Losing edge?

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One of the games my wife and I play when we come to Las Vegas is 100-play video poker. They aren’t easy to find or get on to. We play 1 cent per hand, which violates one of the basic rules of Expert Strategy to play max-coin. We tend to play Double Double Bonus video poker which at full-pay is only 98.8%. When you play pennies, the payback is usually cut a bit and if we’re lucky, we’re playing 96.8%. So, we pretty much violate several rules of Expert Strategy. But, we play the game very socially, either sharing a single machine and alternating playing or playing side by side and if one of us is dealt Trips or a 3-Card (or 4-Card Royal), the other stops playing to pay attention. I can understand why the casinos want to lower the paybacks if we’re playing for a penny a hand and not exactly racing through the deals.

What I witnessed, however, on my most recent trip to Las Vegas really appalled me. We went to Sunset Station as that was the closest casino to where we were staying. Over the years, the locals casinos were generally regarded as the best place to find good paying machines. They cater to people who play low denomination but who tend to play frequently. So, when we sat down at a 5-play video poker machine, I could not believe the paytable I saw in front of me for Double Double. Even for a nickel, I wasn’t necessarily expecting full-pay 98.8%, but what I found was a game that was playing at least 4 points below this – BELOW 95%.

As it was our first night, and I was jet – lagged, I was in no mood to go looking for another casino, so we decided to play a bit. I guess I got my ‘revenge’ on the paytable when after about an hour I was dealt a 4-Card open ended Royal (10-K). On hand 1, I hit a Straight Flush, which was nice enough. Hand 2 was the Royal and I won $200 (I was playing max-coin). Basically, I got lucky – VERY lucky considering the paytable I was playing.

Now, there are many players out there who after winning $200 would figure that the paytable just doesn’t matter all that much. I knew better. But, it also made me wonder, how many players even know what the payback is of the games they choose to play. Once upon a time, my father coined Las Vegas “Video Poker Heaven” because of its abundance of full-pay machines in all sorts of denominations. Here I was, in a casino that caters to the locals who should know best and the paytables were reminiscent of Atlantic City of 1990.

In Atlantic City, the Players essentially revolted. It was simply cheaper for players to fly to Las Vegas and play for a week then to stay local and play machines paying 3-5% lower. How come in Las Vegas the trend seems to have reversed itself? Or has it? The paytables aren’t as generous as they used to be, but at the same time, I have to be honest. The Sunset Station wasn’t exactly full of Players. Yes, the economy will keep some people away. But, on Saturday night, I think there were more people at the bowling alley than playing video poker. Maybe the casino makes more money off a line of bowling than a line of video poker. Or, maybe the casinos need to make it so that video poker is a little less expensive for the players to play.

I don’t want anyone to think that they should be giving up video poker because of the way paytables have been diminished. Instead, players simply need to be more diligent in making sure that they don’t give in to the casinos who refuse to offer full-pay paytables. Empty casinos are not profitable casinos, so if you refuse to play there, they WILL increase the paybacks. For those of you who either need to learn how to identify the payback of a game or need a refresher, I’m offering the best deal in Compu-Flyers history. It is time for this year’s July 4th special in honor of America’s National Game of Chance. You can get BOTH Winning Strategies for Video Poker AND Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance for $15 (this includes postage and handling). This offer is good until July 31, so please mention the GT Independence Day special. Send check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

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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