Payback % isn’t always clear cut
Numbers – specifically, statistics – can often times be
A case in point is the so-called payback percentages of slot
machines, video poker and video keno machines.
The issue was raised by a reader who said that a video poker
machine, which a return percentage of 92 percent, was a bad bet versus a video
poker or slot machine with a payback of 95 percent or higher.
The reader was meticulous in his argument, citing machine
statistics that would “prove” you would lose $54 per hour more playing
a video keno machine, rather than a video poker machine.
The analysis was based on an average bet of $1 per game, with
a game played every six to 10 seconds, depending on how fast you can push the
Unfortunately, real life gaming never seems to follow the
statistical scenario. If the payback percentage were an inalienable law, you
would always lose since all machines have less than a 100 percent payback
Moreover, there are days when I would gladly settle for
losing at the rate of $54 an hour. It’s more typical that I shove through a
couple of hundred dollars before I even sniff a hint at a profit.
Or there are times when I sit down and immediately hit
something like, say, 7-out-of-9, which is worth $335 for a $1 bet.
The point is the payback percentage is something we rarely
ever experience. If you can’t catch a winning jackpot, the return could be
close to zero percent. Conversely, if you hit the aforementioned jackpot right
off the back, your return could be a zillion percent (obviously, I’m no math
What really matters is the hit frequency of the jackpots and
how much they return, relative to the odds of hitting them.
I have chosen to play video keno for two reasons: the hit
frequency of medium or intermediate jackpots is high enough to give you enough
“ammunition” while you’re waiting for something big; and that the
major jackpots pay closer to their odds than, say, the highest video poker
For instance, if I’m playing 7-spot or 9-spot tickets,
there are enough 6-of-7 awards (400-for-1) and 7-of-9 jackpots (335-for-1) to
keep my bankroll from being drained to nothing while I’m waiting for something
For those tickets, “something better” would be a
solid 7-spot, and 8-of-9 or, of course, a solid 9-spot.
The 7-spot pays a cool 7,000-for-1, and with odds of about
40,000-to-1, it is a much better reward than the 800-for-1 that a royal flush
pays, which has nearly equal odds.
The 8-of-9 jackpot is also a gem at 4,700-for-1 and, with
odds of about 30,000-to-1, actually occurs more frequently than the elusive
I don’t even think about hitting a solid 9-spot, whose odds
are over a million to one, even though the payoff is a breathtaking
For myself, I’d settle for 8-of-9 any time. No sense in
being greedy when you’re bucking all those mind-bending statistics.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: LJ Zahm