Talking Blackjack

Today I want to talk blackjack. Although video poker has been our core game for about 25 years, we haven’t forgotten our first 6 years when blackjack took center stage in our casino life. And we still hit the BJ tables occasionally, when we have a coupon for that game or we are on a cruise ship and want to have some social activity with friends and relatives at a gambling option better than the machines offer.

I still keep up on blackjack news and take note of new BJ resources that would especially be valuable for recreational players. Recently my friend, Henry Tamburin, who has been a BJ player and gaming writer for many years, has just finished a book rightly called the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide. It is a comprehensive introduction to the casino game of blackjack that is a step-by-step handbook for the beginner and can help more experienced players fine-tune their game. The Guide includes an Index and Glossary and is fully illustrated with graphics and color-coded charts that make it fun to read and easy to understand. It is more than just about blackjack strategy; it covers many related topics, like the history of the game, side bets and variations, tournaments, and the famous practitioners at the Blackjack Ball. Best of all, it is the ultimate frugal read since it is FREE to access online.

And if you ever wondered how big BJ players operate, you will love this story Henry discovered in his recent interview with Donald Johnson, a piece that appeared in “Casino Player” magazine. I had heard how Johnson beat several casinos for $15 million dollars betting $100,000 a hand, and I – and most everyone else – thought it was due to the lucrative rebate on losses he negotiated with the casinos. However, in this interview Henry found out that there was much more to this story, amazing details that hadn’t come out before. You can read all about it here.

For more on Don Johnson, go to this podcast at “Gambling with an Edge,” where he and Anthony Curtis and Max Rubin talk about this year’s Blackjack Ball, at which Johnson was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.


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In this blog entry I will give some additional information I have gleaned while talking to other players and reading in the online gambling forums. I can’t stress too often how important it is to utilize these kinds of resources.

However, I need to warn players that one must continually verify information they hear and read. I have rarely found that writers or players will deliberately give false information, but humans do sometimes draw mistaken conclusions. A player may assume certain facts that they personally experienced, not realizing that they may not apply to others in different circumstances. An example of this would be a local player who would tell an out-of-town friend about a good promotion, not knowing that it was open only to locals. Continue reading

Posted in Casino Promotions | 4 Comments


Many casinos are doing a better job on their websites, giving detailed timely promotion information and updated details on personal players club accounts. And some are even providing extra conveniences.  For example, you can go to any Boyd property website and download and/or print out a tax win/loss statement or any W-2G you have received for the last 3 years. You may want to check out the websites of the casinos where you play and see if there is any help for you there before you start doing your tax returns.

A general caution about multiple-point promotions: Some casinos offer ones on individual player mailers that are not open to the general public. I know this is true on some – or all? – Boyd property mailers. Also true for the Palms – and perhaps for all Station properties? There may be others.  So this might be the reason you and a friend might have an argument over whether there are multiple points on such-and-such day.

And to answer a reader’s question: Continue reading

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Tax Help for Gamblers

Many of you are starting to work on your 2016 tax returns and have questions about how to handle your gambling figures for the year. If you are a new gambler and/or have gotten some W-2Gs for the first time, you need a lot of basic information. This is why Tax Help for Gamblers was written. It will give you and/or your tax preparer valuable details you need as you work on your returns, including both federal and state for many of you.

If you are experienced in handling gambling figures on tax returns and/or you have heard about the recent IRS ruling, you may have specific questions about possible changes for 2016. Here is the actual 25-page IRS document discussing the regulations proposed earlier – and many vehemently protested by both casinos and players – and why or why not they made it into the final document.  Fortunately, the most problematic for gamblers, lowering the W-2G issuance from $1200 to $600, was scrapped.

Unfortunately the one issue we players wanted settled, specifically approving the “session method” of reporting our wins/losses did not make it into this final document; the IRS stated it is still “considering” Notice 2015-21, which would give a “safe harbor” for this logical method.

Therefore, we cannot yet change the advice we give in the latest edition of Tax Help for Gambler. In the section titled “1040, Line 21 Problem” (which may now be a different line!) we discuss at length this problem of deciding what a “session” is and whether the IRS will kick out your return if you use it instead of your W-2G total. Although there have been an IRS memo and a court ruling validating this method – and many have been using it with no problems – there have still been many cases where gamblers have had to endure much back-and-forth argument and even needed professional advocating before they could prevail. Some gamblers just deathly fear the hassle and won’t use the method even if it would be the most cost effective. So we all hope that the IRS will soon put out a clear directive on this issue.

Another resource I can recommend is a recent good article by my friend Mark Gruetze that discusses IRS and tax issues for gamblers.

The latest edition of Tax Help for Gamblers is available only as an eBook but is immediately accessible to download for a very frugal price – $7.99. It can be ordered through iTunes, for the Kindle and for the Nook.


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Celebrating 85 years of Adventure

January 18, 1949 was a typical cloudy cold winter day in Connersville, Indiana, when a skinny teenager ran across the street from his high school to catch the bus just pulling up to the stop.

“Well hello, kid,” the driver grinned as the young man dropped his nickel fare into the coin box, “It’s only noon; are you playing hooky from school this afternoon?”

“No, Butch, I’m not going back there anymore. Today is my 17th birthday and I’m off to see the world.”

“Well, this bus will take you downtown.” Butch was laughing now, “That’s about all I can do for a world traveler.”

“Well, that’s all I need to get to the Greyhound Station, catch a bus to Richmond, walk into the recruiting office, and join the Marines.”

A few hours later, a dejected young man was riding the bus home. Much to the painful disappointment of the adventurer, he would not be able to realize his dream that day, one that he had kept in his head since he commanded an army of tin soldiers in his backyard sandbox – the Marines had a temporary freeze on enlistments. Back home it was tedious waiting time, holding on to the promise made by the recruiter that as soon as the freeze was lifted, they would call him and he would be sent overseas very soon thereafter.

Connected with his desire to be a soldier so he could travel was his belief that a military life would give unlimited opportunities for gambling, a passion he had pursued, influenced by two much older brothers, since he was a preschooler. So during this wait to be called by the Marines, he became more impatient as he heard all the exciting military gambling stories told by the veterans at the card tables in the pool halls and cigar stores where he continued to hone his gambling skills.

In June, he gave up on the Marines, who still hadn’t called.   He went to the Army recruiting office, took his test, and was ready to sign on the dotted line when the Air Force recruiter in the same office offered a deal to the Army recruiter. “How about a trade? I have a recruit here but he didn’t achieve the higher test score the Air Force requires but it is good enough for the Army. Let me trade for your guy since he had a higher score.”

The Army recruiter looked at his enthusiastic wannabe soldier, “What do you think of this idea?

The Air Force recruiter looked at him and saw by his face that he would need some persuading, “In the Air Force you won’t eat meals off a tin tray. They’ll be served on tables with white tablecloths.”

And that is how this adventurer ended up in the Air Force, started his world travel by being stationed in Japan, and was put in charge of base supply where he could run a daily blackjack game in the back room behind his office.

Happy 85th birthday, Brad, from your loving traveling and gambling companion who joined your adventure for these last 31 years.

Posted in Brad Stories, It's Personal, Memories | 16 Comments

The Negative Side of Promotions

In my last blog I promised that I would address some of the frustrations and problems players might face in using casino promotions. I really did not want to write on this subject, but I was getting criticism that I was “Little Miss Sunshine,” that I was presenting a too-rosy picture for a situation that was really getting more difficult for players who wanted to cut their losses.

I have always stressed that casinos are not non-profit businesses – at least they don’t plan to be such. And so in recent years when they started cutting video poker paytables and reducing comps and other player benefits, I chided other players about talking about “the greedy casinos.” I suggested they adjust to the new casino environment by “complaining with their feet.” When a casino makes too many cutbacks, then look for another playground. In the meantime, I was trying to help by detailing in this blog many of the options so they would have a better chance of finding a friendlier casino atmosphere.

I have always been aware that casinos take notice of players who work against their goal of achieving profits. It started long ago with countermeasures against blackjack players who could beat the house by counting cards. Skilled video poker players stayed under the casino radar for much longer but finally caught the attention of math-savvy executives – the ones we call bean counters. Continue reading

Posted in Casino Promotions | 23 Comments

January Promotions

Here are some money-saving tidbits to help you tackle better the casino environment in 2017 .

MGM Properties

Mad about having to pay for parking while you are visiting most MGM properties on the Strip. This link gives the complete details on how to avoid that irritating charge.  Definitely a wonderful frugal “secret.”


The Senior Thank-You Thursdays (50+) promo continues, featuring food discounts and a free slot tournament. Also continuing is the monthly senior 20% discount that moves around to various departments. In January it stops at the Pub 365, the eatery that last year replaced their Mexican restaurant.

For everyone: The monthly mailer describes a “Winter Free Play Grab” on Wednesdays. “Earn 500 slot points for one grab from the prize Box. Win up to $500 Free Play – $5 minimum prize.” On Tuesdays you can earn 200 base points and receive a 2-for-1 entrée coupon to Marilyn’s Café or Pub 365.


Many of us oldsters had been anxiously waiting to see what Stations would be doing for us who play at their newest acquisition, the Palms. Would it be transferring here the My Generation Wednesday Senior 50+ program that they have in all of their other properties?

Our January Palms mailer answered that question. First, our special day is Tuesday, referred to as Timeless Tuesdays, with a new name “Boom 50+.” (Perhaps appealing to the Baby Boomer gang although some of us from the previous gang are still kicking around in casinos!) There are some good benefits: food and drink specials; drawings and tournament; hot-seat promo; and $5 movies. No multiple points like in the My Generation program elsewhere. There are no details I could find online so I can’t give you a complete report until I pick up printed material that I hope will be at the players club next time I stop in. Another question left unanswered is whether this is planned to be an on-going program or will change from month to month. Time will tell – and then maybe I can tell you here!

As far as Palms promotions for everyone, most seem to be separate from Station-wide ones, i.e., the January Balloon Zoom.  The Palms Friday drawings seem to be patterned after the ones that have been running there for years. You have to be very careful how you read about multiple-point days; check the logos on all ads and mailers to see what individual casinos, or casino groups, are giving these bonus points and on what days. Many players who played at a Stations or Fiesta casino in the past will get a separate mailer for these casinos and for the Palms. It is just like I have discussed for years about the Boyd properties. “Child” properties under a “mother” umbrella company like to show their independence by having their own goals and plans and interests. Don’t assume because one “child” casino is doing a particular promotion or offers a certain benefit that these will be available at a sister property.

Cannery and Eastside Cannery

Boyd Gaming has completed their acquisition of the Cannery and Eastside Cannery casinos. However, as yet no date has been given as to when they will be folded into the BConnected players club program.


I try to be as positive as I can about casino policies and the frequent changes. But sometimes my optimism is challenged big time. In my next blog I am going to share some of my frustrations, including some recent changes that may impact negatively your use of promotions.

Posted in Casino Promotions, Senior Promotion | 7 Comments

An IRS Birthday Present

A big thanks for all the recent birthday messages. I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many thoughtful friends and well-wishers.

And a big surprise – even the IRS decided to give me something nice for my birthday, new gambling regulations that will make easier my future book-writing life – as well as my personal financial situation. These new regulations wiped out some scary proposals from the IRS in the past, particularly dropping the bad idea of changing the $1200 W2-G threshold to $600. They also addressed some other technical issues for which the casinos had been pushing. I haven’t read the official IRS regulation document, but when I do, I will share all additional pertinent details.

Speaking of taxes, I want to clarify that the 3rd edition of Tax Help for Gamblers, only available online as an eBook, is the only edition with current information.  Continue reading

Posted in Taxes | 4 Comments

Back Home

Still “recovering” from a long and busy out-of-town trip, one that, as usual, combined casino activity and family celebrations.  This picture records the first family event when we got to GA, Zachary’s graduation from Police Academy, where he scored two  of the three awards given – top shooter and highest overall PT achievement.  All that ROTC and parkour/karate experience is reaping great dividends.  He will be one busy Man in Blue.  As well as his job on the Columbus, GA police force, he will be juggling a fledgling online business, Army National Guard duty, and being a thoughtful husband to Taylor and involved father to 2 1/2 Asher and on-the-way Bowen who will be arriving in March.


After celebrating an early Christmas in Columbus, our next stop was at granddaughter Kaitlynn’s apartment in Atlanta, where she is working on her master’s in communication, specifically video production and related areas.  She has connected her hobby of geocaching to her studies with a YouTube site chronicling her adventures at home and abroad.

Then it was on to Cherokee Harrah’s in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, one of our favorite casinos, Continue reading

Posted in Atlantic City, Bankroll, Blackjack, Book Recommendation, Family News, Non-Vegas Casinos | 10 Comments

Yes, a New Frugal Book is Coming!

Many of you have been quizzing me about this for years. I resisted … but the casino world has been changing so radically. I felt I owed it to my long-time faithful readers – and also to new casino gamblers – to write a book that would help them—not just navigate, but … yes, survive … this new casino environment. The title of this new book is The Frugal Gambler Casino Guide.

Originally, I decided to just update each of my first two books, The Frugal Gambler and More Frugal Gambling. However, I found that this involved repeating too much material from one to the other. So I settled on writing just one Frugal casino guide, updating much of the basic information from those two books, along with some material from the Frugal Video Poker. Although I still wanted to thoroughly cover my “specialty,” video poker, I realized that many casino visitors prefer other games. So I added new information about all their possible choices, including table games, slots, live poker, bingo, keno, carnival games, and sports and race betting.

The biggest change you’ll see in this new book is a new emphasis. Although it still gives you a glimpse into the possibility of “advantage play”—that is, long-term winning—my main purpose is to show you how to stretch your bankroll and/or lose less. This is the more realistic goal of most gamblers, and I describe ways you can keep more money out of the casino’s clutches and in your pocket no matter what your choice of casino game may be.

This new book will be back from the printer  in February.  At that time it will be available from Huntington Press (including autographed copies), Amazon, as well as being orderable from your local bookstore. In the meantime, you can pre-order the book by going to ShopLVA  for the pre-pub price of $11.95 plus shipping (it will retail for $16.95). Also in February it will be available as an eBook.

In the meantime, you might wonder what will happen to my older books. They won’t be reprinted, so when the present editions are sold out, they’ll disappear forever.  Some of you have bought and studied all of them. However, if you’re not in that group, you may wonder if they contain some information that still might be useful and might be a frugal buy, especially since they can be ordered at a nice discount. So here’s a brief consideration of that point for each title and what possibly helpful material they contain that didn’t make it into the new book.

The Frugal Gambler – The original 1998 (red cover) edition and 2005 updated (green cover) edition contain a chapter on airline bumping with money-making techniques we still use today. And the introduction tells the story of how we became “the frugal gamblers,” with a later chapter detailing how we could stay free in Las Vegas for long periods of time.

More Frugal Gambling – In 2003, after more years of experience at both lower and higher play levels and becoming a Las Vegas resident, I had much more information to share. My daughter Angela helped me review the basics for beginners and I contributed new information for experienced gamblers. This was a very big book and I had to boil down so many details to cover and update the same subjects in the new book: VP, players clubs, promotions, comps. If you haven’t read this book, I guarantee you’ll find details that will make you money, especially in the 60-page section on comps. No other book covers the host system more completely. Yes, the casinos are cutting their comp benefits, but the player who knows the basics and some of the “tricks” I share will score more.

Frugal Video Poker – This book came out in 2006. Although it was originally written to accompany software that is no longer available, it’s still a good step-by-step guide that will help beginners start on the path of skillful video poker play. It gives some bankroll tables and volatility information that will help them know what to expect. It would be a good companion volume for the novice video poker player who needs more basic information to add to what’s found in the new book.

The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide – This sturdy pocket guide continues to be a must-carry for all studious VP players, giving the EV (expected long-term value) of almost 200 of the most common VP pay schedules, plus progressive information for over 150 games. The math never needs to be updated!

Tax Help for Gamblers –Although previous editions have been in paperback, to keep the information up to date, the latest, the 3rd edition, is an e-book that you might want – or need – to consult as you start thinking about filing your 2016 tax return. Download now for your Kindle; Nook; or Apple device.


Posted in Book Recommendation | 2 Comments