How long have slots been around?

The first slots, or slot machine, in the sense of a coin-operated gambling machine, to achieve national popularity in the U.S. was an automated poker game introduced by Sittman and Pitt in 1893. The machine, which cost a nickel, or 5¢, to play, consisted of five drums, or reels, with a total of 50 playing card symbols. Players inserted a coin, pulled a handle to set the reels in motion, and the object of the game was to align a winning poker hand. However, unlike later games, which released the payoff into a receptacle at the bottom, the machine had no direct payout mechanism, so prizes were collected from an attendant.

Of course in today’s world we’re awash with both offline and online slots games. However, the man credited with the invention of the first slot machine to automatically pay out coins, rather than tickets or tokens, was Charles Fey. In 1894, Fey designed his own version of the ‘Horseshoe’, previously patented by fellow German emigrant Theodor Holz in 1893 and, in 1898, the famous ‘Liberty Bell’. The Liberty Bell consisted of just three reels, each with a series of just five symbols, diamond, heart, spade, horseshoe and, of course, an authentic, cracked Liberty Bell. By reducing the complexity of the payout permutations, Fey incorporated an automatic payout mechanism, making the Liberty Bell more appealing, and lucrative, than contemporary coin-operated machines. Indeed, the Liberty Bell was the most popular slot machine of its day and formed the basis of modern slots. Naturally, three Liberty Bells produced the highest payoff, of 50¢.


What is the eye in the sky?

The term ‘eye in the sky’ was coined to describe casino surveillance in the early days of gambling houses in Las Vegas, Nevada. The original ‘eye in the sky’ was simply a space in the casino ceiling fitted with one-way, or half-silvered, glass through which surveillance operatives could covertly view the floor below for signs of suspicious activity. As the casino industry grew, the surveillance function was performed by small teams of operatives, armed with binoculars, who prowled security catwalks above the casino floor in search of dishonest employees or guests.

Nowadays, the term ‘eye in the sky’ refers to the hundreds of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that provide a major security countermeasure in modern casinos. Sophisticated, high-definition CCTV cameras cover every square inch of the casino, including not only the tables in the casino pit, but also other sensitive areas, such as the soft count room, where banknotes are counted, or the casino cashier, or ‘cage’, where players cash in their chips.

The network of CCTV cameras dotted around the casino operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and, effectively, provides surveillance of every employee and guest. Modern surveillance operators tend to focus on one area of the casino at a time, but on the instruction of security personnel, or a pit boss, can switch to a specific camera at any time. Indeed, modern surveillance cameras typically use video analysis software, including facial recognition technology, to identify card counters and other ‘undesirable’ guests and generally protect the assets of the casino.

Which casino game has the lowest house edge?

Every casino game, without exception, has an integral mathematical edge over the player. This edge, commonly known as the ‘house edge’, ensures that the casino will always win in the long-term and maintain an operating profit. That said, the house edge varies, quite widely, from one casino game to another and, fairly obviously, the games with the lowest house edge give the player the best chance of winning.

It is not without good reason that casinos, in Las Vegas and elsewhere, offer six-deck blackjack – that is, blackjack played with cards dealt from a multiple-deck shoe, containing 310 cards at the start of the shoe – as standard; six decks of cards increase the house edge by 0.42% against the basic blackjack strategy player when compared with a single deck of cards. Of course, the house edge for six-deck, or even eight-deck, blackjack still compares very favourably with that for other, less demanding games, such as keno or slots. However, if you can find a single-deck blackjack game with a suitable minimum bet, you can take advantage of a house edge of just 0.58%, or possibly lower, with basic playing strategy.

Similar comments apply to craps, insofar as the many rules of the game are off-putting to newcomers, with the added complication of a wide house edge spread. Some so-called ‘sucker’ bets, such as ‘Proposition 2 or 12’, ‘Proposition 3 or 11’ and ‘Any 7’ offer a house edge well into double-figures, percentage-wise, and should be avoided. At the other end of the scale, though, craps does offer some of the lowest house edge bets available, including pass/come at 1.41% and don’t pass/don’t come at 1.36%.

How do you play Baccarat?

Baccarat is a gambling game at cards, played by a banker, or dealer, and two patrons who lay stakes against the banker. Regardless of the number of patrons, just two hands – designated the ‘player’ hand and ‘banker’ hand – of two or three cards each are dealt and the object of the game is to bet on the hand that adds up closer to nine. The three possible outcomes are a player win, a banker win and a tie, and patrons can bet on any of these eventualities, but not on a player win and a banker win simultaneously. In the event of a tie, stakes laid on player win and banker win are returned.

For the purposes of calculating the value of each hand, tens and face, or picture, cards have a value of zero, aces have a value of one and cards between two and nine have their face values. Of course, this allows a hand to add up to more than nine but, in that event, the value of the hand is the second digit.

The player hand is concluded before the banker hand. If the player hand has a total between zero and five, unless the bank hand has a total of eight or nine, known as a ‘natural’, the player hand draws a third card. The player hand stands on total values of six and seven and, for obvious reasons, on eight and nine. A natural eight or nine for either hand wins outright, with no further cards drawn, unless the natural eight or nine is tied, or beaten, by the opposing hand. By contrast, while the banker hand always draws another card on values between zero and two and always stands on values between seven and nine, the response to values between three and six depends on the value of the third card in the player hand.

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