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How serious can video poker be?

Dec 21, 2004 3:03 AM

"It’s only a game" is what you hear many video poker players say when they’re miles away from the machines and not risking anything but their own sensibility. But when they’re up close and firing their hard-earned wages into the seemingly insatiable bill feeders, that tune changes as quickly as a racehorse fading down the stretch. Yes, there is far more to it than being a simple game for those who play, and while you may feel a bit uncomfortable as you read on today, the truth once again will indeed be told.

There are several very clear points about video poker that all of us know: it is readily available in many different forms in virtually every corner of the United States and beyond; it is very easy to learn how to play; it is a whole lot of fun for those who enjoy statistical challenges on computers, and it is the most addictive game ever offered in casinos anywhere. Yet the game has one major attribute, which easily distinguishes it from other daily activities within our lives: It has the power to create extreme havoc with a player’s finances, which can lead to very odd behavior.

I’m not at all shy in saying how playing the game in the early to mid 1990’s made me ashamed of the way I acted. The curse of any player is to hit a royal flush on their first introduction to video poker, and that’s exactly what happened to me. As inexperienced as they come at the time in 1990 at the Gold Coast in Las Vegas, I never had more enjoyment than to see someone come up to me and trade-off $1000 in cash for the short roll of quarters I just purchased moments before. Little did I realize that was only the beginning of a sad, compulsive, and very frustrating part of my life that lasted up until late 1996.

Naturally, like most players, I felt I had discovered a new and exciting hobby that would and could be a recreational profit-maker on the side. Not unlike many other budding players, I went out and bought all the tools sold by the gurus that promised a good video poker education as well as untold profits. All I had to do was buy, read, understand, utilize my very capable mathematical aptitude, practice, and start winning like they said they did. At the time it all seemed so simple, and I idolized these people as my newfound heroes. Very confusing to this day was the fact that never once did that little voice in the back of my mind warn me that I was making a big mistake. Gambling does that to people. I know that today, but when things start rolling gamblers tend to be blinded by the awaiting riches.

Within a year I was consumed by every part of the game ”¦ the comps, the cash back, the VIP treatment, as well as the constant searching for the many greater-than-100 percent games that, when all added up, would consistently make me a nice little profit. What I actually ran into, however, was the very real fact that I gave the casinos nearly $250,000 well before 1996 had come to a close, and all I had to show for it was an impressive array of colorful slot club cards along with a mailbox constantly full of enticing offers to come in and make even more deposits. It was humiliating, it was embarrassing, and I was determined to immediately do something about it.

My thought process went like this: Was my gambling REALLY a hobby? Was it REALLY recreational? Did it make any sense at all that I was constantly pouring every spare dime I earned into the machines? And most of all, how could it be that a handful of self-proclaimed video poker ”˜gurus’ were doing anything more than selling a bunch of paraphernalia for anything other than the sole purpose of putting as much gambling money as possible into their pockets? And this is where it all changed for me.

Common sense does a lot for people. For those who have the ability to stop for a moment, take a step back, and get a good look at what they’ve been doing and why, there’s always a whole lot to be learned. Most people who play video poker on trips to casinos sooner or later become serious players. And it’s no secret that these machines take more money from nearly every single player on a consistent basis than they give back.

Recently I wrote about another gaming writer who said he played video poker around 20 hours a week — and not on quarters, either. Although not unusual for residents of gaming towns, what WAS concerning is this writer went on to say that it was all simply "recreational" play.

HA! I trust we all know just a tad bit more than that. One thing I’ve learned before I became a consistent winner is that denial and story telling are a major part of every serious gambler’s life. In my opinion, that’s what we have whenever we run into such ramblings. It is not very pretty, and it helps no one.

Serious players usually have serious problems somewhere along the line. Good luck can, but rarely does, last. And as much as others want you to believe in order to line their pockets, skill is a very small part of the game. In fact, it takes more of that so-called skill to know exactly how to be 100 percent prepared with goals and a bankroll along with which strategy to play before stepping into any casino, than for anything else. If there’s ever any one single important lesson to be learned by serious players everywhere, it is in the words I have just written.

Winning isn’t easy but it is fun. And fun is one part of the game that’s all too frequently lacking for players whose "recreational activity" has turned serious. My own transformation saw me understand and accept that fact before developing winning play strategies that have allowed me to vastly overcome my losses early on. If you are wondering where you sit with this game or you’ve already crossed over the line into being a serious player, then I advise you to stop for a second or two and review your past, and where you want to go. Only then can you make the right choices in how to play.