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Shuffling machines give no extra edge to casinos

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Three Card Poker

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. I like playing the table games such as Three Card Poker, Let It Ride and the newer game High Card Flush. All use automatic shufflers.

What goes on inside the shuffler? How are the cards shuffled ? Can the machine be manipulated to give an edge to the casino?

A. The exact process differs depending on the manufacturer as well as expense and sophistication of the machine, but basically, each card goes through a series of moves into randomly selected slots. The shuffle you get is random and is not designed to favor house or player.

Shufflers are inspected for randomness by gaming labs and state gaming boards. A casino caught using a non-random shuffler would be subject to fines and penalties up to suspension or loss of its license.

Even if a casino tried to use a shuffler to gain an advantage, conditions of the game would negate the effort. In a simple game like Three Card Poker in which the player makes no draw decisions, the number of players is a randomizing factor. The cards may be set, but which hand belongs to the dealer changes if a player leaves the table and there are, say, four hands to be dealt instead of five, or if a player joins the game and there are five hands to be dealt instead of six.

In a more complex game such as blackjack, the number of players remains a factor, but there's the additional problem of player strategy. One player might hit 16 vs., 7 while another stands, and one player might split 8s against a 10 while another shies away from the split. That makes it unpredictable who will get specific cards.

Many shufflers have optical scanners and can recognize cards, but that's used to recognize when there are too many or too few cards of specific denominations. The scanners are anti-cheating devices there to detect whether an unscrupulous player is trying to sneak an extra Ace in the deck or remove a deuce, for example.

But as for using shufflers to add to the house edge, that's both illegal and punishable by law and very, very difficult to accomplish because of natural randomizing factors.

Q. Is it possible to get the same card twice in video poker? I could have sworn I discarded a 7 of clubs and got another 7 of clubs in my final hand.

A. That should not be possible. In licensed, regulated casinos in the United States, video poker games can deal a specific card only once per hand. If you have a 7 of clubs on the initial deal, there is no 7 of clubs in the 47 cards that are being electronically shuffled while waiting for you to draw.

If a card appears twice in the same hand, that's a malfunction that should be reported. More likely, though, is that you made a mistake. You could be misremembering a card you discarded or you could have held a card you thought you were discarding.

I know of only one video poker game in which it was possible to receive the same card more than once. It was Five Deck Frenzy, which had a brief run in Nevada casinos in the 1990s.

Five Deck Frenzy shuffled together five electronic decks, so there were five of each card. Getting the same card more than once was more than possible, it was a goal. The top prize, a progressive jackpot that started at $200,000 on a quarter machine, was for five Aces of spades.

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