Now let's put the two lists together. On table games, we're assuming a $5 wager -- if you're a $25 bettor, multiply the cost per hour by five. On slots and video poker, the wager is included in the game description. That leaves us with four "cost zones," starting with the games that cost an average of less than $5 a hour to play:
$5 or less: Basic strategy blackjack, full table ($1.25); quarter 9-6 Jacks or Better video poker, one coin ($2); craps, pass or don't pass ($2.10); quarter 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker, five coins ($3.125); quarter 8-5 Jacks or Better video poker, one coin ($4.88).
$5-$10: Three Card Poker, Pair Plus ($5.75); basic strategy blackjack, one-on-one ($6.25); average blackjack player, full table ($6.25); dollar 9-6 Jacks or Better video poker, one coin ($8); Three Card Poker, play against the dealer ($8.50); Let It Ride ($8.75); penny video slot machine, 20 lines, one coin per line ($9).
$10-$20: Roulette ($10.52); mini baccarat ($10.60 on banker, $12.40 on player); quarter reel-spinning slot, one coin ($11.25); dollar 9-6 Jacks or Better video poker, five coins ($12.50); Caribbean Stud ($13); nickel video slot machine, 9 lines, one coin per line ($13.50); quarter 8-5 Jacks or Better video poker, five coins ($16.88); dollar 8-5 Jacks or Better video poker, one coin ($19.50).
$20 or more: quarter reel-spinning slot, three coins ($26.75); average blackjack player one-on-one ($31.25); dollar reel-spinning slot, one coin ($35); dollar Jacks or Better video poker, five coins ($67.50); dollar reel-spinning slot, three coins ($75); craps, any 7 ($83.75).
** Keep in mind that these are AVERAGE costs per hour. In any one session, your results may vary wildly. Average losses for a basic strategy blackjack player betting $5 a hand at a full table may be a buck and a quarter, but I've lost $100 in half an hour. Haven't you? In the long run, big losses, small losses and winning sessions average out into the cost figures above.
** Results will vary even more wildly on electronic games than they do on table games. That's because a large share of the return on slots and video poker games are tied up in large jackpots -- when we win, we have bigger wins on slots than on tables, but we also have bigger, more frequent losses.
** The video poker figures assume you're using optimal strategy for the game you're playing. If you're just winging it, playing by intuition, then the house edge against you in 9-6 Jacks or Better is more like 2 or 3 percent instead of a half percent, and your average cost per hour with five quarters wagered climbs from $3.125 to $13 to $19.50.
** The cost per hour on any game is lower when you take into account cash back and comps. And the kings and queens of cash back are slot players. On any close call in cost between a table game and a slot game, some of the difference will be made up in the cash back awarded to slot players.
** Whatever game you choose, be sure you're properly bankrolled. To bet three coins at a time on dollar slots, with an average cost of $75 an hour, your starting bankroll probably should be at least five times that, and even then there's no guarantee it won't disappear in an hour. If you're starting with $100, you can't afford the game. Even if you're starting with $200, be prepared to move to quarters or to a different game if your bankroll drops to $100. Understand that the losses can come fast, and don't overbet your bankroll.
ADVISOR COUPON BOOK: Ever since I started writing this column 12 years ago, I've touted the monthly Las Vegas Advisor newsletter as a must for anyone who visits Vegas regularly -- and by regularly I mean even once a year. The newsletter alone is worth the $50 subscription, but the annual coupon book more than makes up the price.
The 2006 Advisor coupon book arrived in mid-January, and it's a dandy. There are 146 coupons this time around, good for discounts and freebies on rooms, meals, shows, rental cars and other attractions around Las Vegas. I like to take the gambling coupons -- free slot play, four of a kind bonuses, table games match play, slot club bonuses and more -- and see what kind of profit I can build up without dipping into my own money.
One new coupon that caught my eye this year is from Slots A Fun, toward the north end of the Strip next to Circus Circus. It promises a "giant 1/2-pound hot dog" including chili and cheese if you wish, and a bottle of beer for free. I doubt my stomach would hold up to that -- but the price is right.
Check out the Advisor at www.lasvegasadvisor.com.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com
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