Say ‘bye’ to reels!

Mar 20, 2005 11:41 PM

For years we have campaigned to have video poker named America’s National Game of Chance and to have people kick the slot habit. I’ve been frequently asked if the award of "America’s National Game of Chance" really exists. To the best of my knowledge, it does not.

So, maybe it’s time to realize that video poker really has become America’s National Game of Chance. Who would have ever thought that a game could come along and take away significant casino floor space? But that’s exactly what video poker has done. Walk into most casinos today, and you may very likely see video poker machines before you see a slot machine.

Of course, this brings me to the second part of the campaign, getting people to kick the slot habit. The first step in this process is to realize that video poker is NOT a slot machine. What makes a slot machine a slot machine is the fact that it has reels (or computer generated reels) and that there is NO skill involved. The fact that video poker and slot machines physically look alike is just a coincidence. If you play Texas Hold’em on your PC, you’re not playing a slot machine, just because you’re playing on a PC.

Slot machines are based entirely on luck. Two machines sitting next to one another with identical paytables may be set by the casinos to pay very differently from one another. Slot machines have virtual reels that can be set up to appear a certain percentage of the time. This is not possible with a video poker machine. By law, in places like Nevada, any game that uses a deck of cards must allow the cards to show up in a natural random fashion. Put more plainly, what you see is what you get. Slot machines are more along the lines of what you get is whatever the casino wants you to get.

Because of the nature of video poker machines, we know that there are exactly 2,598,960 unique possible initial deals. Each will occur with the exact same likelihood. Each of these initial deals can be played out exactly 32 ways. One of these 32 will maximize the player’s bankroll. This is the one with the highest expected value, or ”˜win power’ of the hand. This is the proper way to play that initial draw according to Expert Strategy. By using computer programs to do this for each of the 2,598,960 hands, we are able to categorize the starting hands into 30-40 rankings. The exact number of rankings, the order of the rankings and the expected value associated with each will depend on the exact paytable that the video poker machine, which according to law must be on the machine (either on the screen or on the face of the machine). Everything is known. Everything can be calculated. Everything is precise. Using proper strategy can result in increasing your chances of winning. This is incontrovertible.

What about slot machines? Well, the paytables must be printed on the face of the machine or on the screen. The similarities pretty much end there. I know that video poker uses a 52-card deck (except Joker’s wild and other games that specifically say otherwise). How many different symbols are there on each reel of a video poker machine? How likely will each symbol show up? Is every combination of symbols even possible? Since the answer to these questions is essentially, who knows, how can anyone know the payback of any slot machine? If you don’t know the payback and you don’t know the critical information about the slot machine, there can be no strategy for a slot machine. With no strategy, there is no advantage that can be gained by playing it the right way.

So, now you have your choice to make. You can put your money into a machine that is based 100 percent on luck and that you don’t know anything about. Or, you can put your money into a video poker machine, where you can know the payback based on the paytable. Knowing the paytable allows you to know the right strategy and allows you to know what to expect. These are the three key components of expert strategy (play the right machine, know the right strategy, know what to expect). Expert strategy applies to many casino games. Slot machines simply isn’t one of them. So, video poker is already the de facto National Game of Chance. Now I need your help by breaking the slot habit and giving video poker a chance. Your bankroll will thank you.