Look beyond ‘payback’

Feb 1, 2005 5:51 AM

More than a year ago, after my Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker booklet came out, I remember reading a comment someone made on a video poker chat board about it. Actually, the comment was more about the game than my booklet.

The gist of the comment was, ”˜"Big deal. Why would I want to play a table game when I can play high payback video poker?" There is no doubt that video poker affords a player the highest paybacks to be found in a casino, assuming you’re playing in a casino with full-pay paytables. This is what makes video poker such a compelling game.

At the same time, I have to recognize that video poker is not a game for everybody. Some people prefer the more social atmosphere of a table game, or perhaps they don’t want to do as much thinking as video poker requires (which probably means blackjack is the wrong table game as well). As I try to always stress, for most people, casino gambling is a form of entertainment, which means you must enjoy yourself while playing, or maybe you should find a different form of entertainment.

Table game paybacks are definitely lower than full-pay video pokers. Most of the more common poker variation table games have a payback of at least 97 percent. Three Card Poker is at about 98 percent, while the increasingly popular Four Card Poker goes all the way to 98.6 percent when played expertly. Both are a solid point to point and a half below a basic jacks or better full-pay machine. So, you must be crazy to sit down and play, right?

Not necessarily. Payback is only one component that should be looked at. Casinos tend to have better paytables for higher denomination games. What they give to the patron in payback, they take back in volume. Let’s see how this translates to table games. The average table game plays at a rate of about 30 hands per hour. Obviously, this will depend on the game, the dealer and the number of players, but it’s a good average to use. If you’re playing Three Card Poker, play both wagers, and play using proper strategy, you’ll wager about $400 per hour, taking into account how often you play the "Play Bet." You can expect to lose about $8.50 per hour playing Three Card Poker.

If you’re playing full-pay max-coin jacks or better video poker at 600 hands per hour, you’ll wager a total of $750 if you’re a quarter player. With a payback of just below 99.6 percent, you can expect to lose about $3.25 per hour at video poker. If you can only find a 98.5 percent payback video poker, you’ll lose $11.25 per hour despite playing a game that pays .5 percent better than Three Card Poker. If you’re a dollar player, you’ll put at risk $3,000 per hour and should expect to lose more than $12 per hour.

In the end, a player must consider his loss rate as well. Would you rather play a game with a 99 percent payback that allows you to play for $1, or the same game with a paytable that pays 99.5 percent but requires a $5 wager per hand? There is no right or wrong answer for this question. Only you can decide what is an acceptable loss rate for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for win rates, too. (That is, games that pay over 100 percent, but you’ll ONLY find this in video poker, and they’re getting harder to find.) You need to make the same type of decision frequently when you decide if you’ll play nickels, quarters or dollars even in video poker. You can’t decide to play quarters because the payback is higher than nickels just because the payback is higher. You have to feel comfortable with the amount of money you are wagering.

In similar fashion, you have to feel comfortable playing the game you’re playing. You can’t compare payback of table games to video poker in a vacuum. You need to consider the total amount wagered and the loss rate as well.