Kick the habit

Oct 30, 2006 2:43 AM

In two weeks, I’ll be at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas. This year’s show will have extra meaning for me. It won’t just be because so many games that I did the math for will be on display — I’m guesstimating about 10 or 12, at least. It will be because while in Las Vegas, I’ll mark four years since I decided to leave the corporate world behind.

Most of my friends thought I was crazy. I was a senior director for one of the largest corporations in the world. I had a staff of about 35-40 people working for me. I was going to do what? Consult for the gaming industry? Looking back maybe I can see why some of my friends questioned my sanity.

For the most part, I don’t have any regrets about my time in corporate. I loved my work. I worked with some very good people. I met some lifelong friends. But, working 6-7 days a week started to wear me down. I was losing my edge. I had done all that I could do in the corporate world. It was time for something new.

The one regret that I do have is that I waited so long. Not because I needed to get out sooner, but because I never got a chance to really work with my father. We worked together sporadically while I had my regular job, but I can only imagine the team we would’ve made. My father wasn’t really a programmer, but his math skills could not be matched. He had grown up with a slide rule and I teethed in the electronic age.

It is hard to believe that it has been almost four years since that fateful decision. It has gone by fast. I’ve been writing for GamingToday for more than three years now. Time went by so fast, that I didn’t even realize that anniversary had come, until it was long past. Besides reminiscing, what is the point of today’s column? If I can give up the corporate habit, you can give up the slot habit.

Sure, maybe you’ve had some fun playing slots. You’ve won some cool gifts while using your frequent player card. You’ve met some nice people while playing slots. But, after all of these years, you have to have been worn down by playing slots. Surely, you’ve lost your edge.

Many casinos pay a higher rate on the slot cards when playing slots as compared to video poker. Why do you suppose this is?

If you want to know which video poker machine has the highest payback, all you have to do is look up the paytables on the glass and you’ll immediately know the payback of the machine. How do you know the payback of ANY slot machine?

Two slot machines, sitting side by side appearing to be identical may have paybacks that are radically different. Two video poker machines sitting side by side with identical paytables have identical paybacks. This is a mathematical certainty.

As a result, a casino might advertise slot machines with a payback from 92%-98%, yet have only one machine paying 98%, and it is virtually impossible for the player to know this. With video poker, the casino might TRY to advertise a range and have only one machine at the top, but any expert player will know right away that they are trying to get away with something.

In general, the payback range of slots are lower than video poker anyway. So, even if they truly did offer the full range, you’d still be playing a game with a lower payback.

Why does video poker have higher paybacks? Any game that has an element of skill can be offered with a higher payback. Blackjack is one of the toughest games in the casino to master and thus, the paybacks of these games are frequently well above 99%.

Shuffle Master’s Ultimate Texas Hold’em can boast a payback of 99.2% because the strategy is so complex that it is very difficult to actually achieve such a payback. Games like Three Card Poker with relatively simple strategy must offer lower paybacks. Slot machines, with absolutely no strategy whatsoever cannot count on player error to increase the casino hold, so they just set the paybacks lower.

Video poker is NOT a game of pure luck. While there is undoubtedly an element of luck involved (especially in the short run), proper play can make a significant difference in how likely you are to win and/or how much you will win or lose.

Only a small percentage of players play video poker properly, so the casinos can offer payback like 99.5% for full-pay jacks or better. They know that a few people will play it at its full potential, while many others will play so badly that they might just be better off playing slots. But, for those that choose to learn the right strategy, the reward can be significant (in both real dollars and enjoyment).

So, even if you’ve been playing slots for 15 or 20 years, it’s time to kick the slot habit. You don’t have to regret your time playing slots. After three or four years of playing video poker, you too, may realize how time has flown by since you last played a slot machine.