By Bill Ordine
When the Maryland Live! casino opened to an enthusiastic response June 6, customers quickly discovered the sophisticated electronic table games that make up some of the 3,200 gambling devices on the 160,000-square foot casino floor. The electronic table games, such as blackjack, craps and roulette, don't have live dealers manning them; they're essentially self-service gambling machines, but offer action similar to their live counterparts.
Some casino-goers may be familiar with electronic table games, because such devices have been fairly common world for several years. But Maryland Live! features the most recent generation of these games, so there's going to be a learning curve for some players.
One of the electronic games at Maryland Live! that is among the most straightforward and familiar is blackjack. It also offers some of the best odds on the floor.
The blackjack games at Maryland Live! currently have rules favoring customers, especially if players employ what is often referred to as optimal play, or basic strategy.
Basic strategy is a mathematically derived decision-making approach to playing blackjack, based on the player's first two cards and the dealer's one exposed card. Four enlisted servicemen stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground developed the strategy in Maryland during the 1950s. Ever since, it has been the foundation for skilled blackjack play.
By using basic strategy along with those fairly favorable rules at Maryland Live!, a player should be able to reduce the house edge to less than 1 percent -- far better for the player than, say, slot machines or even roulette.
One key rule at Maryland Live! that many other casinos have altered is that a player's blackjack is paid off at the traditional 3-to-2, meaning that a $10 bet wins $15 if the player has blackjack and the dealer does not. In some other casinos, that payoff has been reduced to 6-to-5, which makes a difference.
A second important rule is that at Maryland Live!, the invisible dealer is required to stand on all 17s, including a so-called soft 17, which is an ace and a 6. Having the dealer draw to soft 17s helps the house. Other blackjack rules at the gaming site are late surrender, double down on any two cards, splitting (but no re-splits), a seven-card non-breaking hand is an automatic winner and insurance pays 2-to-1.
The cards are dealt from a virtual six-deck shoe, with two-thirds of the cards dealt before a shuffle. But there is no indication to the players when the cards are being dealt, which effectively neutralizes card counters.
There are also two bonus bets, which deal mainly with a "Royal Match," which is a king-queen of the same suit. A player can bet from $1 to $25 on the primary bonus bet, and the top prize for that bonus wager is 1,000-to-1, if both the player and the dealer have Royal Matches. There are other ways to hit smaller bonuses with the primary bonus wager, and there is a second bonus bet for just $1, which is tied to a progressive jackpot. If players are at all confused, they should ask for help before making the wagers.
Perhaps the key thing to remember about bonus bets in general is that they offer poor odds. But the lure of such wagers is the prospect of a jackpot playoff. If you do the wise thing statistically and don't make the bonus bet and it hits -- it will make you sad. That's why it's called gambling.
The Maryland Lottery is reintroducing a Baltimore Ravens-themed scratch-off ticket. The game is expected to be released in early August and will be sold at Ravens home games as well as normal Maryland outlets.
What makes the $5 scratch-off ticket appealing to Ravens fans, other than the design of the ticket, is the second-chance feature, which includes a $1 million cash prize as well as so-called "experiential prizes." Those prizes include season tickets for life (20 years), season tickets for one season, gameday tickets, away trips with the team and other prizes.
To win those prizes, players will be able to go to the lottery's Web site at mdlottery.com/ravens and enter the special code on the perforated portion of the scratch-off ticket.
Issue 172: June 2012