Video poker took off in casinos

Video poker took off in casinos

November 14, 2017 3:00 AM
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Somewhere in the 1980’s the landscape of the casino changed forever. Video poker was born.

Some of the first versions weren’t so successful, but over time, the players began to warm up to it. Many have credited my father, Lenny Frome, with the proliferation of the game. He had nothing to do with the creation of the game, but he was the first person to work out the strategy of the game.

More importantly, he worked very hard to convince some gaming publications video poker was not slots and convinced these magazines to publish his articles about the strategy. As people learned video poker paid way better than a slot machine, its popularity grew and grew.

As would seemingly be no surprise, over time, the Jacks or Better machine got a bit “boring” for players. Getting paid 25 for a Four of a Kind just didn’t add up to a lot for the player, but that’s about all you could pay out for a hand that happens about 1 in 420 hands. The Straight Flush pays 50, but is far rarer at about 1 in 9600 hands (partially due to its relatively meager payout). The Royal is the jackpot, but it happens about 1 in 40,000 hands.

The age of Bonus Poker was born. By reducing the pay of Flushes and Full Houses, the game could pay more for certain Quads. This gave the player the opportunity to earn 50 or 80 coins for Quads of 2-4 and Aces respectively. As this caught on, the game evolved to Double Bonus and then Double Double Bonus.

Double Double broke some new ground as it was the first one that paid only one unit on a Two Pair. This leaves the player losing about 54% of the time and pushing 36% of the time. Winning was reduced to a mere 10% of the hands. But, the right Four of a Kind could now essentially pay a mini-jackpot – if you could get Four Aces with a low Kicker!

The advent of the Bonus version of games breathed new life into video poker. The payouts were a bit more slot-like, but the payback and the strategy aspect were still in line with the original video poker machines. Since that time, a few new bonus version have cropped up (Triple Bonus) and there have been some other gimmicks to increase the volatility (Super Times Pay, etc.).

I don’t think any of these games were transformative like the first Bonus games. That’s not to say they aren’t successful, but I think they are a bit more niche-like. Groups of people have their favorite game and that’s the one they play. Nothing wrong with that.

As each of these games came along, new mathematical analyses needed to be performed to determine the proper strategy and the associated payback. Each new game also added volatility to the game so it was a serious question as to how successful it would be. Ironically, it was also at about this time, one more change would occur that would completely change the landscape – and it required no math analysis at all. Ernie Moody came up with the idea for Multi-Play video poker.

As far as I know it started with 3-Play and 5-Play, but now you can find 10-Play, 50-Play and 100-Play machines. You’ll find them in every casino. For those unfamiliar with the game, you get dealt a single five-card hand. You decide how you want to play that hand and then the Draw portion happens 3, 5, 10, 50 or 100 times.

Each Draw happens from an independent deck, so the results of one hand have no impact on the other. It was a beautifully simplistic idea that allowed players to put more money in over an hour than traditional video poker. Well, somewhat. It is hard to say if a player who used to play max-coin Quarters now became a max-coin nickel player times three or five hands.

One of the interesting parts of multi-play video poker is while all the other innovations amped up the volatility, multi-play may have reduced it. You wager more (unless you lower your denomination) and you can win a lot more (if dealt a big hand), but because you play the Draw out multiple times, your results will more closely match the theoretical expected value of a hand – especially if you play something like 100-play. The expected value of a Low pair is 0.82.

But this isn’t even a possibility for a true payback. In fact, the possible outcomes are 0 (lose), 2, 3, 9, 25. But, if you’re playing multi-play, the combinations are nearly endless. Even if you are playing just 3- or 5-play, you might hit nothing on all the hands (not overly likely, but it will occur). You might get any of the above five results on each of the three or five hands.

If you take it up to 100-Play, you’ll be surprised at how your results will center around 82 units back for each unit wagered. When you hit Quads, it will tend to be a bit higher. If you don’t, a bit lower. You might only get back 40 or win 125. But over time, you’ll stick around that 82 average.

According to casino lore, IGT offered Ernie Moody one billion dollars for his patent for multi-play. He reportedly initially turned them down before eventually selling it to them for an unknown sum. I don’t know if that number was true or how close to it the eventual selling price was. But, even if it was in this ballpark, it gives some idea of just how much that concept changed the game of video poker and the casino floor, perhaps, forever.