Playing percentages

Sep 18, 2006 4:52 AM

I listen with interest as the video poker gurus verbally battle it out over machine payback percentages: Should you bother with machines that return less than 100 percent, in the so-called "long run," whatever the heck that is.

Let me say I’m no expert in how these devices operate. However, I’ve received information from people who should know and the consensus that I’ve concluded is this: the so-called long term payback percentage is an accounting measure and can’t be relied upon to determine whether you (or me or anyone) as a player, will win or lose in the short, medium or long term.

And, we’re not talking simply about video poker. That goes for video keno, slots and whatever else is "electronic gaming."

There are other factors involved. There’s the machine’s "hit frequency" and the actual odds of catching the hand and/or jackpot you’re playing for. There are also, I’ve been told, other sub-programs involved in the machine’s operation, such as amount of jackpots paid versus amount of money taken in.

I’ve done the calculations, and most of the video keno games I play have a "payback percentage" in the low 90 percent range.

Now, according to the advantage play advocates, these machines would be unplayable because if you sit long enough you’re going to lose 10 percent of the total amount you shove into the machine.

That’s, quite frankly, is preposterous, and reflects absolutely no practical experience playing the game. It is strictly a theoretical claim based on mathematics that don’t even apply.

From a practical standpoint, I’ve been playing these machines for decades. And, almost invariably, when I sit down the machine fluctuates but nearly always there’s a brief point when the machine shows a profit.

This also was the case when I played video poker with reckless abandon: it seemed that in many if not most sessions, my machine would hit a few four-of-a-kind’s or even a straight flush or two, build its credit meter up, then die and slowly take all the money back.

So I would certainly endorse a philosophy in which the player quit at some point while ahead, then move on and do it again. It may be a tedious process, especially when you’re settled in and merely want to play video without interruption. But, from the standpoint of leaving the casino with money in your billfold, it certainly is worth considering.

Here’s my two-point plan for making a quick profit and moving on (before the machine takes it back): The first one involves playing Four Card Keno on IGT Game King machines; the second hinges on playing standard video keno.

The latter will be chronicled in detail next week.

For now, on the Four Card Keno game, I decided to play four 10 spots. The numbers consisted of two entire rows (adjacent to each other), coupled with two "stair stepper" or cross-over 10 spots consisting of the first five numbers on one row coupled with the second five numbers of the lower row, and the second five numbers of one row coupled with the first five numbers of the second row.

This is a cluster of numbers that I frequently use and they often result in hitting one 8-of-10 spot, plus numerous 7-of-10 spots.

The 8-of-10 pays 1,000 coins, so at four coins per game (one coin on each of the four cards), you have a relatively good chance of hitting the 8-of-10.

Because I don’t keep perfect records, I can’t say exactly how much money I won and lost trying this system. But in six session at a downtown casino, I had four sessions in which I caught the 8-of-10, one session in which I caught a 9-of-10 (a first for me!) and one session in which I caught only a few 7-of-10 payoffs.

Obviously, I made a nice profit in each of the sessions in which I caught 8-of-10 or better. I may have even made money in the other session, because catching 7-of-10 pays a respectable 142 coins, and I know I hit at least three of those.

This is where it becomes a judgment call on the player’s part. You can be ahead by 20, 30, 50, 100 or whatever number of coins and decide to cash out with a decent profit, rather than continue to seek the larger prize while risking the machine taking it all back.

That’s a decision every player needs to make on her own. My personal experience has been this: If the 7-of-10 comes up several times without the 8-of-10 hitting, then I decide that the machine will probably continue to "tease" with the lower award, and then move on.

Either that or I’ll play like an addict and continue until I either hit the bigger jackpot or lose all my profit trying. That’s a decision you’ll have to make, depending on how much you want to win versus how much you want to gamble.

I think that, if you want to consistently show a profit, even if it’s only 40 or 50 coins per machine, those levels would be nice spots to cash out and move on.

The point is to be consistent. After cashing out, find another machine and start the quest over again. The advent of ticket-in, ticket-out makes the process less tedious.

Good luck and let me know how the system works.