Video poker dilemma

Aug 23, 2005 12:59 AM

At the request of a GamingToday columnist, Wynn Las Vegas last week installed two banks of video poker machines noted for their high payback percentages.

The prized machines feature games such as full pay deuces wild (FPDW), 10/7 Double Bonus, 10/6 Double Double Bonus, 8/5 Bonus and 9/6 Jacks or Better — all available in 25¡, 50¡ and $1 denominations.

Based on their pay tables, three of the five poker games have theoretical, long-term payback returns of more than 100%, while the other two are rated slightly below 100%.

Predictably, the games were an instant hit with poker fans, who have been playing the "advantage" machines nearly around the clock since they were installed last Tuesday.

Unpredictably, the games have generated a fiery debate among players as to just how long the machines will be on the casino floor, and whether they actually give the player a measurable edge.

Wynn officials said the machines will remain on the floor, although "team play" has forced them to reduce the deuces wild paytable by "one notch."

"We’re dropping the table down to a 99.96% rate," Ray Germain, assistant slot manager, told GamingToday. "The teams that have monopolized the machines created an undesirable situation in which our regular customers were unable to play the machines."

Germain said installing specific machines at the request of a player wasn’t unprecedented, though it certainly isn’t commonplace. (See Rob Singer column on page S1.)

"We try to cater to our customers," he said. "We wouldn’t ordinarily do this for a publication or special interest group, but we’ll do it for our players."

Germain added that, even though the deuces wild pay table will be dropped to a 99.96% rate, two other tables that return over 100% will remain intact on the full-pay machines.

"There’s a misconception about ”˜full pay’ machines," he said. "You have to know how to play perfectly to get that extra percent or two. In any case, if the machines can attract some locals then they’re worth it."

Advocates of full-pay machines believe the player has an advantage because the payback percentage is greater than 100%.

The payback rate, however, is a theoretical measure of a machine’s performance, based on millions of games played over the life of the machine, according to experts.

Nevertheless, some self-proclaimed "advantage players" believe they can win, on average, about $30 an hour (playing a $1 full-pay machine), using perfect strategy.

Experts with ties to gaming manufacturers disagree.

"If these machines were the greatest thing going, none of the so-called ”˜pros’ would be writing or talking about them; they would be playing them day after day until they had accumulated $50 million," said an engineer with a Las Vegas-based manufacturer of video poker machines.

The engineer, who asked not to be identified, said full-pay machines simply pay a slightly greater number of credits for one or two winning hands.

For instance, on full-pay deuces wild, the machine pays five credits instead of four for a four-of-a-kind, and two credits instead of one for a straight.

"The actual odds and hit frequencies for the various jackpots remain exactly the same," the engineer said. "At best, the player may be able to stretch his playing time with a given bankroll, but he’s definitely not more likely to hit a royal, four aces or other jackpot."

Although most players give credit to GT columnist Rob Singer for lobbying Wynn for the new machines, some critics say the casino is simply interested in generating a quick publicity fix with no intention of keeping the machines on the floor.

"The bottom line is the $1 FPDW (full-pay deuces wild) machines will be toast ”¦ NO ONE in Las Vegas has them, for obvious reasons," said Steve Fezzik, a local sports gambler and outspoken critic of Rob Singer’s column. "I put the over/under on (removing the machines) until Sunday (Aug. 21), 1 p.m."

Even though Sunday has come and gone with the machines still dealing hand-after-hand, Fezzik painted a dire picture of the machines’ shelf life at Wynn Las Vegas.

"The word will get out, and within a short period of time, every FPDW machine will be occupied by video poker low roller pros," Fezzik said in an Internet forum called fezziksplace.com "They won’t tip, they won’t look good, and they will beat the casino out of small amounts.

"They will even start trying to cut in on normal players who eventually won’t have access to the machines," Fezzik continued. "It’s a scary world out there where a place like Wynn thinks Rob Singer is a good authority to get advice from."

Singer offers his advice every week in GamingToday.