AMA with Special Guest Michael Shackleford
Hello and welcome to our special AMA with my special guest Mike Shackleford.
Michael: Hello YouTube! Hi Heather’s audience. Hi Pip. I already said hi to you.
Heather: So how are you doing today Mike?
Michael: Good and you?
Heather: Doing good thanks. I have some consulting.
Michael: What has taken a fair bit of my time is there is a new game at the Sahara called Jack Pot Hold’em. That has been kind of a tough time consuming analysis. My computers are still cranking away at that.
Heather: Oh wow. How long have they been cranking away?
Michael: Well if I were to have one computer sit there and loop it would take 24 days. But I divided it between two computers and 5 total cores. I think I should be done with it in a few days.
Heather: That is so cool. I am geeking out right now.
Michael: Yes that is exactly what I am good at. I love debugging.
Heather: What is the longest calculation you ever had to do then if it takes you 24 days for that? What is the longest you ever had to do?
Michael: That is a good question. There was a game there for a while called Guarantee Play Video Poker. The thrust of that was you just place one bet and it entitles you to so many hands. Like 20 hands. You basically – you started at zero and you could go negative if you lost, and you got to keep whatever profit at the end. Because you were playing 20 or more hands, you didn’t just have to analyze one hand and one game, but a whole bunch of them. You didn’t always play the same way. If you were way in the hole, and you only had one hand left, then you are going to have to throw a hail mary. You might be in a situation where only a royal flush will save you. In that case that is what you have to try for. The strategy was different every single hand. That one took – I bought five computers to analyze that game.
Heather: Holy Cow!!
Michael: To be honest it wasn’t only for that reason. But I had five computers cranking away on this. It took all of them like a month to go through – to cycle through everything.
Michael: If I did it today I could do it much faster.
Heather: How much faster do you think you could do it?
Michael: Oh I could do it way faster. Back then it took me a matter of a minute to solve a straight video poker game. Now I can do it in one second.
Heather: Oh wow. Does that mean that when you are doing a calculator for a client and it is taking 24 days does that mean it’s a harder math problem than the one that took you a month to do where you had to buy five computers?
Michael: Not only was Guarantee Play took a lot of computer time, but it also took a lot of my time. That was a really tough game. The game at the Sahara is not – I was able to modify my Ultimate Texas Hold’em program a little bit. So it wasn’t terribly time consuming for me, just for my computers.
Heather: What is the hardest game you have ever had to analyze, whether that was a video poker game or a table game? What is the hardest one?
Michael: It might be the Guarantee Hold’em. One game – One question I get a lot, has there ever been a game so complicated that you couldn’t do? And there are two that I can think of. One is called Russian Poker or Lunar Poker which is like Caribbean Stud. But the player can switch a card, he can force a dealer to switch a card, the player can buy extra cards. So there is all this stuff that the player can do but everything costs a fee.
Heather: Oh okay.
Michael: That one just resulted in just like septillions of combinations to deal with. I could have programed the thing, but my computer would have said, “Ok Mike, come back in 2 million years and it will be done.” I decided to not fuss with it. The other one being plain old solitaire. Internet casinos have offered that for real money.
Heather: No kidding.
Michael: Not only have I not cracked it but nobody ever has.
Michael: So audience, correct me if I am wrong, but that is one unsolved problem in game analysis.
Heather: So continuing down that road, have you ever analyzed a skill based game? Like that Pack-Man game at Caesars Palace?
Michael: No. Those don’t really need to be analyzed in terms of like the skillful part of playing the Pack-Man game.
Heather: Is that because it’s like a poker game where you just take a vig out?
Michael: Yes you just take a vig out and let the players have at it.
Heather: Okay. Do you think that is a good idea? Do you like that?
Michael: No. If I ran a slot company I would not do those. Or I would do it where the Pack-Man portion of it had a very small RTP where the game would never go positive. And so it was just a fun bonus round. But the way it is now, these skill based games (as I predicted) a troll — troll around the casino looking for games left in a state and maybe only 1 in 10 will be and then they just sit down and take all this equity that other recreational players built into the game. So it is fattening the pockets of slot machine advantage players. A lot of them are my friends. If I were a casino they would be my enemy. It is taking away from recreational players that they want to be happy.
Heather: Do you think then that the skill based games and all of the other things that the casinos are doing right now to try to get Millennials into casinos such as esports? Do you think that that is working? Or do you think it is falling flat?
Michael: Falling flat. Do you know why or do you have any opinions why? I definitely think that gambling is available and it is close by to so much of the population now. If you are not close to a land casino, internet gambling is so easily available that I think that gambling doesn’t have that sinful allure that it did when I turned 21. You just don’t see young people gambling that much do you?
Heather: So maybe it’s not as much of a forbidden fruit as it used to be therefore it doesn’t have the appeal?
Michael: Yeah. And I think that there are still players that will come to Vegas and drink around at the tables a little bit. But it is not as enjoyable as it is when it is this forbidden fruit and you can only do it in Nevada. That makes it more exciting and people are probably betting more.
Heather: So in that case because more casinos have popped up and there are more casinos around America, do you think that is the reason why less people are gambling and there is like less revenue? They are sorta splitting the pot in a way?
Michael: Well certainly the pot is getting split between a lot more casinos. Nevertheless we are doing pretty well here in Las Vegas right now and it is partly because less than half of casino revenue comes from gambling any more. So we have diversified ourselves well here.
Heather: When did they do that because I know it was mainly gambling related where they got most of their revenue. When did they diversify? And what are they diversifying in?
Michael: Well a key date was the date the Mirage opened.
Michael: Here Steve Wynn is saying that this is not just a casino that we have a whole entertainment experience. A volcano doesn’t speak to gambling.
Heather: Yeah, well same with the Stratosphere. Jumping off of the Stratosphere or doing the zipline at the Linq or Freemont. Yeah I can see what you mean about being an entertainment city. I am glad that they didn’t do what they were doing in the 90’s where they tried to make it family friendly and Disneyland friendly, kid friendly. I am glad they are not going it that way. It’s more like adult entertainment. That is nice.
Heather: Should we see what people are saying on the chat?
Q: Can anyone join the AGA?
A: Heather - AGA is the American Gaming Association. Isn’t that more of a lobbying company?
Michael: That is what I thought. It wasn’t like a thing that you join.
Heather: Right it's not like a membership, it’s more like they are lobbying efforts – they are representing casinos but it is for the legislative for the congress.
Michael: Yeah that is what I thought.
Heather: Okay, cool.
Q: What is a slot machine advantage? Please explain.
A: Michael - So I could talk about this all day, but here in Las Vegas on the Las Vegas strip the house advantage on the video slots is going to be 10% - 12%. At the local casinos, like the SunCoast, it is going to be lower like 5%.
A: Heather - Now when you are looking for a video poker game that you are trying to play a lot of people look for those 99 center returns and then sometimes you can actually find a video poker game where it is over 100, it’s like 105 or 107 – do you think that is a good idea to spend a lot of time searching out those video poker games or do you think the return on those are so minimal that you have to play so many hands per hour for so long before it actually makes a difference?
Michael: Well if you're going to play video poker anyway you absolutely should look for a good paytable. I don’t think most people are going to want to drive way out to stay the Redrock to play a 25 cent 100% game.
Heather: Don’t knock the Red Rock.
Michael: I like the Red Rock but it’s way out there people. I think for most players if they are staying at the Mirage that is where they want to play so they should look for the best available video poker that they have at the Mirage or maybe nearby and the website vpfree2.com has great information about what are the best games at every single casino in America. Sometimes it is outdated but it’s a great resource.
Heather: Say that again. VPFree2.com
Michael: Great website.
Heather: Do they have an app? Or do you know of any mobile apps that would be good to figure out the paytable?
Heather: Oh okay there you go.
Michael: And also on my website wizardofodds.com I have my video poker cheat sheets that – it’s like a five page PDF document where you just look up any game, say Triple Double Bonus and I have all the most common pay tables and the return on them.
Heather: Okay cool. That is very nice.
Heather: So wizardofodds.com and you go to the slot machine area and where do you go from there?
Michael: Video Poker then click on return tables, and then I think at the top of the list I have my so-called cheat sheets.
Heather: Okay that is what you want to look for so check that out.
Michael: I have an announcement to make. Well I have been working on my book and the physical copies have arrived. I will get them tomorrow. There will be a lot of pages devoted to video poker returns as well as video keno.
Q: So for G2E do you need to be a member of AGA to attend?
A: Michael - No. Anyone can.
Heather: Yep, anyone can attend G2E and actually you can do it for free. I usually post a link on my Facebook and Twitter page where you can actually go and get the tickets for free. That is usually in September. That is pretty much all you need. You need to be here and sign up and register for free. Anyone can go to the exhibit. You can't go to the panels. You can’t go see the speakers but you can go to the exhibit. The exhibit is fun.
Michael: Yep exactly. I will post links to sites where you can get a free pass.
Heather: You have been going for over a decade?
Michael: Oh more than two decades. I went back when it used to be called the World Gaming Expo. I think my first one was 1999 or 2000.
Heather: What was it like to see it evolve?
Michael: I would say that it used to be better. I would say that the swag that they gave out was more. They had more celebrities. They had free food.
Heather: And wine too, right?
Heather: Do you think it is more commercialized or was it better amenities and additional things?
Michael: There are too many moochers. The people that go for the fun of it that aren't in the gaming business.
Heather: I am, but I go for the fun of it. A lot of my clients are table game inventors. I was looking for custom cards. You know with custom cards how the machine moves and then you can’t get the perfect edge. That was the fun part was finding a printer where you could get a perfect edge. It has to be perfect. All the printers are like nope can’t be perfect. But it has to be perfect. If we are providing the cards to our clients we want it to be perfect casino quality. We don’t want it to have any defects or anything that people can take advantage of.
Michael: Why do you have the pattern going all the way to the edge?
Heather: Because that is what the client wanted. I am not going to get into it.
Michael: I would tell the client he is wrong.
Q: Sometimes people talk about a casino being off the strip. Are they talking about Freemont Street or any place in the area?
A: Heather: That is a nice easy one. Off the strip – we have the strip casinos and then anything that is not on the strip is considered off the strip. I have a question for you, is the Stratosphere and the Sahara considered off the strip or are they considered on the strip since they are on Las Vegas boulevard?
Michael: You are going to get a different answer from every person so there is not a hard and fast definition. For me personally I have three groups, the strip downtown, and everything else. I might call the others local casinos. Something like that.
Heather: So strip, downtown, locals casinos.
Michael: Right. So I would say that the strip casinos would run from the Mandalay Bay to the Sahara. Why do I draw the line there? It is kind of arbitrary, but once you cross Saraha it’s like a completely different – you suddenly go to this seedy array and it is totally different.
Heather: So if you include the Sahara do you include the Stratosphere too. Or is the Stratosphere considered a locals casino?
Michael: I would just put that in the miscellaneous category.
Heather: What other casinos would you put in the miscellaneous category?
Michael: I would say the Rio is kind of hard to classify. It’s not on the strip but it gets the same kind of clientele that the strip does. Same with the Palms. I would count the Gold Coast as a locals casino even though it is right across the Palms and the Rio. It just has a totally different vibe and clientele.
Heather: What about South Point?
Michael: That is definitely a locals casino and it is a great one. Even though it is technically on the strip.
Heather: Right because it is on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Michael: As well as the M, and all the way up to Jerry’s Nugget.
Heather: But then again if you do that is all the downtown casinos because Las Vegas Boulevard is next to Fremont street where all the downtown casinos are.
Michael: I don’t think any of them face Las Vegas Boulevard aka 5th street.
Heather: El Cortez does.
Michael: I bet you a dollar you are wrong.
Heather: Which part?
Michael: The El Cortez does not face Las Vegas Boulevard. I think it is one or two blocks east.
Heather: I will totally take you up on that bet.
Q: What is the title of Mike's book and where can we find it so we can buy it?
A: Michael - The title is still going to be Gambling 102 and I am sure you will be able to access it through Huntington Press. I am sure it will be available on Amazon also but there might be a delay. The fastest you can get it is through Huntington Press.
Is that huntingtonpress.com?
Michael: I believe so.
Heather: Do you happen to know how much they are charging?
Michael: I think the first version was $14.95.
Q: How is Red Rock Casino? What is your impression on it?
A: Michael - It is a really nice casino. They have good restaurants. It is swanky and very clean.
Heather: They have new tables.
Michael: I did not know.
Heather: They just finished the week of G2E.
Michael: It is a nice property. Cute cocktail waitress. There is a lot of stuff to do there. A huge bowling alley, movie theater.
Heather: An arcade and a food court.
Michael: It is expensive to stay there. The rooms are strip expensive. And to their shame they have the highest resort fee in Las Vegas.
Heather: Really what is it do you know?
Michael: I think it is $40 or $50.
Heather: Do you know that lawsuit that just happened? I think it was the Marriott and they said that resort fees are not legal and they shouldn't do it. Correct me if I am wrong, I thought the court resolved that court fees are no longer legal and they can’t do it.
Michael: I think you are wrong because everyone would have heard of it. Where I think this stands is a law suit was brought against the Marriott but I think it is still in the courts. I think it is kinda unfair to only target Marriott when everyone does it. But I am happy to see anyone taking the task for it.
Heather: Isn’t there a downtown casino that doesn’t charge any resort fees at all? It is whatever their price is the price and you are done.
Michael: I don’t know but I would applaud that casino. Maybe the audience would find that out. You know it might be the Golden Gate and the D because I really respect Derek Stevens. I can kind of see him not doing that. You don’t like him?
Michael: I know you used to work for the D. No one of them right? Wasn’t it before his time?
Heather: I have – I am trying to be very good about this. Let’s just say I am not a big fan of the D or Derek.
Q: What is being built between the ziplines on Fremont street?
A: Michael - That is the Circa right?
Heather: Yeah and that is owned by the D. That looks like it is going to be huge.
Michael: Yeah it looks like a really nice building. It is still under construction.
Heather: Have you seen the concept art?
Michael: I have seen the poster. It looked like something you would see in Hawaii. Really fancy.
Heather: When is that supposed to be open? 2020?
Q: Whatever happened with the slots book Olof was supposed to release with Richard Munchkin?
Heather: Do you know anything about that?
Michael: I have no idea.
Heather: Writing a book is hard so if it takes a while that is part of it. It is freaking hard.
Michael: Speaking of Olof – have you seen the movie Supersize me right? And it was done by Morgan Spurlock and then he had this TV show. 30 days? He did one on Las Vegas and he wanted me to be the gambling expert but it was during the week that I always go to Santa Barbra so Olof replaced me.
Heather: Oh man.
Michael: Of course Olaf was a good replacement. Olaf is very mathematical like me. But on the show, the way they edited it looked like he was going on and on and everything was flying over Morgan's head. I am wondering if he would have done that to me. Make me look like this total math nerd.
Heather: You are good at explaining things. I think it would have been different.
Q: At the time I played Hobo Hotel an online game. A long time ago there was a casino game called 13 similar to blackjack but with dice instead of cards. So it’s like blackjack, the player begins first and plays against the dealer. He rolls the first two dice to obtain a score and then decides if he wants to hit with more dice. After that it is the dealer's turn. Do you know what game this is?
A: Michael: No. Sounds like an interesting idea but I have never heard of it.
Q (cont.) : Heather: So he continues on and he says I supposed it is a lower house edge based on the fact that the dealer plays later. Do you have any opinions about this?
A: Michael: It sounds like a decent idea. To ask that question, are you sure the name of the game is 13? I will look this up when I get home.
Heather: I have not heard of the game 13. But that is the thing about blackjack, that is where blackjack gets its house edge. The dealer goes last so everyone hits and bust and does everything and then the dealer goes last and that is what gives them the house edge.
Michael: Positional advantage. I will say that there was a game that still might be at the Flamingo that was like blackjack but the goal was to only get to 11. I think face cards counted as zero.
Q: Heather: Okay. Well speaking of which, have you seen any really good new table game inventions out there in the past year or two that really knocked your socks off? Besides the Monopoly game at G2E that was cool. I really wish I got a video of that.
A: Michael: There happened to be four new table games on the strip right now. I was going to talk about this as well on my show. I am really tough to please with games. There is not really anything that has knocked my socks off.
Heather: Ok what game has knocked your socks off the entire time you have been doing this? Which one really stands out in your mind? You can include your own games that you created.
Michael: I am so jaded.
Heather: Well let’s talk about that. Why are you jaded and why does it take a lot to impress you?
Michael: We know as well as anyone just how tough it is with the new game business. It is tough. Very competitive and very hard to make any money.
Heather: And only 1% get their games in a casino. But on average they spend about $100,000 before it gets to the casino.
Michael: Yeah. So fiercely competitive. Very high risk. Wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Nevertheless – I have so many game ideas. I mean some of them are terribly awful.
Heather: I loved your baccarat game. I was really upset not to see that go into a casino. Your baccarat game was really fun and interesting and –
Michael: To be honest I have thought about buying that back from Shufflemaster. They bought it from me and showed it last year at G2E and they did the rules completely wrong and I am pretty sure it got a bad reception at G2E. I don’t think it even has had a field trial. If they are going to shelve it, maybe they can sell it back to me. I have been meaning to bring it up.
Heather: It is a great game. I can see how it would flop. If you don’t execute the game right, if you don’t deal the game right – the game could be amazing and if you can’t deal that game right then it would flop.
Michael: They put a lot of side bets on it. Lots that I didn’t like. One of the side bets they dealt wrong. Where they made the side bet tied to the strategy and that made the whole game complicated. The players were conflicted. They were like should I try to win the side bet or my main bet. The dealers dealt the rules wrong where you almost lost on the side bet. All these players who tried it probably left confused and lost. That is not good. Which goes to show that you really should train your models well. Actually to be honest it wasn’t the models fault. You know when I told the model, “You are dealing this wrong”, she said, “This is how I was trained to deal it.” I got to the woman who trained the dealer and I said, “Did you tell her to deal this way?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “That is not how it is supposed to be played.” The next day I brought my own math report that clearly showed the way it was supposed to be played. But by this time it was the last day and you know not very many people go on the last day.
Heather: But what did she say when you brought that up? Was she like I am sorry we will change it.
Michael: By this game they had already bought the game so I wasn’t in a position to be mad. If I still owned the game I would have been furious.
Heather: As a table game inventor, that is why you want to hire a good marketing company. If you hire a bad marketing company that is the kind of thing that would happen.
Michael: Here is a good marketing company!
Heather: Yes! We will demo the game. We will deal the game. We will train the dealers and we will do it right.
Q: I have some short stories and was thinking about writing a Vegas book, are there Vegas publishers I can talk to?
A: Heather - Would Hungton Press be the only Vegas publisher?
Michael: Pretty much.
Heather: Okay Hungton Press.
Michael: There used to be Piete Press but Huntington Press either is buying them or already bought them. They would be the one to turn to. A lot of people are self publishing now. Where you don’t even need a publisher.
Heather: Right! Just self publish and put it up on Amazon and you are good.
Michael: I would seriously consider that route.
Heather: That way you get 100% of the proceeds. If you do a publisher they get a good percentage and you get a small percentage.
Michael: On the other hand the publisher should help make your book better.
Heather: Don’t they do the marketing for your book?
Michael: Yeah. I don’t have to worry about that at all. I think that a book looks more prestigious if it is done by a publisher that has name brand recognition as opposed to a self published book.
Heather: I agree.
Q: Hey Mike! I love your videos. Are you still affiliated with the website? I heard that you sold it. I am not sure that you are involved?
A: Michael: Yes that is basically true. I sold the wizard website in 2014 but I work for the guy that bought them. I continue to write content for it. I am definitely involved.
Heather: Awesome. Are you the only one providing content for the website or is there a team?
Michael: There are other people. There are a ton of casino reviews and I don’t do those.
Heather: So the ones you do are the analyzing one, the ones with math and the strategies and all of those?
Michael: Yep. I review the software companies, all the games. I would almost say the only thing I don’t do is the slot machine reviews and the casino review. Over at wizard of vegas they have a lot more outside writers that write articles. Usually about sports.
Q: Does Mike have any cool stories about Heather? I have only known her for so long and I want to hear some dirt.
A: Michael - I don’t think I have any dirt.
Heather: Oh good. Got away with that one.
Michael: Heather is a good girl. I can’t think of anything embarrassing.
Heather: Ditto. I can’t think of anything embarrassing for you. I am amazed with all the mountains you climb. All of the unicycling that you do. You are so amazing and active. I swear there are 20 year olds that can’t keep up with this guy. Holy Cow!
Michael: That reminds me of a story. Guys, you know how most women like cats? When I first came in before the show – tell the audience what you said about cats.
Heather: Okay sure. So we were talking about cats and I was saying basically cats are assholes and the people who like cats tend to be the same people who like ass holes. Mike was saying well don’t most women like cats? I was like yeah most women like ass holes too. That is part of it. I like dogs. I like actually getting love and attention when I get home.
Michael: That is why I like you. You are so honest and different.