Nutritional Labels for Casino Games?

            Today's column topic comes from my Freshman college roomate.  He posted a question to one of my old columns on my blog (  He wanted to know if I thought if the casinos would ever have to disclose all the key statistics about each game - a sort of 'nutritional label' for each game.  My response was that I didn't think so for 3 reasons.  The latter 2 were more political than mathematical.  This column is about that first reason.  With the exception of slot machines, all that information about each game is already fully known.

            While admittedly, if the average person were to walk up to a game that he has never seen before, he isn't going to know what the payback or win frequency is.   I'm an expert and I couldn't necessarily tell you these key stats about a game I've never seen before.  I might be able to take a good guess about it, depending on whether we are talking about a complete game or a sidebet.  There isn't a lot of variation in table game paybacks.  There are probably very few that are below 97% and, of course, none above 100%.  Sidebets can have a much larger range, as some are as low as 75% and others go up to the mid 90's or even a smidge higher.   If I were to walk up to a video poker machine that has a foreign paytable, but is based on one of the better known games, I can probably peg the payback to within .25% by doing some quick math in my head.

            There is little doubt that putting the key statistics on each machine would make this information far more readily available than the way it is currently done.  But, I wouldn't equate this to a can of soup without a nutritional label.   The list of possible ingredients and the exact quantities in the soup is nearly endless.  Throw in the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of food products (or more?) and it is completely impossible to make a choice based on nutritional content without these labels.  When you walk into a particular casino, you have perhaps a dozen or so choices of which table game to play.  Yes, each casino may have its variation of rules.  One may offer a 6-deck shoe for blackjack and the other may have a single-deck game.  One may hit on soft 17 and the other may stop on all 17s.  But, if you spend time reading a book or two on gambling, you'll quickly learn and likely remember the paybacks of most of these rule variations.

            For many games, there is almost no variations available - especially for the base game.  Want to play Three Card Poker?  It has a 97.98% payback for Ante/Play.  While there are some variations of Pair Plus, the overwhelming number of them have the same paytable, paying 92.72%.   These numbers are not known because Shuffle Entertainment published them, they are known because any mathematician/programmer can calculate these numbers using a variety of techniques.  In the case of Ante/Play, there are a total of 6 cards dealt to the Player and the Dealer (3 each).  There are 22,100 possible Player hands and 18,424 possible Dealer hands for each of the Player hands.  Thanks to the speed of today's computers, a program can run through ALL of these hands (numbering well into the Trillions), determine the right strategy for each Player hand and tell us absolutely everything we would ever want to know about the game - the payback, the win fequency, the probability of winning given any Player hand, how often the Player folds, how often the Dealer doesn't qualify, etc... 

            Unlike food, casino games are, well, gambling.  Part of gambling is rewarding those people who are more prepared and more knowledgeable about gambling.   The strategy for Three Card Poker doesn't take a PhD to learn.  It takes about 20 seconds (or less).  Play a Q-6-4 or better.    You could read this just about anywhere on the internet.  If you want to know the details about the strategy (how and why), you can read a booklet on the game (I suggest my very own Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker, but that's just me!)  Armed with this strategy you are very likely to do better than someone who has no idea what to do over the short run and almost assuredly so over the long run. 

            For years, people have asked me if I'm banned from casinos because of my in-depth knowledge of table games or if I'm 'hated' by the casinos for arming people with the strategies for how to play the games.  I'd like to think that I've had at least some influence on how people play.  But, I don't think the casinos care one bit.  Even with the best strategies, all casino games (except a few video poker variants) have house advantages.  The casinos are totally fine with a few people playing near the theoretical payback as results are all relative.  A few people who are winning in the short run or who are doing better than the rest can keep the rest of the Players in the game.  After all, if the other guy can win, why can't I?  Of course, this is far more true IF you know the right strategy. 

            I've often surmised that if I were to stand near a Three Card Poker table, handing out my booklet for free that only 20-25% of the Players would actually use the strategy.  Half of these people would probably give it up within the hour when the results don't match the theory - ignoring the time factor that is required for this to happen.  What this really translates to is that I don't think it would matter one bit if the casinos were to put a little sign on each table that had the payback and win frequency of the game.  Most Players would probably ignore them.  After all, how many people really read those nutritional labels on food anyhow?  And that's about what actually goes INTO your body!