From Atari computers to video poker expert

From Atari computers to video poker expert

May 16, 2017 3:00 AM
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It seems only fitting that I would be writing this article on the eve of what would’ve been my father’s 91st birthday. My father, Lenny Frome, was the first person to analyze the game of video poker and wrote about it extensively as many of you know.

Some gave him the nickname the Godfather of Video Poker. He didn’t invent the game, but he was a major reason why it is as popular as it is today. It probably seems obvious today that there is something to analyze in video poker and it clearly is not identical to slots. But, this wasn’t always the case.

As the story goes, my father walked into a casino and saw a video poker game advertising a particular payback. He went into a different casino and saw a similar game with a similar paytable advertising a different payback. He was a bit confused how this could be. This sent him on his journey to analyze the game using his Atari computer. Many of you reading this probably didn’t know Atari made computers. But, back in the late 1980’s, they did.

Atari actually had some of the first computers with color screens and color monitors. Although, as my dad would find out the hard way, what you saw on the screen was not so easy to get to print, but I’ll leave that story for another day.

My father had been an electrical engineer in the defense industry for his real career. He worked on guidance systems for the unmanned missions to space and later on for the B1-Bomber. To say the least, his expertise was not in computer programming. His math skills, though, were out of this world. In some regards I always found it interesting that his programs that performed the analysis of video poker were more programming and less combinatorial math.

I don’t know if he did the math by hand and then essentially fed his program with some of the numbers. While there may have been some minor computational errors, his analysis of video poker were spot on. Now that he had done it, who was he going to tell? How could he get the word out?

He began to approach some of the gaming magazines that existed back then. Most of the people he spoke to were uninterested in another “slot” article. He desperately tried to explain that video poker was not the same as slots and was closer to blackjack than to the one-armed bandits, but to no avail. He realized that to get the word out it would have to be in publications that catered more toward slots players than to table game players.

He submitted the article and then found out the magazine went out of business. It took a bit longer, but he finally got his articles published. Most gaming magazines don’t have big budgets. My father’s “compensation” for his articles was that he could place an ad in the magazine to sell any books he had. But to that point, he didn’t have any.

That’s when someone suggested he write a tip sheet. He called it 50+ Tips on Video Poker. It was four pages, double-sided, and presented the strategy table for Jacks or Better along with about two dozen other tips. It sold for $4.95, I believe (maybe $3.95!). It didn’t cost much to print them up, but my parents weren’t figuring on getting rich off of it. In fact, they didn’t really expect to sell any of them!

They opened a P.O. box for orders and were quite surprised when a few weeks later they got a few, then more and more. By the time my father passed away in 1998, I’d guess he sold over 1,000 of those tip sheets! He probably would’ve sold more if he hadn’t eventually written four books about video poker.

It’s approaching 30 years since that time and video poker has come a long way in terms of shedding its image as nothing more than a slot machine. The fight is hardly done. The Nevada Gaming Commission still counts video poker in the same category (rule wise) as slots.

A few years ago, GamingToday called a section of the magazine SlotsToday, where you found my column. But, on the other hand, Station Casinos clearly differentiates slots from video poker when giving out points on its players card. Most casinos do this as well. You earn less points for playing video poker because they realize it is not slots. There is a skill component that is not replicated at all in slots.

Someday, hopefully, the rest of the gaming world will realize the differences between slots and video poker far outweigh the similarity of the boxes they are played on.

I still have a few dozen copies of 50+ Tips for Video Poker lying around. If you would like to order one, you can send $3.95 for the first copy and $2 for any additional ones to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.

Buy his book Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker now!