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Compared to video poker, it’s a no-brainer

Last week, I was talking to my landscaper. He told me that his wife likes going to the casinos and playing slots and he likes to skydive. My first thought was – wow, the wife is the reckless one in the family.

A report in the Las Vegas Sun recently stated that slot payouts went UP in 2009 from 2008. I was worried that I might have to give up my entire ‘break the slot habit’ campaign, until I read the details and found out that in 2008 the payback was 93.8% and in 2009 it ‘shot up’ to 93.9%.

I’m not sure if there is a single video poker machine in all of Las Vegas that pays as little as 93.9%, and this is what the AVERAGE slot pays out. Now, I realize that means there are some that pay more, but it also means that there a lot that pay less! On the East Coast, we used to lament the days when the best you can find in Atlantic City was a 6-5 jacks or better machine paying 96%. Yet, these slot machines have house advantages more than 50% larger than these AWFUL paying video poker machines.

When trying to really get a sense as to how much of a difference this all is, I try to put it in terms of house advantage. A full-pay jacks or better video poker has a house advantage of just under 0.5%. The average 2009 slot machine has a house advantage of 6.1% or more than 12 times that of our video poker player.

Now, this does NOT mean that if you walk into the casino with $200 you can expect to lose 0.5% ($1) at video poker and 6.1% ($12.20) at the slot machine. While this still might be 12 times as much, the raw difference of $11 may not be enough to sway you to stay away from the slot machine.

To properly calculate the impact we have to take into account the total amount you are going to wager. So, let’s say you’re going to play a 25-cent machine. You play both at about 600 hands per hour (although, I would imagine that slots play slower with all that spinning).

So, in a 3-hour session, you’ll really pump in about $2,250. We now multiply THAT amount by our house advantages to find an expected loss of $11.25 at video poker and about $137 at the slot machine. In the former case, we lose about 5% of our bankroll, and in the latter, more than 2/3 of our bankroll is gone! Surely, there must be something better you can do with your $125.

There is another way to look at it, which is how often we would win vs. lose and the magnitude of both when playing these different machines. To do this, I created a video poker paytable of 330/50/25/6/5/4/3/2/1 and ran 100,000 ‘sessions’ of 1,800 hands – and compared this to the same number of runs of a full-pay jacks or better. I call this a ‘session simulator’ in which I simulate what I feel is an average length session of play.

The most critical piece of information is that when playing 99.5% video poker, you can expect to lose 68% of the time and win 32% of the time. This really isn’t much of a surprise. Play the 93.9% version and you’re going to lose more than 90% of the time.

If you were to start with a $250 bankroll (meaning once you lose $250, you are done), you would lose your bankroll only 3.4% of the time with the full-pay machine and a whopping 18+% of the time with the 93.9% video poker. Given that slot machines tend to be more volatile than video poker, most likely, the frequency at which you would lose your entire bankroll would probably be much higher with an actual slot machine.

Obviously, these numbers all assume that the player learns video poker well enough to play at the near 99.5% level of a full-pay video poker machine. If you sit down and play without bothering to learn how, then you may find that your video poker session more resembles a slot session. I suppose that is a benefit of playing slots. No matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ you play, you know the payback will average a lousy 93.9%.

Hopefully, I’ve given you yet another reason to kick the slot habit. In case you need another one, I’ll give you a chance to get our best video poker products at a discount. Order Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for $7.95 (reg. $9.95), Winning Strategies for Video Poker for $12.95 (reg. $15.95) or Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance for only $7.95 (reg. $19.95). See our ad in this section for ordering information.

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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