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John Morris

Once a gain the homer's are likely to take a potentiall oportunity and wreck it. Distributing little casino's throughout the state disipates any potential tourist impact. Single licences ensure maximum corruption and rent seeking and minimum quality and slots ensure that the casinos are most designed to hurt the poor who will have to deal with the negative effects of the parking lots as well, depending on where it is built.

The fact that Pittsburgh never thought about having table or any kind of high roller or skill games reflects it's deep level of low self esteeme. The inbuilt assumption is that of course rich people would not come to Pittsburgh so it has to feed on it's own.

To my knowledge, the only city in America that managed to loose money at gambling was New Orleans. So who do we copy??

Mark Rauterkus

I have said, in public, that we should locate slots parlor slated for Pittsburgh within the existing Convention Center. Sell the Convention Center to the winner of the slots license. Make that a term of the deal. Then they can utilize that building as they wish, perhaps running conventions that ajoin with the casino.

Furthermore, I suggested that the Pittsburgh slot license be such that it come without any slot machines at all. Rather, make the entire casino slots free -- and go directly to table games.

If Pittsburgh's casino went without slots and only to table games, we'd have an ounce of competitive advantage -- be it fleeting.

Then, we'd be able to better regulate and leagalize and promote even, video poker machines in every mom and pop place that wanted them.

Then we'd have a 'full house.'

The downside, so I'm told, is that it is easier to depart with your money in table games than with the slots, so I'm told. Humm... perhaps that is the case in unlimited betting situations.

John Morris

Skill games like high stakes poker would have been great. One reasonable thing to do is to make high minimum bets and perhaps have people prove that they know how to play. For a responsible person who knows how these games are played, it can be a lot of fun.

Macau, off the coast of China, now exeeds Las Vegas in revenues and it does that by appealing to high stakes gamblers. It's almost all table games.

Pittsburgh, with it's theaters, museums and waterfront is plausible place for small - James Bond, casinos focusing on table and skill games. Then add in some riverboats and wow.

sean mcdaniel

john morris says:

"Distributing little casino's throughout the state disipates any potential tourist impact. Single licences ensure maximum corruption and rent seeking and minimum quality and slots ensure that the casinos are most designed to hurt the poor who will have to deal with the negative effects of the parking lots as well, depending on where it is built."

Call it what you want, Sam, but I'm going to read into the passage above. So here goes:

JM seems to be against single license casinos, which seems so anti-free markets. Does that mean that same authority (re: the government) should decide which big operator gets multiple licenses and where that company can open its gambling houses?

Let's take that line of thought a little further. South Side's back streets, and other city neighborhoods, are full of little bars that are of "minimum" quality (compared to what? hooters?) that cause parking problems for the "poor" people living next to them? I can imagine that more than a little cash and a few favors are exchanged with city inspection officials to keep those joints open.

as for the poor being hurt by casinos. well, it's not parking that does the damage. it's the gambling. i don't expect to catch the "Seen" column crowd taking their chances with lady luck at pittsburgh casinos.

John M: check the recent history of Atlantic City to see how the gambling industry there does a number on the poor. And it's not parking.

sam, the zoloft is working.

sean mcdaniel

hey, i didn't mean to put a ? after "them" when referring to the south side bars.

and for the record, i'd rather have people blowing second-hand smoke straight down my throat than to see casinos become a reality here or anywhere in the state.

Jonathan Potts

Pittsburgh has no choice over what types of games are allowed here. That's a state decision.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen slots limited to race tracks, where gambling already exists. Sean makes a good point about Atlantic City. The casinos are profitable, but the money flows no further than the boardwalk.

sean mcdaniel

J. Potts brings up another point about who gets a license and where the casinos open...

...the state decides...

...shouldn't those three words send chills up the spines of libertarians and free-market thinkers? at least those who are "consistent" in their thinking?

Sam M

I was up in Niagara Falls two summers ago. We stayed at a hotel attached to a casino. It was gruesome. Really. I tried to play quarter slots because I thought I could get free drinks. Nope. When the drink cart came around the guy told me I had to pay. So I tried to bang back what I had and order another. But he told me there was a "no chugging" rule. Then some old lady came up (the were all old ladies) and started criticizing the way I was playing my machine. She might have been right. I had no idea what I was doing. So she kept tapping away at buttons until I was out of credits. Luckily it was only about five dollars worth. Then I tried to leave. But the place was a maze. Sometimes I wonder if I am still there just wondering around.

The only other gambling system I ever encountered was in Montana. Where all the bars appear to have a few slot machines. I am not at all sure how they distribute the licenses. Although I am almost sure they are all licensed. Perhaps an auction? Or perhaps everyone can have as many as they want? Or perhaps you can can have them in some proportion to your capacity? I don't know. But any one of those systems seems preferable to the PA boondoggle. That is, seems to me that Sam MacDonald's Bar and Grill ought to be able to offer slots if Ed Rendell's Tavern and Travatoria can.

As an aside: When I was in Missoula I noted that the city had "poker bars." It's just like it sounds. Bars where you are allowed to play poker. That, to me, seems far cooler than slots parlors.

But I am not sure. I never made it to any of the poker bars. I went to the Elks Lodge. My god. It was one of the best Elks Lodges I have ever seen. And I have been to a few. I carried a keg. I got free drinks. And somehow I got a name tag naming me as an official bartender at the Hell's Gate Elks.

The Hell's Gate Elks.

Now that's a place to drink.

Apart from all that, if gambling is legal I see no reason I shouldn't be able to gamble at any of the bars. Any games. Any odds. Free for all? Sure. Why not? I understand that gambling breeds corruption and all that. But I suspect the system we have in place doesn't do much to remedy that.

As for which casino system would do more to revitalize neighborhoods, I recall that the director of the city planning department basically admitted that no casino can do that. And there is nor record of any casino ever managing to do so.

So I guess no one even expects it to do that. Which is good. Because I don't expect it to, either.

Just seems like it would be more fair if the regular bars could add a few machines just to even the score.

sean mcdaniel


You might say that no one expects a casino to revitalize a place. But isn't that the sales pitch here and elsewhere? If it's just a matter of opening a legit "business," then what's the issue? Aside from who gets rich on obtaining a license and investing in casinos.

sean mcdaniel

John Morris comments:

"One reasonable thing to do is to make high minimum bets and perhaps have people prove that they know how to play. For a responsible person who knows how these games are played, it can be a lot of fun."

Does that sound like libertarian thought? If so, can we extend this thinking to the casino bar and require imbibers to purchase higher-end wine and scotch and prove that they know how to enjoy each. After all, for a responsible, knowledgeable drinker, such sipping can be a lot of fun. And just think of what could be done with tobacco products to ensure that users are responsible and knowledgeable.

This is the kind of "reasoning" from J. Morris that I find to be inconsistent and not-so libertarian or Ayn Rand-ish.

By the way, who determines the guidelines for the gambling tests? The state? The gaming commission? If the are minimum required bets, is there a maximum loss limit as well? Wouldn't that be a matter of someone determining how to protect the safety of the individual? Or would it be more libertarian to let the casino goer to gamble himself into bankruptcy while he clogs his arteries with trans-fat appetizers and sets off his asthma by sucking in second-hand cigarette smoke?

I think I know the libertarian answer. But I won't answer for others.

Also, when someone knows how to play "table games," it's a good bet the they also know how to win more often than not...which is not really what the casinos want, unless I'm missing the point of running a gambling operation. Seriously, don't casinos count on people losing?


Haven't been here in a while, busy in India...
www.sheelm.com/blog is the blog if anyones interested. Anyway, I could care less about slots unless the pens get an arena... But table games, now you're talking... It's a fun way for some 20somethings to spend an evening. That being said, I've spent a lot of time in Kansas City and a few other cities with legalized table games, and I can't say that it made me want to live there any more. And Sean, Table games still always favor the house, no matter how good the skill of the player.

sean mcdaniel

uh, sheel, that was my point.

Mark Rauterkus

Hey, this talk of "knowing the Libertarian answer" -- is a bunch of bull. Do us all a favor and don't assume much. And, don't assume that any individual is always going to promote 'the libertarian answer.'

The Libertarian answer often boils down to different strokes for different folks -- and being fine with that. And, in that way, there are a lot of answers to countless questions in life.

The HOUSE makes out in table games -- too. As the house always wins ties and takes some off the top. So, gambling is a give and take game among the players -- where the house generally takes from all.

There is more to be said for table games in terms of payroll benefits too. Pitt dealers and others who man the tables are well paid. The investment goes to more on the human capital and less to a big box of electronics with a one-arm lever and slots for coins / tokens / bills / EASY PASS credit / debit cards.

sean mcdaniel

Look Mark,

My point about the libertarian point of view is that one of the posters here suggested that people people demonstrate their knowledge of the games to the casino owners before they could play. That doesn't sound very libertarian. I don't think that gambling falls into the same category as passing a medical exam to become a doctor.

John Morris


You make an excellent point in that my ideas for tests and the like are very hypocritical. My main, point was that here the state is stepping in with a lot of "it's for your own good" regulations and the ones they have come up with are the ones likely to hurt poor people the most and to have the least possible benefit to the city beyond just extracting cash for the state.

As to the Atlantic city scenario, well that is what we are going to do, only worse. Atlantic city when it first started, was unlike Las Vegas in that it put strict limits on the number of licences, which limited competition for customers. At that time there was almost no legal gambling on the east coast, so you had a big demand for easy poor quality cash cow casinos. Las Vegas is what it is today because, to my knowledge they never limited the number of licences and that created the level of competion that has driven the Vegas boom. Limiting licences insures poor quality and then in turn insures a role for government officials who have to try to keep regulate the places-- since the self regulating competion has been taken out.

The whole situation is crazy, in that you have the state which alledgely is the actor that is there to "protect the public" developing a set of rules that are most likely to hurt poor people. The type of gambling promoted is the one with the longest odds and involves the least opportunity for skill. The government is setting up a system about as exploitive as one could make it, while at the same time claiming to be protectors of the public. Gambling is bad, but it's ok, if rigged by the state.

Sam M

I think it might be interesting to see what would happen if gambling establishments were allowed to compete on odds. That is, have a big sign in front of your casino that says, "We pay out 75 percent of our intake!" Then I suppose the guy next door would have one that said "80 percent." Etc.

I don't think that's how slots work. That is, I think that the state dictates the odds. After all, the state would not want a casino paying out 99 percent of what it takes in. Less to tax. Right?


I would also be interested in seeing non-computerized slots come back. That is, have tumblers in the machine that can come up with however many numbers. Calculate the odds. Then let people pull the lever.

I don't think the computerized slots work that way. Again, I could be wrong. But I don't think they are really random-number generators. I think they have some kind of memory that prevents them from hitting "jackpot" three times in a row. Or at least it seemed that way when I saw people playing them in bars in Baltimore. (They didn't pay out, of course. Yeah, right.) People would play their five bucks down, and all of a sudden the winners would start kicking, taking the guy up to $7.50. Then dwindle back down.

That is,it seemed to me like the machines were set up to keep people interested. The wins never really seemed randomly distributed.

Anyone know enough about computerized slots to either confirm or deny my anecdotal observations?

John Morris

I think that to a certain extent that is what goes on in Vegas. There are the hard core casinos that appeal to skilled and aware players and they tend to have the best odds. You have a push and pull between the operators who want the most cash and the players who want the best deal, most comps, best food, entertainment etc... In Pittsburgh's case all that energy will go into stroking and pleasing the regulators and politicians instead of having to please the customer. That was what happened in Atlantic City and to an even greater degree in New Orleans.

Sam M

Are they really allowed to set their own odds in Vegas? I thought I saw a documentary that said the state comes in and tweaks the circuits on the machines. And that the casinos either don't set the real odds, dont know them or are not allowed to advetise them. I could be wrong, as I am often drunk. But I thought I saw something along those lines. And I think that it mentioned that the casinos get into those wars over free-food and fancy shows because they can't really compete on odds.

Seems to make sense in a wierd sort of way. Seems like it would be a lot easier to pay out an extra one tenth of a percentage point that produce a circus show.

Again, I am asking, not arguing. As I don't really know how it works.

John Morris

You know, that I don't know either. The casino's I am talking about in vegas--just seem to focus more on skill and table games. I think you are right that all the same type machine games have the same odds.

I think that this there are not too many things that show the state's phoney rapacious nature. I mean, the rational for thier involvement in this is that they are somehow claiming that they are offering some protection to the customer when they have rigged it so that people get the worst deal.Slots and the lottery are the worst gambling deals one can get and yet that is what the state is promoting while mking sure that better deals are illeagal.

That's because the state is not acting as an impartial player-- the state is acting as "the house" and rigging itself the best deal.

sean mcdaniel

the state already controls the sale of alcohol. It runs a legalized gambling ring. i'm looking forward to the day when harrisburg introduces its prostitution program and ed rendell starts pimping catherine baker knoll.

Amos the Poker Cat

Slot machines that have "memory", i.e. do not hit multiple jack pots in a row, are VLTs, video lottery terminals. They work just like lottery tickets. The jackpot has to build up.

As far as bringing back the old mechanical three wheelers. I have never seen one in opperation. Some still have reels with stepper motors instead of video displays, but that is a difference with no distinction.

All states with casino legislate slot machine minimum percentages for winning. PA slot minimum payout is 85%. It is not illegal to offer "better" odds.

When the show the Nevada Gaming Commission checking a slot machine, they are checking that the random number generator is really generating random numbers. If there is a sign, then they will check that the machine pays out that percentage. This only applies to the bank of machine under the sign, not all the machines in the casino.

Newer casino generally offer better odds to attract gamblers. Also, the downtown, and "off strip" casinos that catter more to local Vegas residents also tend to offer better odds, but they have less ameniteis, and are a little tired and thread bare.

Poker is the only game where the house does not "win". That is because they are only acting as the dealer, i.e. the referee, and not as the opponent in the game. The casino does take a small variable fee out of each pot for running the game, or they charge an hourly fee.

It is theoretically possible to count card in single deck blackjack and have a small positive advantage against the house. Lots of luck finding single deck blackjack. A couple of places in downtown Vegas. They spot counters pretty fast too. You really need to set up teams like the infamous MIT blackjack teams. There is still a huge variance when you are betting just a 1%, or 2% advantage.

While there has been a resurgance of poker in the last decade, I would estimate only about 20% to 30%, of the casino offer it. Poker, and other card, or "skill" games are expensive to run, because you need real live people to do it. Slot machines are still the most popular casino game, and their largest money maker.

Amos the Poker Cat

People seemed to have ignored JM's first original post. It seems pretty obvious that PIT with one, and only one casino, will have very little reason or need to run it self as efficiently as possible.

If you think AC is a dump, just wait in PIT a couple of years. At least AC has competition amoung casinos, and one decent Vietnamese place that serves bun bo hue.

No competition, an obvious Homer solution. It's the old "we don't care we're the phone company" attitude. Post Office, DMV, and now PIT casinos. Cutting edge customer service.

Not sure I have ever heard that New Orleans casino lost money before Katrina. Casinos in Illinois are so heavily taxed that they had to curtail business hours because they could not afford to be open and staffed unless they were packed.

Sam M

Broken record alert...

But I think an auction would have solved all these problems. Want 5,000 slots in Pittsburgh? Offer them to the highest bidder, one at a time. Or, say, 10 at a time. Or even 100.

And if you ARE going to grant a monopoly, then have an auction and REALLY soak the buyer. Because that buyer is getting more than slots. That buyer is getting slots plus a government enforced ban on any and all competitors.

I wonder what they could have gotten for the license had they actually sold it.

We know that it is worth at least $290 million plus the cost of a casino to Isle of Capri.

What a sham.

John Morris

Sam Say's

That buyer is getting slots plus a government enforced ban on any and all competitors.

That, in a nutshell, is what a fascist economy is about.

Jonathan Potts

The state has long had regional gambling monopolies--they are called racetracks. Officials could have chosen to allow slots only at racetracks, thereby confining gambling to where it already existed and minimizing the deleterious effects. Of course, that would not have expanded the pool of people willing to buy political influence, and would have made politicians' claims that gambling will bring property tax reform even less credible.

The irony is that while states jump on the slots bandwagon, the federal government is cracking down on Internet sports gambling, which actually involves a measure of skill.

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