Recently, a lot of ink has splashed across the pages of the Oregonian and Willamette Week heralding the arrival of Nevada-style table games to Spirit Mountain Casino. Before we let our excitement run away with our money, a simple reminder: We’re still a long way from Las Vegas (996 miles by ground, to be exact).

And table limits are the reasons why. It’s true, Las Vegas-style roulette wheels, zero and double zero, are coming to Spirit Mountain in April. But if your fantasy is to walk in the door with a suitcase of money, or a few thousand dollars, for one true spin of the wheel on black or red, you can forget it. According to Gary Poyner, table games manager for Spirit Mountain, the initial, outside betting limit for roulette will be $100. Even the lowly grind joints in downtown Las Vegas offer a $500 limit at the roulette wheel.

Outside bets at roulette refer to the three even money bets and the two 2-to-1 bets. If you want to take any of the inside bets covering individual numbers, the limit plummets to a paltry $25. So, if you had a dream of putting $100 on 34 and walking out the door with $3,500, you’ll have to save that one for Nevada as well.

If you don’t think this table limit will adversely affect your game, you have another losing spin coming. First off, it always benefits the player to bet heavily with house money, money you have won above your buy-in, and skimp on wagers coming out of your bankroll. Let’s say you buy in for $100. You place a 2-to-1 outside bet of $50. You win $100. You let it ride. You win $200. At this point you have $300 in house money, but your next bet is limited to $100. In Nevada, you could bet that $300 and walk away with $900, or the $100 you bought in with. Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than restricting your next wager to $100 and walking away with $500 when you’re feeling so damn lucky?

Three consecutive wins at 2-to-1 odds is not rare. True odds for that event occurring are 27-to-1. Five and quarter percent of your winnings, at true odds, is kept by the house at roulette. When you add that house percentage to the restrictions placed on your winnings by the table limits, all goober-eyed excitement aside, you should avoid the roulette game at Spirit Mountain. While the $100/$25 table limit will restrict the amount you lose, mathematically speaking, it places a greater restriction on how much you can win. And how much the casino can lose. When you take the emotional excitement out of gambling (which is like taking the flour out of bread), you’re left with a game that always adheres to mathematical probabilities. In the world of geometric progressions, the lucky gambler is the kite and the $100/$25 table limit is the short string s/he's on. You and your money won’t get nearly as high.

In addition to roulette, Spirit Mountain will be extending two new poker games in April: pai gow and let-it-ride. Betting limits will be $100 per hand at pai gow and $50 per bet at let-it-ride. Pai gow was originally a Chinese domino game (literally translated: heavenly dominoes) which has been adapted to a seven card, high/low poker game. The bank rotates around the table. To win, a player must form a high and low hand which beats both of the bank’s hands. One win and one loss is the same as a push in blackjack – no money changes hands. The casino takes a 5% commission on winning bets. I wouldn’t attempt playing this game without a detailed understanding of all the right moves forming your two hands. This game will, no doubt, attract the Asian gamblers. And that’s a smart move for Spirit Mountain.

Let-it-ride is a five card variation of Texas hold `em poker. The player is dealt three cards while two cards are shared by all players to round out their hands. Rather than the players wagering against one another, with the winner taking the pot, the player is betting against a graduated system of payouts that starts with a pair of 10’s. There’s three bets per hand. After the first two bets, the player can choose to pull back his bet(s) or let it ride in hopes of getting 10’s or better. But after the third and final bet, there’s no turning back.

This sounds like a fun game if you’re already a Texas hold `em player who’s familiar with the probabilities of forming a good hand at each betting point. Also, an astute player who can keep track of dead cards (those having already been played), will have a distinct advantage. Definitely not for the novice or the faint of heart.

Like blackjack, these are games of skill combined with chance; the player makes moves which affect the outcome of the game. As such, the betting limits are not as great a concern. Still, a lucky and skillful let-it-ride player will feel the pinch of $50 per bet when he’s playing loose with house money. He may cast an envious glance over at the Spirit Mountain blackjack table where the betting limit is $500 per hand, and take his winnings there.

The Big Daddy of all table games, craps, will stride into the Spirit Mountain Casino by June 21st, at the earliest, according to Gary Poyner. Craps is by far and away the most exciting table game any casino has ever had to offer. The roar of the dice. The smell of the crowd. Finally, right here in Oregon, we can hear the stickman say, “New shooter... comin’ out.” But, alas, while the stickman giveth you the dice, Spirit Mountain Casino taketh away with a $100 table limit. Again.

And imagine, if you will, that you have seven passes in your right arm tonight. Starting out with a $20 bet on the pass line and letting it ride, that $20 bill would become $2,560... in Nevada. At Spirit Mountain you would be forced to restrict your wager to $100 after the third pass. Your total winnings? $560. And, of course, it’s not just the player with the dice in hand; it’s every player around the table betting with the shooter on the pass line, who loses out on watching his chips stacked higher than a nose bleed. Again, you’re a long way from Las Vegas. Standard betting limits for craps or roulette on The Strip is $3,000 - $5,000 and $500 in the downtown grind joints. Your maximum bet at Caesar’s Palace is your first bet – subject to casino approval, i.e., they’ve got enough cash to cover. So you can walk in the door and bet a suitcase full of money on one pass at the craps table.

Again, the betting limits will severely hamper your winnings and enjoyment if the table heats up. And it will. Which may be why the casino is limiting betting. In the short run – one shift, one day, one week, or even one month – a craps table can lose money. A low betting limit puts a lid on these negative fluctuations and resulting cash flow problems. While the house percentage is infallible in the long run, it may be unpredictable and unkind to any casino on a short-term basis.

Gary Poyner said that table limits may be raised to $500 in six months or so. That would help. And that would put Spirit Mountain on par with the downtown casinos in Vegas – particularly if they allow the small bets that usually accompany a low betting limit. In the meantime, the smart gambler or the recreational gambler would be wise to rein in the urge to splurge at the Spirit Mountain craps and roulette tables.

You never know when Lady Luck may smile on you. When she does, a $100 betting limit looks more like a smirk than a smile.

Speaking of smirks, the big six wheel will lumber into Spirit Mountain this summer as well. This is a carnival-style game – a big wheel with nail-like posts and a leather strap indicator – that has somehow found its way into casinos. The wheel, which measures six feet in diameter, is divided into nine sections, each containing six divisions; thus, the big wheel. Each of the 54 divisions is marked by a denomination of currency: a one, two, five, 10 or 20 dollar bill. The denominations occur in frequency ranging from the one dollar face, appearing the most, to the $20 face, appearing the least. And the payouts range accordingly. The wheel also has the casino’s logo and a joker, appearing directly opposite each other, which offer the highest pay-out of 40-to-1. Simple math will tell you a pay-out of 40-to-1, compared to true odds at 54-to-1, means your cute little carnival game is taking you to the cleaners. Granted, it has a certain romantic appeal to the couple who wants to make a wager together on the wheel of fortune. It is, by far, the least intimidating and most easily understood of all the table games. That’s why the big six wheel is usually sitting at the entrance to the casino – to lure the uninitiated with its familiarity. Nonetheless, as you walk into the casino, you frequently see the dealer holding up a dead table because the big six wheel bites you big at 11% - 24%. Ouch!

As of yet, there is no timetable for opening sports betting at Spirit Mountain Casino; nor has there been a decision on whether it will be offered. The hitch? What will the NBA, the NCAA, the Trailblazers, Inc., and the Rose Garden, Inc., think? A logical solution to get around stepping on anyone’s big toes would be to exclude betting on all NBA and NCAA basketball games. After all, that still leaves football – the grand hoo haw of all sports betting. Not to mention the irresistible urge to wager on America’s pastime at its pinnacle: the World Series.

These are experiences you must not miss: to bet on your own team, to watch them win, and to watch them win you a big chunk of change. Now that’s when you light a cigar.

Tomorrow you may wake up to $3,000 table limits and big league sportsbetting at Spirit Mountain Casino. It’s more likely that you’ll wake up in Las Vegas to a $2.99 steak and eggs breakfast and a hungry, itching feeling that says, “I’m gonna hold a monster hand at craps.”

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