Video poker vs. quest for big jackpots

Oct 27, 2009 4:09 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

I’m about to write something you probably never expected to read from me. Slots have one advantage over video poker machines. There, I said it. It is easier to offer huge jackpots on a slot machine rather than video poker.

If you’re looking for a life altering jackpot, you’re not likely going to find it on a video poker machine. There are some significant payouts on video poker (Reversible Royals), but you’re just not going to find a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ sized payout.

The problem is that video poker is too truly random to find hands this rare. Because each card must show up in its real-life frequency, even a regular royal is only a 1 in 40,000 (roughly) occurrence event.

Slot machines on the other hand can be programmed for anything the operator wants. If they want a $5 million progressive, just take 10 cents from every $1 wager and make the event occur every 50 million spins. On average, you’ll have a $5 million jackpot. It’s that easy.

If the operator wants a $1 million jackpot, just change the frequency of the symbols to show up every 10 million spins and you’re done. That was easy.

Video Poker has the advantage that everything about the game is known to the astute player. Given a paytable, we know exactly what the payback is and how frequently all of the winning hands should show up. With slots, everything is a mystery. Even if we somehow know the overall payback, we don’t know how much of the payback is buried in the top prize.

It would appear that video poker makers are not trying to introduce some slot experience into the video poker arena. The latest craze seems to be to have the player wager a sixth coin, which will trigger some sort of additional bonus into the game.

Maybe this will trigger a random multiplier or create under certain circumstances a bonus hand. The problem is that the frequency of these triggers is not known.

In "Super Times Pay" video poker, a random number generator will determine how often and at what multiple all payouts will be increased. But we don’t know if the likelihood of getting the 10x multiplier is 1 in 100, 1 in 1000 or 1 in a billion! As a result, we don’t know what the payback of this bonus game is or any idea of the volatility of the game.

Bonus games do not usually have very attractive paybacks. The trade off for the player is that they frequently offer a chance at a significant payout. Thus, the bonus game may only have a payback of 90%, but there is a chance to win $100,000 on a $1 wager and this might be enough to make people take the low payback.

This is why so many people are willing to play the lottery. The paybacks might only be in the 50% range, but the chance to win $100 million is so alluring, the payback becomes almost irrelevant.

This is essentially what the video poker makers are hoping will happen as well. The problem is that when you’re playing the lottery once a week for a few bucks for a shot to win a life-altering jackpot, the amount you are risking is relatively little.

When you’re talking about a sixth coin, at a rate of perhaps 600 hands per hour, the amount can add up very quickly.

To make matters worse, you’ve invested so much time to make sure you’re playing the right game and the right strategy, it seems counterproductive to take 1/6 of your money and decide to play a slot machine with it instead.

If five coins are earning a payback of 99.5%, and the sixth coin is being wagered on a bonus game at 90%, your overall payback is quickly reduce to just below 98%. You might as well play a non-full pay video poker machine and give up the bonus game altogether.

Or, you can just play the full-pay video poker machine with the bonus game, but simply play 5 coins instead of 6. In the end, you can send the ultimate message to the game developers that if you want to play a slot machine, you’ll sit down at a slot machine. When you sit down to play video poker, you don’t want gimmicks.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Elliot Frome

You can try out your strategy by playing our video poker game.