Can poker games be tightened up?

Oct 24, 2005 2:27 AM

Here’s an issue that never loses popularity with many video poker players: Do casinos actually "tighten’ up their machines when profits need bolstering?

At first glance, the answer for most is an obvious "of course not!"

But let’s take a closer look at the subject, because I believe many of the numerous players who write to me really are some of the sharpest tools in the shed, and it would be highly unprofessional to simply say they are off-base when they complain the machines lose too frequently.

The most common complaints about machine tightening seem to come from out-of-town visitors, especially shortly after holiday weekends. The next most vocal group is the local element, which seems to gripe about how their favorite haunts just aren’t paying like they used to.

Regardless of the level of complaints or their frequency, one thing’s for sure: It would be futile to bring the subject up to casino managers. Here’s their stock answer: "No, it’s impossible and illegal to do such a thing, and no respectable casino would risk losing its license for a few dollars more."

Because I agree wholeheartedly in principle with that statement, one might wonder why I listen to those who don’t. That’s why I’m here, and it wouldn’t be right to ignore what to some readers is such a passionate issue from every angle.

What about those people who feel they get killed every time they travel to Las Vegas for a 3-day holiday weekend? Is it a mystery, or can there be a rational answer behind this phenomenon?

The first thing we need to do is put aside any notion that a computer fairy went around to the video poker machines at some odd hour prior to the holiday to bias the machines. I say this relative assurance because I play at odd hours and have yet to see Tinkerbell manipulate any machines.

Like it or not, a more acceptable response would be that they are video poker players, and by definition, most of them lose more often than they win. It’s likely that on holiday weekends, more cash was saved up to make the trip, and the more cash one comes to town with then the more they usually leave behind.

The local’s point of view can be a bit trickier, because these are regular — sometimes daily — players who are able to spot trends much easier than the rest of us.

Some people look at the ease in which comps are dished out as a reason for the so-called tightening of the machines. I can’t argue with that logic — comps ARE easy to get. But do they mess with the machines in return?

I say no; others swear they do. When I lose I simply attribute it to lack of good luck. I do, however, understand those who become so frustrated that they blame the casinos. Nothing is really that absolute.

We all have casinos where we feel lucky playing because we don’t usually lose at them. But there are also those that seem to have our number. I believe that’s the nature of the game, and I’m sure it’s that way for all casino games.

As a professional player, I don’t see a need for any casino to bias the machines. Video poker is a tough nut to crack as it is, and is one of the top performers on any floor.

The clear fact is most of the people who play the game are going to lose most of the time, and just as I always did when I was a perennial loser through 1996, they are always looking to place the blame somewhere other than on the odds. If it makes you feel good, so be it.