A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Explain to me like I’m 5 why counting cards works for blackjack players. My college buddy said it’s mostly about knowing when blackjacks are most likely to happen. If they’re more likely for players, aren’t they also more likely for dealers. I don’t understand how this helps.

A. I looked back, and it’s been a while since I tackled this question, so here goes.

Players are paid 3-2 for their blackjacks in the best games, but lose only even money when the dealer has blackjack. That bonus payoff on blackjacks is an important way in which casinos give a little back to players from a game that would have too high an edge without makeups such as that payback and features including doubling down and splitting pairs.

Card counters track the balance of high cards and low cards remaining in the deck. When there is a higher than usual concentration of high cards, blackjacks are more likely.

There are a couple of other advantages to knowing that balance. One is that a high concentration of high cards makes it more likely that you’ll draw a high card when you double down. Your doubles on hard hands win greater percentage of the time when the high card percentage rises.

The count also can steer players to decisions that vary from basic strategy on close call hands such as 16 vs. 10 or 12 vs. 4.

Due mainly to the increased frequency of blackjacks, with double down wins next in line, the situation is most favorable for players when there is a high concentration of high cards remaining to be played.

When high cards are relatively plentiful, card counters raise their bets. When the balance leans back toward low cards, they reduce their bets.

The result is that counters make their biggest bets when they’re most likely to get blackjack or win on their doubles, and their smallest bets when blackjacks and winning doubles are least likely.

Q. I entered a daily slot tournament and won a prize of $1,000. I was surprised when they paid me and I had to sign a tax form.

I told the lady in charge that didn’t seem right, that you didn’t get tax forms on slots till you won $1,200. She said players said that all the time, but the IRS told them they needed the form for their $1,000 winners, and the IRS was the ones who made the rules.

Does that seem right to you?

A. The IRS considers slot tournaments to be contests rather than regular slot play, and requires players to sign tax forms before being paid on contest winnings of $600 or more.

The same rule would apply if you won at least $600 in a blackjack tournament, a chess tournament or a spelling bee. If you’re competing against others for a share in a prize pool, it’s a contest and the lower tax form requirement is in effect.

Q. Do slot makers have to pay royalties on older works? I saw a Frankenstein slot online and was wondering how that worked.

A. Mary Shelley’s original novel, “Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus,” was published in 1818 and has passed into public domain. However, the movie image of the monster, with the neck bolts, flat head and scar, was copyrighted by Universal Pictures in 1931 and is still under copyright today.

A manufacturer could depict the monster as described in the novel – 8-foot giant with yellowish skin – without paying royalties. But using the image most of us would recognize as the monster would require payment.

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