Is there life after non-EV games?

August 06, 2007 11:37 PM
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We’ve all heard the cry many, many times: "They took out all the positive play (theoretically 100% and higher) video poker machines, and now there’s absolutely nothing left to play!"

And whether it’s from a player who sits at the machines every day or one who comes to town once a year for a few days, it makes no difference. You’d think the end of days was near.

Why all the fuss over these games? Well, to the "advantage play" crowd as well as to anyone who wants to be an advantage player, it has to do with the theoretical aspect of how they play. You see, they play for the points, they play for slot club status and all those pretty little cards, and they play for as many comps, freebies and gifts as they can muster. And it’s all for very good reason: the ability to create a winning year when the real prize — money — was lost.

The reason the decline in positive machines has been such a big deal to players is because 10 years ago, many such machines existed and in denominations right up to $100 (the highest available). At the time, the gurus and math people all proclaimed in articles and in the media that they would NEVER play a game that calculated out to less than 100%. But that was then and this is now, and as you’ll see, no one — especially very regular players — can just walk away from such a compelling game.

As the games began to disappear at the higher limits the advantage players who couldn’t stop playing them still were able to create a positive play out of them simply by adding in cash back from the slot clubs to the highest pay tables then available. Very ingenious, however, cash back rates soon declined, and with it bringing the games’ values to less than 100%, so the math minds went to work.

Committed video poker players are a persistent bunch, and soon a new scheme evolved that allowed advantage players to add in comps, gifts, and anything "for free" to the formula in order to manufacture plays that topped 100%.

All quite impressive — except for the fact that somewhere along the way advantage players began substituting the winning of "phantom bucks" as the ultimate goal instead of real cash. And just what are phantom bucks?

Put yourself down in front of a $5 8/5 Bonus Poker machine with a theoretical pay back of 99.14%, but with all the creativity mentioned above the play is now able to be boosted up to 101%. So you play $15,000 through it yet lose $850. HOWEVER, since you were theoretically playing with a 1.86% "advantage" you’ve actually "won" the value of 1.86% X $15000 — or $279 in phantom bucks.

Pretty slick, right? But just imagine what any player would have said about this type of practice in the early 1990s! The problem is, as far as I can tell, the banks, grocery stores and restaurants don’t accept phantom bucks as a type of payment. But what all this DOES do is allow even the biggest losers at the machines to continue to report nothing but winning years, year after year after year.

Of course I stopped that nonsense in 1996, and whatever I’ve reported as winnings each year since is truly winnings from the machines only. All the other fluff does is help those in their efforts to control a moving target the best way they possibly can. It also makes them feel good.

So why are these positive play machines not as plentiful as they used to be? On the Internet forums you see all kinds of theories and guessing, usually tailored to fit the needs (and habits) of the poster. Rather than guess, I’ve taken the question out to numerous casinos over the years, and the answer (which we’ll see soon) both surprises and irritates most advantage players.

To be polite, advantage players just don’t get it. Their simple rationale for the removal of so many games is because players like them just keep "hammering the heck" out of them and at the same time bring the casinos to their knees. In turn, they say, the casinos have no alternative but to lower the pay tables just to stay liquid.

Now for the undeniable truth about these machines. First, there remain many such machines in Las Vegas, some in Laughlin and quite a few in the Reno/Sparks area as well as other scattered locations around the state. You’ll usually find them in the 25¡ and 50¡ range, although I’ve seen them up as high as $5 in rare instances. So "hammering the heck" out of them doesn’t quite seem to fit, does it.

The most common answer casinos gave me when I’ve questioned them about this issue is that casinos are a business, and as a business they are required not only to make a profit today, but also to increase profits tomorrow. So when the suits come down and tell the managers to figure out a way to increase profit margin, one of the easiest methods is to lower pay tables. They know players will still play them, and they’ve always been right.

But have these positive play machines really been losers for the casinos? By far, the prevailing answer to that was no, and only a few wouldn’t tell me one way or the other. No one said the machines lost money for the casino — which seems obvious since there are still quite a few of them in operation and they are almost always being played.

No one plays mathematically perfect anyway, and the people who play these types of machines tend to sit at them for many hours at a time. Although none of the players will ever admit to this, error rates increase exponentially the longer one plays and the faster one plays. They are cooking their own goose and they don’t want to know it.

The bottom line is if you like to play positive machines then there are still plenty around to sit at. But you have to go at them with the right attitude and knowledge that you are not ever going to beat the casinos at their own long-term game. For some reason, many players can’t see past the 100%+”¦just like I couldn’t from 1990-1996.