A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Do you know anything about the Slotomania game Grand Phoenix? It has a bonus where you pick feathers to win a jackpot. The feathers are gold to start, and when you pick one it changes to another color. When you pick three of the same color, then you win the jackpot of that color.

I ALWAYS win the blue jackpot, the mini. I can start off with two of each of the other three colors so that one more pick could win one of the higher-paying jackpots, but the next three will be blue, every time.

Doesn’t there have to be some randomness so that it’s at least possible I could win one of the big ones?

A. I can’t speak for the randomness standards at Slotomania or any other online social, non-wagering casino. Because players do not risk real money, social casinos are not subject to regulatory requirements of state gaming boards.

In a licensed casino, whether brick-and-mortar or online such as the licensed Internet casinos in New Jersey, all advertised jackpots would have to be attainable.

That does not mean you would have to be give equal chances to win each one. Using the feather format you describe, the odds of the game could be set so that you would win the mini pot most often by having more blue feathers in the mix than feather of other colors.

Social casinos could work their jackpot events that way, but they don’t have to. If a social casino wants to predetermine which bonus you’re going to win and using graphic devices such as colored feathers to make the round fun and interactive, they can. There’s no gaming board standing over their shoulder to enforce randomness standards.

Q. I’m having a little trouble with basic strategy for splitting 9s in blackjack. The call to split against a dealer’s 8 doesn’t make any sense to me.

If I have 18, don’t I want to keep it to protect against the dealer having a 10 down? It seems like a split would open me up to more losses.

A. When you split 9s against an 8, you will lose some hands you would have pushed or won. However, you also open the possibility of more wins.

Starting a hand with a 9 puts you in a stronger position than the dealer who starts with an 8. If you both wind up with 10s on top of those cards – you via the draw and the dealer via the down card – then you win.

Ten-values make up only 30.8 percent of the deck, but you also have the possibility of an Ace to give you 20 or a 9 to leave you with your original 18 and another chance to split. If you draw an 8 for 17 or a lower card requiring a multi-card draw, remember that the dealer also has those possible outcomes and you’re starting in the stronger position.

Remember that 18 can only win if the dealer has a 17 or busts. It’s worth the risk to try to make a stronger hand.

By the numbers, in a six-deck game in which you’re allowed to double after splits, you’ll average a 10-cent profit per dollar wagered if you stand on 9-9 vs. 18. If you split the pair, then your average profit more than doubles to 23 cents per dollar of your original wager.

You’ll win some, lose some and push some, but the bottom line is that you win more money by splitting 9-9 vs. 18 than by standing.

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