Grocery store gaming doesn’t have the local advantage

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I’ve often referenced a “locals casino” as a place where locals go to play. Generally speaking, you will find better paybacks in these casinos.

People who live in Las Vegas have lots of places to go if they want to play and it isn’t often on the Strip. Casinos like Red Rock, Green Valley, Rampart, Fiesta, etc., cater to the people who live here. They offer higher paybacks because, well quite frankly, they can take more time to take your money. And they know if you come in to play you might eat dinner there or catch a movie in their theater. Maybe you’ll even have a staycation and spend an overnight.

If you’re visiting Las Vegas, you probably never go anywhere near these local places. But, if you’ve ventured off the Strip and meandered into a grocery store, a CVS or a 7-Eleven, you’ve probably had a laugh when you noticed that most of these places have a dozen or so slot or video poker machines.

These are not local places.

Well, they are here for the locals, but they are not the places I’m talking about. I live about 10 miles away from the Strip and my local grocery stores all have these machines. I barely notice them anymore as I believe a regulation went into effect recently that requires them to be less conspicuous. Or, maybe the grocery stores simply chose to make them so.

Some of the worst paytables in Las Vegas may exist on these machines. The profits are being carved up by a gaming company that owns the machines and the locale they are in. Servicing the machines is much more expensive as there are reps who have to visit each of these locations to make sure everything is okay.

The bottom line, while these machines might be located in “local” places, these are not what locals want to be playing. The only thing they offer (maybe) is convenience.

I don’t go into 7-Elevens very often. Usually for Slurpees for the family and once in a while for the ATM. This past week, I had a need for the latter. After I finished my business at the ATM, I caught something out of the corner of my eye that had me walking out with my head shaking. I didn’t take in the entire hand the woman was dealt and I’m only 90% sure I saw what I thought I saw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it really happened as I remember it.

As I walked by, I saw 3 held cards – an off-suit A-3-5. Discarded was a Jack and a middle card (8/9?). The Jack and Ace were not suited either. The initial double take was based not on what was discarded, but on what was held. A Double Inside Straight with 1 High Card! The expected value of this hand would be 0.25!

Did this really seem like the best play to this person?

Discarding everything would increase the expected value 40%. Keeping the A-J (the right play) would nearly double the expected value. The A-3-5 has a roughly 1.5% chance of becoming a Straight. This is why 3-Card Straights (yet alone Double Inside ones) are NOT playable. A 4-Card Inside Straight with only 2 High Cards isn’t playable, so how crazy to go for one needing 2 cards to make the Straight and only 1 High Card to match to.

This woman is playing a video poker machine with a likely horrible paytable (probably paying about 96%) and to make matters worse clearly knows absolutely nothing about strategy for video poker. Of course, one could argue if you’re going to hold an A-3-5, the theoretical payback of the machine may be meaningless.

For those of you who have ventured into a 7-Eleven, you’ve probably noticed the “yardstick” that appears near the door as you leave. I have to admit I didn’t understand what this was the first time I saw it, then someone explained it to me. Convenience stores get robbed a lot and this allows the clerk (or the video camera) to record the height of the robbers.

In the case of this poor video poker player, she didn’t need anyone to come in and rob the place. She was gladly handing all of her money over anyhow.

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Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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