For example, in Jacks or Better, a full pay machine will pay nine coins for a full house and six for a flush if you are betting one coin at a time (something you never should do, as I’ll explain in a later post).   Inferior versions paying 9/5, 8/5, 7/5 and even 6/5 often can be seen right next to full pay machines at the same denomination.  I swear I have on more than one occasion seen a person playing a short pay machine while sitting right next to an available full pay machine.  Don’t make that mistake.

Unless you are a fairly high roller, you probably won’t see a roulette table with only a single zero and no double zero.  If you do, and roulette is your game, know that a single zero game will cost you only half what a more typical double zero game will in terms of the house edge, giving you more playing time and a better chance to get lucky.

Slot machines are difficult to assess.  Unlike video poker machines, you can’t tell from the pay table whether one offers more generous odds than another.  It’s probably safe to assume that the odds on most are not good, though generally the higher  denomination machines offer better odds for the player. Penny slots on which you can play multiple lines are still penny slots, with the concomitant low payouts, even though they may cost you a dollar or more a spin.

If you play slots because the skill games intimidate you, why not try baccarat, which requires no decision by the player after the initial bet, and has a very low house edge?  Most casinos have mini baccarat tables at which the dealer does everything.  All the player has to do is put down a bet in the appropriate spot before play begins.  I recommend always betting banker (and ignoring the trends, which many players chart assiduously), which on average returns more to the player than a bet on player or tie.

I don’t know much about craps.  I do know that some players have strong preferences regarding the height and size of the tables. Games that allow players to make larger “free odds” bets – bets that pay off at natural odds and have no house advantage – generally are preferred by players with sufficient funds to make those bets. Pay tables for some exotic bets (which generally should be avoided) may differ from game to game or casino to casino.  If you like making such bets, become familiar with the “full pay” tables and play there.

How to play

Since the house has the advantage in every game, your aim should be to play “low and slow.”  Low means the lowest denomination possible (all other things being equal) and slow means you should relax, enjoy yourself, and expose as little of your bankroll to the house advantage as you can.  Play at a full blackjack table will be lot slower than at one where you are the only player; unless there is a rude player at the table, the full table probably will be more fun.  On machines, take a break once in a while and relax.  No need to hurry.

If you like games of skill, the best thing you can do after learning which games to play is to learn the optimum strategy for each game.  Basic strategy charts and cards for blackjack and video poker are readily available (some are even sold in casino gift shops), and there are reputable sites on the Internet that contain charts and game simulators that help you learn by pointing out your mistakes.  A few minutes’ practice  on each of the two or three days before your casino visit can really help you play better, stay in action longer, and improve your chances of leaving a winner.  For blackjack, contains strategy card generators and a customizable trainer. has similar information and great video poker trainers, as well as comprehensive information about all aspects of gambling.

Get all you’ve got coming to you

The casino business is competitive, and is becoming more so.  Every casino I know has a player’s club that provides real benefits to players, even low rollers, to cultivate their loyalty.  In addition, most casinos offer free drinks to those actually playing at tables and machines (at some places, the only free drinks are non-alcoholic; in any case, don’t forget to tip your server a buck or two, as you would if you had to pay for the drink at a bar).

To join the club, simply present your driver’s license at the player’s club booth, and you will receive a card that looks like a credit card. Be sure to ask about special offers for new sign-ups.  Whenever you play at a machine, be sure to insert your card in the slot, and make sure the display indicates your account is active.  With your card in the machine, all your play will be tracked, and you will be awarded points that you can use for meals, show tickets and other amenities, and you may qualify for other offers that will be mailed or e-mailed to you.  When you sit down to play a table game, hand your card to the supervisor, who will track your play.

The freebies casinos give to players are called comps, and are designed to reward you for playing at that establishment and to keep you coming back.  Don’t be shy about taking advantage of what you’ve earned, and about asking what you’re entitled to. Just don’t make the mistake of playing only for comps, as the “free” drinks and meals could wind up costing a lot.  Instead, play as you otherwise would, and regard the comps you earn as a nice little extra.

I don’t know of any reason not to use a player’s club card when you play. Slot and video poker machines do not “know” whether you are using a card and cannot change your gambling results to recoup the cost of the comps the casino is giving you.  If you don’t hit a taxable jackpot, the casino is not going to report the results of your play to the IRS, and if you do hit one you will have to supply identification whether you are using a player’s card or not.  So don’t cheat yourself by ever not handing your card to the table game supervisor before you play or by not having your card in the machine when you play slots or video poker.

Money management

In the long run, the house edge will grind you down, but in the course of an afternoon or evening at a casino, you are likely at some point to be ahead.  If your jackpot comes near the end of your visit, you have no problem – you leave a winner.  But if it comes early, you have a dilemma. If you keep playing, you may lose it back (though you could win more), but if you stop, you will forgo the entertainment activity that was the reason for your casino visit.  The answer to the dilemma is different for every person.  If you only brought with you an amount you were prepared to lose (as I advised at the outset of this post), and want to go double or nothing, that’s fine, though you may regret it when you go home empty.  What seems to work best for most people is to put away either what you came with, or a little more, and play with the rest, guaranteeing you will go home a winner or at least not a loser. Another option is to find something else to do until it’s time to leave, and save your winnings for the next trip, which then will be a “free ride.” The important thing to understand and remember is that no system of money management will overcome the house advantage in the long run.  In other words, while you may get lucky during one casino visit, over the course of a lifetime of casino visits the house advantage will assert itself.  More than one novice gambler has learned you can’t make a living at the casino by quitting when you’re ahead on the days the casino gets even by never letting you get ahead, not even for a minute.

You will learn from experience to play at denominations appropriate for your bankroll.  If you bring $100 with you, you do not want to play at a $25 minimum blackjack table.  The likelihood of being wiped out by four losing hands in a row right after you sit down simply is too great.  A bankroll of that size may be adequate for $5 blackjack.  Especially for beginners, whatever your bankroll, play for the lowest denomination you can find on an acceptable game.

Casino etiquette

While it probably would occur to most people to tip a cocktail server, it may not be so obvious that dealers, like servers, work primarily for tips. If your dealer has been helpful, courteous and has made your experience enjoyable, consider leaving a small tip when you leave the table or making a small bet for the dealer once in a while during your play.  However, be careful not to over-tip, especially when you are winning, as you will regret it when the worm turns and you are out of money.  Meal comps never include a tip for the server; in casino restaurants, you should tip the same percentage of the check you would anywhere else regardless whether your or the casino pays for the meal.  At a buffet you can tip a little less than you would at a full-service restaurant.

Blackjack players often think they know how to play even when they don’t, and they often freely criticize those whose play they disagree with, even when they are wrong (I’ve wrongly been criticized by dealers, too — remember, they are required to know only how to deal the game, not how to play it, though some are excellent players and give excellent advice).  If I find myself at a table with someone who makes me uncomfortable, I’ll usually get up and find another table.  When people ask me how to play a hand, I usually beg off or reply “I believe the book says to [hit, stand, split, double], but it’s your money and you should play how you want.”  What many poor players don’t understand is that bad players help the others at the table as often as they hurt.  Don’t worry about how others play; concentrate on your game.

If you find a vacant machine with money in it, don’t sit down and play the credits – they belong to another player or, if the player has left, to the casino, not to you.  Remember, you are constantly under surveillance in a casino (except when you are in the toilet).  Advise a slot attendant of the situation.  

If you hit a taxable video poker or slot jackpot that requires a hand pay, it is customary to tip the attendant who brings you your money.  If you win a very large jackpot, you can ask for a check (it will take you a little longer to get paid), which you should endorse “FOR DEPOSIT ONLY” as soon as you receive it.  If you take a large jackpot in cash, feel free to ask security for an escort to your car, and remember to tip the officer for the service.

Next:  Don’t make these video poker mistakes

Where shall it be?

November 7, 2013

Now that a casino is coming to the Capital District, where shall it be located?  The present favorite appears to be the Saratoga racino, but I wouldn’t put it there if it were up to me.  Here are the siting criteria I’d employ:

1.  It should be as close as possible to major population centers of the area, but not too close, and located a little bit out of the way, so that people don’t usually pass it on their way to and from work, shopping and other regular errands. It should have plenty of on-site parking.  Look to the Casino de Montreal for an appropriate location in an urban area.

2.  It should be accessible by public transit, both to limit its environmental and traffic generating impact, and so that the service jobs it provides will be accessible to the urban residents who need them and who may not own their own cars.

3.  It should be located in an area with as much existing infrastructure as possible, and it should not be built in an undeveloped area where it will gobble up open space.

4. It should be located in an area where it is wanted by the local population and where it will not adversely impact existing local business.

I propose the Port of Rensselaer, which meets all the above criteria.  Rensselaer County, unlike Saratoga and Albany counties, voted for Proposal 1, indicating it would welcome a casino.  Rensselaer is centrally located, near Amtrak and Megabus, and is served by CDTA.  It can use the increased property tax revenues a casino would bring, and the Port location would impact few local residents and businesses,  Its central location and existing road structure would minimize the traffic and environmental impacts caused by travel to the casino.  Shuttles between the rail station and the casino could help make it an attractive destination for gamblers from the New York City area, and existing CDTA routes could be slightly modified to make casino jobs accessible to Albany, Troy and Rensselaer residents who rely on public transit.  If the City or County owns a parcel in the port area that could be developed and placed back on the tax rolls, so much the better.

The existing racino in Saratoga does have the basic infrastructure in place and, as an existing gambling venue, is less likely to attract local opposition, especially given the area’s historical acceptance of all sorts of gambling.  However, taking the path of least resistance would forgo a tremendous opportunity to provide jobs where the people who need them most, and where potential customers from the largest population center in the State, could actually get to them, to give a struggling city a chance to get back on its feet, and to minimize the environmental impact of a venue to which many people will travel by automobile.

An open letter to Christopher Kay

June 19, 2013

Dear Mr. Kay:

Congratulations on your appointment as President and CEO of NYRA.  I wish you the best as you face the daunting challenges ahead.

Like most horse racing fans, I have been disappointed with the direction in which NYRA has been heading in recent years.  While NYRA implicitly acknowledges the importance of the owners, trainers, jockeys and others who “put on the show,” those of us who finance the show feel we have been neglected and at times — such as when NYRA illegally overcharged us on certain bets, to name but one — abused.  While VLT revenues have been used to inflate purses to wholly unrealistic levels, especially for low level claiming races and races restricted to New York breds, I am not aware of any meaningful portion of that money being directed to fans and bettors in the form of decreased takeout or reducing the costs of admission, programs, food or other fan amenities.  I also am not aware of any meaningful expenditures to retain the existing (and declining) fan base, or to develop the new fans needed to sustain racing in the future.  One need only to look at your closest competitors, the casinos, to see why customers have fled racing in droves:  those establishments excel at customer service,  make their customers feel valued by not nickeling and diming them with admission and other charges, and by rebating meaningful amounts of money wagered to  even low rollers in the form of free meals and other comps.

You may think it unimportant to cultivate fans as long as you are receiving a portion of VLT revenues; I submit such a view would be short sighted.  First, casino gambling revenues are declining in most jurisdictions, due to saturation of the market.  If the constitutional amendment allowing “real” casino gambling in New York passes, VLT revenues will be, to say the least, negatively affected. In the shorter run, there already have been suggestions that the State will wake up and take the VLT monies used to subsidize racing to use for other purposes, especially if it perceives — correctly, in my view — that these monies are not being used to assure the long term self sufficiency of the sport.

If you decide, as I strongly suggest you should, to make one of the major goals of your tenure the retention of existing fans and the cultivation of new fans, you then have another major decision to make — whether your future fans will attend the races live, or watch and wager off site.  Other than on Belmont day and at Saratoga, I might suggest that the fans already have decided to stay away in droves.  Twice in the last year or so, I have been to Belmont on a Saturday, and I was joined by far fewer than 10,000 others.  Vast expanses of the facility were closed, and it resembled a ghost town.  If the future of horse racing is off-track, it might make sense to begin an ordered shrinking or decommissioning of the little-used facilities at Belmont and, certainly, Aqueduct.  Year round racing may serve the needs of horsemen, but does it serve the needs of NYRA?

Off track or on, the most significant thing you can do to retain existing, regular bettors is to work to reduce the takeout which, along with  breakage, has made it virtually impossible for regular players to afford to stay in the game.  Do not buy the plea of  the politicians that “no one will notice another one per cent.”  That thinking has brought racing, and, in the context of taxation of businesses and individuals, New York, to its knees.  And please don’t tell me that the NYRA One rebates to large players reduce the effective take out.  While that program is a start, most of us cannot afford to bet anywhere near enough to qualify for those rebates.  If you can’t reduce the take out, throw players a bone or two:  how about free admission upon presentation of a NYRA One card, or the elimination of breakage on payouts into the NYRA one account.  Bettors who wager a certain amount over a year would be delighted to receive tickets to a pair of club house seats at Belmont or Saratoga.  I know that race books in Las Vegas provide significant comps to horse bettors; you could creatively offer a small portion of what they do.

The quality of racing also needs to be addressed.  Racing in New York has been dominated by races for New York bred horses, who race in a parallel universe where the purses are the same for comparable races for open company, but the quality is many, many levels lower — so much lower, significantly, that the horses do not run true to form and the races, therefore, often are unplayable.  One potential source of funds for reducing the take out is the bloated purses for such races.  If you are able, you should restrict use of New York Bred funds to pay bonuses to New York breds that win in open company, as many other states do.

Attracting new fans requires outreach.  Racing can be attractive on many levels – as a sport, as a gambling opportunity, and as an intellectual exercise in handicapping.  Appropriate marketing materials can be tailored to appeal to people with each of those interests, and free admission days, with free programs and handicapping seminars, could take some of the mystery out of the game for new fans.

If racing is to have a future, the interests of fans (i.e., bettors) need to be served much better than they are now.  Unfortunately, fans do not have an effective organized voice, as do the horsemen and their industry; however, the lack of such voice does not diminish the importance of fans to the survival of racing.  Throw the fans a bone or two and you will do a lot to get racing heading in the right direction again and to fix the terrible public image of NYRA.

What’s wrong with this picture?

May 20, 2012

Yesterday, a friend and I attended the horse races at Belmont Park, one of two major thoroughbred tracks in the New York City area (the other is Aqueduct, and they do not compete with each other – when one is open the other is not).  Although it was an absolutely beautiful Saturday, and Preakness day, which one would think would cause more folks than usual to think of horse racing, paid attendance (at a venue capable of holding over 100,000, with 33,000 reserved seats, according to Wikipedia), was just a shade over 8,000.  The place looked almost abandoned, with whole sections of the stands and betting windows closed off, and many of the food and beverage outlets also closed.  It evoked a trip I made to Ellis Island before it became a slick museum, when you could see it literally just as it was when the government closed up shop in the 1950s.  Of course, Belmont was still running, but it was a ghost of its former self, and much different than on my last visit, on a Belmont Stakes day several years ago.

I speculated out loud how the state of racing had come to this, and asked my friend (who is for practical purposes new to the game, having attended the races for the first time in ages a few weeks ago with me in Keeneland, which presented a wholly different picture).  One problem was the quality of the card.  Without going into detail, I’ll just tell you that the feature was a $100,000 stake for State-breds, three and up, at 7 furlongs on the dirt.  The race attracted a field of only six, and the favorite — who ran true to form and won — went off at 3-4.  The rest of the card, except for one very nice maiden special weight race on the turf, and a couple of allowance races, was the usual mix of state bred and/or claiming (including conditioned claiming, and the dregs-de-la-dregs, state bred maiden claiming) races.  My friend, who liked Belmont a lot, did note one difference between it and Keeneland — at Belmont, because the track is so large, few races start in front of the stands.  He enjoys watching the starts as well as the finishes, as I’m sure many race fans do.  He also mentioned that gambling tastes have probably changed, and people don’t want to put in the work it takes to handicap races when instead they can mindlessly scratch off instant lottery tickets or press the buttons on slot machines.

Nonetheless, given that a family of four could park free, or ride the railroad from the City directly to the track, pay a total of $12 for admission, have a nice picnic in the paddock area in the presence of majestic thoroughbreds and colorfully-clad jockeys, and bet as little or as much as they wanted to and could afford, it was difficult for us to understand how so few people could have decided that an afternoon at Belmont Park would not be a bad way to spend part of a beautiful spring weekend day.

Maybe it doesn’t matter if people show up at the track or not, as long as total handle is enough to sustain the game.  People may find it easier and more convenient to bet and watch from remote locations, with the track serving as an entertainment production facility that happens to let people in to watch, like a TV show filmed before a live audience rather than a Broadway show.  But that surely wasn’t the intent of those who, some 60 years ago, enlarged the facility to accommodate 100,000 fans.

Fortunately, the possibility of this year’s Belmont Stakes  producing the first triple crown winner in several decades will guarantee a full house on June 9.  However, if Belmont needs a healthy on track handle to survive, one big day cannot make up for too many days like yesterday, not to mention the even more sparsely attended weekdays and weekend days when the weather is inclement.  Aside from inflating the purses (indiscriminately, it seems to me), I don’t see the VLT money that was long anticipated as the savior of horse racing being put to any good use to develop or sustain fan interest.  As I’ve written before, I foresee a time in the not too distant future when the State will have had enough and will take the money back to use for other purposes.

You heard it here first . . .

March 21, 2012

It looks as if some jurisdictions that have propped racing up with VLT or slot revenues are having second thoughts, especially given racing’s poor record in taking advantage of the opportunities for recovery those cash infusions provided.  The spate of equine fatalities on Aqueduct’s inner dirt track this winter — possibly caused in part by horsemen running unsound stock to chase inflated purses — did not help.  A perceptive column by Andrew Beyer in the Daily Racing Form gives the latest details from around the country.  Some of the readers’ comments also are spot-on, though I did not see any addressing what I believe is one of the biggest drags on racing in New York – the New York Bred program, which subsidizes inferior stock racing for inflated prices.  Some of the NYB program is funded off the bettors via increased takeout, and some by the VLT patrons, via a tax of 1% on gross VLT revenues.  Here in my view are the top reforms necessary to give racing a chance at viability:

Shorter seasons at fewer tracks — quality and scarcity, which has worked (to an extent) at Saratoga, Del Mar, Monmouth, Gulfstream, etc.

Lower takeout (and elimination of breakage for wagering account bettors) — to the extent VLT revenue continues, some should be dedicated to that purpose; NYB program should be reduced to awarding NYB horses bonuses for placing in open races, eliminating the NYB only races at ridiculously inflated purses for the quality of entrants, and no part of it should be funded out of the parimutuel takeout

Promotions designed to incentivize potential bettors, not those who snap up freebies and run away before racing starts to sell them on e-Bay

Free parking, free admission, free past performance info, free grandstand seating and comps for larger bettors, as in Las Vegas

Outreach to potential fans, targeted toward the young, people who gamble in other venues, fans of other sports

Coordination of starting times for OTB and simulcast patrons, who would bet on more races if starting times were more evenly spaced out

Whether racing can compete on its own merits against other forms of sporting competition and gambling is an open question, but it does not have a chance without better management willing to introduce bold new policies.

Expansion of gambling in NY

September 9, 2011

Today’s Times Union carried an item about Mayor Jennings requesting VLTs for Albany and other upstate cities.  This comes on the heels of Gov. Cuomo’s appointment of a commission to study the possible expansion of casino gambling in the state.  Gambling is alluring to politicians because it’s a way of raising revenue without raising taxes, but will expanded gambling really provide meaningful revenue to the state and its localities?

Let’s go back to the 1970s, when Las Vegas had a virtual monopoly on casino gambling in the US.  New Jersey allowed the opening of competing casinos in Atlantic City, and, for a while, they appeared to be doing well – at least in terms of providing employment to area residents and revenue to the state.  Now, however, the area is not doing so well, primarily due to competition in neighboring states, especially Pennsylvania.  Even when things were going better than they are now, critics complained that Atlantic City residents did not get their fair share of the jobs or revenues, especially given the negative social impacts of gambling on their community.  Closer to home, Howie the Horse Samuels touted OTB as a solution to New York City’s problems.  For a while, perhaps, OTB made a positive financial contribution, but neighbors hated its parlors and it eventually went out of business, unable to turn a profit as the “world’s largest bookie.”  The rise of these two entities came during a time when they enjoyed a virtual monopoly in their markets; their decline came at a time when competition for a first constant, and later declining, amount of gambling dollars proliferated.

So what can gambling establishments in New York offer potential customers that their competition cannot?  To my mind, the only thing, at least under present law, is location.  As real estate investors know, location is an extremely important economic force for any business.  In New York, there are, I would guess, many thousands of residents who gamble outside the state.  Repatriation of their gambling dollars could have a substantial impact.

However, as the lobbyists for existing VLT properties realize, to attract significant numbers of casino patrons, New York has to offer real casino gaming – that means table games and real slot and video poker machines (other posts on this blog explain why the video poker offered at VLT facilities is far worse than the real thing, though its differences are not clearly disclosed).  Pennsylvania has transitioned from VLTs to full commercial gaming, and it has been successful – primarily at the expense of Atlantic City.   For New York to even lure its own residents from facilities in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and, in a few years, Massachusetts, it will have to offer something at least as good as facilities in neighboring states, and maybe, since many patrons of out of state facilities have developed loyalty to those facilities, something better.

Offering something better will require a complete overhaul of the constitutional and statutory provisions regulating gambling in New York, as well as an overhaul of the regulatory structure.  The regulations governing casino gambling in New York at present were designed for firehouse Las Vegas nights, and the agency that enforces those regulations is primarily concerned with horse racing.  VLTs are “regulated” by the Lottery, which partners with the racino operators, creating at the very least an appearance of a conflict of interest.  Fortunately, the head of the commission studying these issues in New York is knowledgeable and appears not to be afraid to stand up to industry influence.

If casino gambling is to proliferate in New York, the state also owes its citizens a duty to educate them on the hazards of gambling.  There are good materials out there – I was pleasantly surprised to see how forthright a guide from the American Gaming Association that I picked up in a Las Vegas casino was – and there should be time devoted in school to the economics of gambling, as well as to personal finance in general.  Our students are taught insufficiently about saving, the cost of credit, the cost of gambling, etc.

For me, a blackjack and video poker player, a local VLT parlor will have no allure.  However, a casino with real 9/6 Jacks or Better and a good blackjack game where the dealer stands on soft 17 and doubles after splitting are allowed will definitely keep my gambling dollars in the Albany area, if not in my bank account.