Archive for February, 2011

Why I Love Blackjack Tournaments

Monday, February 28th, 2011

One of the great things about online casinos, rather than the brick and mortar variety, is that they offer blackjack tournaments. Now, a lot of online casinos don’t offer tournaments for blackjack, but for those that do, it’s an opportunity I can’t resist.

There are two main appeals of playing blackjack in a tournament rather than the normal way. The first is that it is cheaper and almost devoid of risk. With regular blackjack, you pay for each wager and on every hand you risk some of your money. That means you can win money, but you’re also facing the possibility of the house taking it from you. With blackjack tournaments, you normally only pay an entry fee and after that, the wagers are using points that were awarded to you simply for joining.

The other great thing about blackjack tournaments is that the gameplay is different. It is more competitive, for one thing. Instead of a bunch of players competing against the dealer, with no one really caring how well the other players do, everyone is against each other. If another players is winning a lot, that puts more pressure on you as you fall behind on the leader board. The competitive nature of blackjack tournaments make them more exciting and dramatic. Also, some online casinos have head-to-head blackjack tournaments. In that type of tournament, instead of a player against a dealer, two players compete directly against each other. There is no dealer, so there’s no house edge. Both players have the same rules and can strategize accordingly. Because of the different rules, different strategy is needed, which also provides a new challenge for those who have basic strategy memorized.

I don’t play tournaments all the time because that’s not where the good money is. However, for a different type of game with less risk, playing in an occasional blackjack tournament can’t be beat.

Is Card Counting Legal?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Most people only know about counting cards because of movies like Rain Man and, more recently, The Hangover. For that reason, there are a lot of misconceptions about card counting. The most common question I get about it, aside from how to do it, is whether or not it’s legal. The short answer: yes, sort of.

Before I get into the “sort of” part, I need to point out something. Casinos hate card counters. Fair or not, if they catch you counting cards, they will escort you from the casino and may even ban you from visiting again. If it’s a casino chain, you could be banned from every casino they have. If you get kicked out of enough casinos for counting cards, you could find yourself blacklisted and unable to play anywhere in the state. All of this is despite the fact that you wouldn’t have broken any law.

There are currently several legal battles over whether the casinos have the right to do that. Players contend that if the casino offers a game involving skill, they shouldn’t penalize people who are more skilled than others. The casinos contend that, as private businesses, they have the right to refuse service to anyone. Both arguments make good points, which is why I don’t think the issue will be resolved anytime soon. So for now, the answer is that card counting is legal but can still get you banned from a casino.

There is a caveat, though. It is legal to use your mind only to count cards. No external device of any kind can be used to help you. That includes obvious things like digital counters, calculators, surveillance and other high-tech equipment, but it can also be very low-tech. If you wrap a rubber band around your finger and move it around while counting, that’s illegal. If someone else counts for you and somehow relays the information to you, that’s illegal. Writing it down is illegal (though that would also easily be caught). Any trick that you can possibly think of that requires anything other than the internal processes of your mind would make card counting illegal. And if you count cards illegally, you are going to get a much worse fate than getting tossed from a casino.

Can Casino Bonuses Be Bad?

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

One of the great things about online casinos is the bonus money, where they reward you for joining or being a returning customer by giving you some free money. People like getting free stuff, and any extra money to help you out with your wagering is bound to be appreciated. Can casino bonuses be bad, though?

Bad is a relative term, but sometimes the deals aren’t nearly as good as you think. Sometimes they are good for some players, but not for others, depending on your playing style. The drawback to casino bonuses is that there are strings attached. Those strings are called wagering requirements.

Wagering requirements are a predetermined amount of times that you have to wager the bonuses before they can be withdrawn. These were created to put an end to people taking advantage of the casinos by joining, taking the bonuses and leaving without ever playing. The bonuses are intended to be used for wagering purposes, to help you play more games and have more fun at the casino. If you win money using that bonus, that’s great, but you might be surprised at what happens next.

Let’s say that the online casino gave you a $100 bonus on your deposit. Let’s say that bonus has a wagering requirement of 25 play-throughs. That means you have to wager that $100 in bonus money 25 times. If you’re not good at math, let me put it this way: you would have to wager $2,500 before you can withdraw the bonus money. That’s not bad as long as your winnings are separate, but at some casinos you can’t withdraw the winnings, either, until you have satisfied the wagering requirements.

If you bet a lot of money at casinos, that’s not a big deal. You’ll meet the requirements before long and everything is fine, but what if you don’t have a lot of money in your gambling budget? What if you take that $100, wager it and hit the jackpot on an online slot? I’m sure you’d like to withdraw those thousands of dollars, but depending on the terms and conditions, you might not be allowed to.

For that reason, before you ever accept any bonuses from casinos, check out the terms and conditions and make sure they agree with your playing style. A lot of casual players who only wager small amounts opt out of bonuses and that might be best for you.

Can Casino Bonuses Be Bad?

Monday, February 21st, 2011

One of the great things about online casinos is the bonus money, where they reward you for joining or being a returning customer by giving you some free money. People like getting free stuff, and any extra money to help you out with your wagering is bound to be appreciated. Can casino bonuses be bad, though?

Bad is a relative term, but sometimes the deals aren’t nearly as good as you think. Sometimes they are good for some players, but not for others, depending on your playing style. The drawback to casino bonuses is that there are strings attached. Those strings are called wagering requirements.

Wagering requirements are a predetermined amount of times that you have to wager the bonuses before they can be withdrawn. These were created to put an end to people taking advantage of the casinos by joining, taking the bonuses and leaving without ever playing. The bonuses are intended to be used for wagering purposes, to help you play more games and have more fun at the casino. If you win money using that bonus, that’s great, but you might be surprised at what happens next.

Let’s say that the online casino gave you a $100 bonus on your deposit. Let’s say that bonus has a wagering requirement of 25 play-throughs. That means you have to wager that $100 in bonus money 25 times. If you’re not good at math, let me put it this way: you would have to wager $2,500 before you can withdraw the bonus money. That’s not bad as long as your winnings are separate, but at some casinos you can’t withdraw the winnings, either, until you have satisfied the wagering requirements.

If you bet a lot of money at casinos, that’s not a big deal. You’ll meet the requirements before long and everything is fine, but what if you don’t have a lot of money in your gambling budget? What if you take that $100, wager it and hit the jackpot? I’m sure you’d like to withdraw those thousands of dollars, but depending on the terms and conditions, you might not be allowed to.

For that reason, before you ever accept any bonuses from casinos, check out the terms and conditions and make sure they agree with your playing style. A lot of casual blackjack players who only wager small amounts opt out of bonuses and that might be best for you.

How I choose online casinos

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

If you’re like me, you hate comparison shopping. For me, it’s painful going around test-driving cars, looking at new apartments, checking prices for appliances at different stores and all of that. I would almost rather pay more for something the first place I see it. Therefore, the prospect of finding a good online casino to frequent, given the thousands of options, isn’t exciting one.

With that in mind, I was able to find a way to narrow down my choices and choose casinos for my blackjack needs. First of all, I realized that there are lots of great websites that I will never try. That’s okay. I started by making a list of reputable casinos – online casinos that had earned licenses and reputations for being generous, safe and trustworthy. Casino review websites, consumer reports and government agencies can help with that. Also, if the casino isn’t licensed and approved by a recognized regulatory authority, I’m not taking a risk on them.

After that, I look for a casino with some good blackjack games. Blackjack is my game of choice, so although I will occasionally play games like roulette and slots, I don’t really care how good the slot selection is at the casino. I care about blackjack. Do they have a few variations or just the standard game?

The next thing I look for is whether the casino offers blackjack tournaments. Most online casinos offer tournaments for slots, but only a small percentage have blackjack tournaments. That is because they are not as popular or profitable for the casino. I love playing in tournaments, though, especially if the casino offers head-to-head tournaments. If an online casino has a good variety of blackjack tournaments that run frequently (preferably every week), that is a good sign for me.

The other thing I check out are the promotions. I don’t even worry about the welcome bonus too much, because you’re only going to get that once – when you first join. I look for online casinos that frequently reward repeat customers with cash-back bonuses, match bonuses and more. Good bonuses help you make the most of your money, and an online casino that has those, tournaments, a good selection and is safe and fair is going to get my business.

On Live-Dealer Blackjack Games

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A recent trend in the online gambling industry is live-dealer games. They started in a few casinos and now can be found in many places. Those games allow you to watch a video feed of a real live dealer as you play the game, which makes the game more interactive, but are those games any good?

As far as your odds go, they are the same. Just because there is a live dealer now doesn’t mean you can count cards. Continuous shuffling and the random number generator would still negate that strategy. Really the only benefit of playing live-dealer games at the online casino is that the games are more interactive.

Instead of looking at a boring screen of a blackjack table that may or may not have avatars for you, the dealer and other players, you get to watch a dealer. It doesn’t hurt that the dealers tend to be attractive women. That makes the game more interesting and in addition to watching the video feed, in many cases you can hear the dealer and talk back to her. It makes the games more personable and more like playing in a brick and mortar casino.

Does that make the games better? Well, that’s up to you. The odds are no better or worse, so however you prefer to play is fine. Right now, the traditional games are still more popular than live-dealer blackjack games, but I think the live-dealer games will increase in popularity in time. Until then, I suggest trying it out to see if you like it. If not, switch back to the more traditional games. You have nothing to lose.

Montana to legalize blackjack?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

A state representative in Montana has proposed a bill that would legalize blackjack, with revenue brought from the game to help pay for social services. Representative Tony Belcourt has introduced House Bill 423. The full title of the bill is six lines long (no, I’m not kidding), so I’ll call it “An Act Legalizing Blackjack” for short.

If passed, the bill would make it legal for Montana casinos to carry live blackjack tables. In order to offer those games, though, they would have to obtain permits. The money raised from permit fees would go toward the budget of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. The DHHS is currently having its budget slashed by belt-tightening lawmakers in the state.

No high-stakes games would be allowed. The bill sets a $25 betting limit for blackjack games. The money from permit fees would be earmarked for funding specific programs outlined in the bill. Some of those programs include suicide prevention, services for the mentally ill, services for the disabled, child foster care services and more.

Currently live table games are illegal in Montana. The state has casinos, but they only carry video gambling machines, such as slots and video poker. Back in 1991, a bill to legalize blackjack was proposed and was rejected. No efforts to legalize the game have gotten a lot of support since then. With the Department of Health and Human Services seeing cuts to its budget and the state needing revenue, this might be the best time to do it.

Chilean miners enjoy blackjack at Florida casino

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Remember the Chilean miners? After the Haitian earthquake and before the riots in Egypt, those miners were the talk of the news, the water coolers and Twitter. After surviving 69 days trapped in the shaft, the rescued miners became celebrities, as everyone wanted to hear of their experience and how they held it together and survived. They have appeared at numerous talk shows, in magazines and other media.

On Friday, February 4, those miners were honored at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek Pavilion as part of the “Tribute to Heroes and Miracles” fundraiser. Fifteen of the 33 rescued Chilean miners attended the event in Coconut Creek, Florida. In addition to the miners, two heroes of the shooting at the Bay County School Board, Mike Jones and Ginger Littleton, were honored. Actor and veteran J.R. Martinez and Paralympian Bradley Johnson were also featured in the tribute.

In addition to taking part in the ceremony, those honored in the festivities played blackjack and other casino games and met admiring customers in attendance. Costs of attending the fundraiser were $100 per person and the proceeds went to benefit the United Mine Workers of America, the Miners Aid Fund, the American Cancer Society and Disabled American Veterans.

The Seminole Casino Coconut Creek is a casino in south Florida owned by the Seminole Tribe. The casino features Las Vegas-style slot machines, new blackjack tables (only approved by the state last year) and a popular poker room. It is one of seven casinos owned by the tribe in the state of Florida.

Play free blackjack on Bing

Friday, February 4th, 2011

There are a lot of good ways to play the great game of blackjack. You can visit a brick and mortar casino, pick a table and start playing. You can log onto your computer, join an online casino and begin playing. You can play at a mobile casino using your cell phone. You can get out a deck of cards and play against your friends. Social networking sites like Facebook have apps that let you play. There is one way of playing that is entirely new to me, though: Bing.

Most people know of Bing as the search engine that is trying so hard to replace Google. Most of us want it to succeed, because Google is somewhat evil, but the problem with Bing is that, for the most part, it sucks. There is one cool new feature, though. Now you can play free online blackjack directly in the search engine.

To try it out, all you have to do is go to Bing.com and enter the term “blackjack” in the search box. You will find a couple paid ads and a lot of results for casinos and blackjack-related websites. One surprising result, though, is one that just says blackjack and has a picture of the card game. Next to it is a button that says “Play Now.”

Above the button is a brief introduction to the game: Beat the dealer! Make your bet, and you’re dealt two cards. If you think you can get closer to 21 without going over, have the dealer give you another. Do you feel lucky?

If you click the “Play Now” button, you are taken to a screen on Bing’s Online Games section. The search results are still available on the screen, but above that is a flash video that allows you to play free online blackjack. The game software is provided by a company called Arkadium.

The blackjack game is very basic, without a lot of bells or whistles. You see a blackjack table with five seats. You choose your bet and ask to be dealt cards. The cards magically fly out of the shoe and are given to you. The game automatically adds up the total for you and you have separate buttons for hit, stand, split and double. Interestingly, no cards are dealt to the other seats, not that it matters.

This game is certainly not the best blackjack simulation, but if you’re surfing Bing, it’s worth a try. I played it for a while and had some fun.

Gambling and Taxes

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

This is probably the least favorite blog post I will ever write, so I’ll try to make it short and painful. If you live in the United States, tax day is coming up in April. You are no doubt dreading this day even more so than you dread looking at the deductions on each paycheck. If you play blackjack for real money, here’s what you need to know.

You are probably aware that if you hit a jackpot of $1,200 or more at a casino, the casino will then take down all of your personal information and have you fill out a tax form on the spot. The casino will then pass that information along to the IRS. What you may not know is that any amount you win on gambling must be reported. Even if your net win was $1, you must report that $1 as income received from gambling.

Yes, it’s true. And it’s not just casino games. According to the IRS, you must report winnings from all gambling, which includes but is not limited to, winnings from casinos, horse races, lotteries, and raffles. That means if you play a scratch-off game and win $5, you’re required to report that to the IRS. Yes, I realize that no one does that, but to be in full compliance with the law, you must.

The IRS taxes all income you make, including from a casual game of blackjack. The good news is that if you itemize your deductions, you can also report your losses and receive deductions for those. Hey, at least the losses are good for something! To deduct your gambling losses, “the amount of losses you deduct may not be more than the amount of gambling income reported on your return,” according to the IRS website.

What this means is that when you are gambling, you need to be a good bookkeeper. Record how much you wager, how much you make and how much you lose for each gambling session. That way, you can accurately report your tax information to the government. Recording that information is also good for your budgeting and I recommend everyone do it to make sure they aren’t spending too much money at casinos.