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Staff Columnist

Sports betting in Iowa: Three tips to avoid the casino trap

A lighting feature above a central bar on the casino floor at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A lighting feature above a central bar on the casino floor at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Legal sports betting comes to Iowa this month. Soon, many Iowans will be able to place bets on sports matches from the convenience of their homes, using mobile apps.

However, players first will have to visit a licensed Iowa casino to establish a betting account. I suspect lawmakers wrote that in as yet another kickback to the gaming industry — when you visit a casino to acquire your government-sanctioned permission to place sports bets, maybe you will play another game, thereby giving the casino a few more dollars.

In other words, it’s a trap.

You will lose money over the long run by playing casino games. Unless you are an experienced poker player or an expert sports analyst — or, to be exhaustive, a psychic or a casino operator — there is no way to sustainably make a profit through gambling.

That said, many players find gambling fun and exciting, even with the understanding they are extremely unlikely to come out on top.

It’s also important to understand that some games are bigger losers than others. As a player and student of gambling, I have some advice for Iowa’s sports fans turned casino patrons.

• Slot machines. Spinning reel games are among the most popular casino games, and also the worst for players. There is no skill involved, so players are victims to the odds, which casino managers set to benefit their business.

Some players insist there are better odds on machines in certain spots on the gaming floor or at certain times of day. As far as any reliable research has found, those are myths.

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A general rule of thumb is that flashier machines have worse returns for players, especially if they have popular culture branding. That’s because casinos often share revenue from those machines with manufacturers and licensers, and the player ends up paying for it.

The best way to diminish your losses on slot machines is to not play them. The second best way is to use a player card, which casinos use to track your activity and offer loyalty benefits. You won’t win more, but you will earn perks to offset your losses.

• Craps. Played correctly, the dice game generally is the best one in a casino, according to Mike Shackleford, a gaming analyst better known by his pseudonym, “the Wizard of Odds.” Shackleford rates the house advantage for optimal play at less than half a percent, much better than most other games.

However, it’s an intimidating game for beginners because there are dozens of possible bets and the game moves quickly. To start, just know that the “pass line” is the basic bet, and typically the smartest.

• Table games. Casinos offer many variations of card games, where players win by beating the dealer.

Shackleford ranks two common table games, blackjack and Ultimate Texas Hold’em, among the lowest-risk games in a casino. Blackjack has the built-in advantage of being very easy to master — anyone who can download and read a simple spreadsheet can play almost optimally.

Most importantly, never gamble money you can’t afford to lose. Seek help from 1-800-BETS-OFF or another service provider if you have gambling problems or experience symptoms of addiction.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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