How fair are video poker machines?

Apr 18, 2005 6:05 AM

If there’s one burning question video poker players always have in the back of their minds, it’s whether or not the games they’re playing are really fair.

By fair we mean truly random, in a way that allows players to feel like they are playing against a live dealer who shuffles a deck between each hand.


Since this paper is based in Nevada, let’s start right here. This state has strict regulations governing the parameters within which casinos are allowed to operate their video poker machines — and that means 100 percent of them must be in random format. I believe in that, because I will only play for profit in Nevada and nowhere else. But that doesn’t specifically mean I agree with what the portrayed definition of the word random actually means.

I have strong reason to believe the machines, although random, run in hot and cold cycles for a reason. An agreement with a manufacturer precludes me from saying why, but let’s just say my play strategies and results from the past eight years support this opinion.

My play involved constantly changing denominations and game type, and I win (sometimes a little and occasionally a lot) on just over 90 percent of my sessions. You may draw your own conclusions.

What about games in Atlantic City, Mississippi and others in other states? Well, since I don’t play for profit at any of them I have not had the need to do an in-depth study of their video poker. But from everything I read and hear, their regulations mirror Nevada’s.

Now, onto one of my pet peeves”¦ Indian gaming. I get e-mails all the time asking my opinion on these casinos’ video poker games.

By and large, whenever I’ve attempted to understand and learn more about any subject, I need to get clear answers in order to be satisfied. In my multiple inquiries into tribal casino regulations, I’ve never been able to get any sort of clarification that would allow me to form a strong enough opinion either way. That alone raises a big flag. All I get from the tribes is "The state verifies and regulates the machines," and from the state, "The tribes verify and regulate their own games." What does this say to you?

Certainly, there’s some who swear by a Nevada regulation I hear about now and then on Internet forums that supposedly says any machine manufactured in the state HAS to leave the state in random format. And I have no reason to doubt that it exists. However, what may or may not happen to the machines upon arrival at their destination is another story.

I know enough about computer programs and have checked with enough advanced programmers to recognize that a novice programmer is all it takes to bias the machines. Sure, a few out there like to say it would take a near-genius to accomplish the feat, but all that nonsense is meant to justify the particular guru or geek’s reasoning for playing a machine on a trip outside the state that they are compelled to play for one reason or another.

It all adds up to one of my favorite statements: "Video poker addicts are unable to ever again go on a vacation that does not include playing video poker wherever it may be available — and regardless of the format." It is of no consequence if the machines are fair or not. Frenzied players create more make-believe worlds to play in than you’d ever find on TV. Yes, it is sad but true.

I’m not sure the following category even deserves mentioning, because if you play these games then you are definitely in need of help. Internet video poker on overseas gambling sites is simply for the mindless. There’s no accountability, no regulation, and no recourse. And I simply don’t trust the games to be fair because there is no reason on earth why the greedy operators should make them fair. How hard is that?

Yet we have numerous so-called respectable on-line gaming stores, personal gaming-related websites, and a number of hard publications that are just loaded with on-line site advertisements. The reason? Simple. The sites take in so much money from unsuspecting gamblers that they have tons of cash to pay anyone in need of cash to advertise for them. The overall message is clear.

At the end of the day I recommend playing only in Nevada. It is King and will always be that way. Other locations run by states are just as likely to be fair, but for those of us who live out West, why travel to them? The rest to me is just a crapshoot. If you can use your head you’ll see what I mean.