In-flight 21, video poker need upgrading

Nov 24, 2009 5:04 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

Or casinos could follow airlines’ lead

To err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer.

I chuckled the first time I heard this. But as a programmer, I’ve known the computer does exactly what the human tells it to do EVERY TIME. So, perhaps the phrase should read "to err is human, to really foul things up give a human a computer!"

This was quite evident on my latest trip to Las Vegas last week for the G2E gaming convention. It started with a "spa suite" at New York-New York for $11 (yes, ELEVEN dollars).

Part of me would like to believe that they decided to give me this great room rate because it recognized my name and decided I was a celebrity. In reality, I’m sure it was nothing more than a typo somewhere in the reservation system.

When I checked in, the clerk didn’t even blink, and I paid $11 for a room that should’ve cost over $100. It was quite ironic that I paid more to hook up to the Internet for that one night than I paid for my hotel room.

The hotel reservation was a case of simple human error. The computer charged me $11 because someone entered this into their system. Someone must have accidentally typed in the $11 for the price of this room for the particular night I needed it. I can fully understand these types of errors, because well, to err is human!

The one I simply cannot comprehend was what I discovered on my flight from Newark to Las Vegas. When I got on the plane, I was ecstatic to learn that the plane had the new entertainment system. This means every seat has its own screen with an on-demand entertainment system. I could watch movies, TV shows or play video games for five hours. I don’t sleep well on planes, so this was a dream come true for me.

When I checked out the listing of computer games, I found one for casino games. I figured I can start warming up on the plane. I started with some blackjack.

Given this was some free software on an airplane, I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular from the game. I was, however, expecting blackjack played according to the rules found in a casino.

Boy, was I wrong!

The first thing I noticed was that even when I busted, the game still played out the dealer’s hand. It was very confusing to see the screen with "Player Bust" and "Dealer Bust" on it. I wasn’t even sure for a moment if it was counting me as the loser in these cases, but it was.

But the real problem came when I stood on a 12 against a Dealer 5. It drew a 2, then a 5, then an Ace and then a 3. As I awaited the next card, I was shocked to see the screen say "Player Lost." It showed the Dealer had 16 and I had 12.

So, for a moment, I thought maybe it was playing with a wacky ‘Charlie rule" whereby if you have 5 cards with 21 or less, you win. I had never seen this applied to a Dealer hand, but who knew.

Several hands later, a similar hand was dealt, but this time I stopped with a 19. The Dealer drew 5 cards to a 16 again and this time I was a winner. Apparently, this version of Blackjack simply doesn’t believe in dealing more than 5 cards in a hand. Maybe it thought it was dealing poker!

I went to the help screen and found that whoever wrote the help doesn’t have any clue about gambling payouts. It stated that if the Player wins a hand, he is paid 1 to 1 (which is correct) PLUS the return of his original wager for a total payout of 2 to 1 (which is it? 1 to 1, or 2 to 1?).

At this point, I gave up on blackjack and went over to the video poker section of the software. It didn’t give much choice in terms of which game to play. Jacks or better was it. The paytable was a bit funky as it paid 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 20, 40, 250. I wasn’t really sure where they got this one from.

One of the first hands I hit was a straight and I noticed that it seemed to pay me 5 and not 4. Again, I went to the help screen. Once again, the payouts were 5 to 1. So, a straight paid 4 units AND returned my original wager. I have NEVER seen a video poker game do this. It was only for fun, but the paytable was coming up at about 113% payback. I wish a casino would foul things up and put one of these on the floor!

I’m not sure who is more to blame. Continental Airlines or the company that made the software? Clearly the specs for the casino software were done by someone who knew absolutely nothing about casino gaming.

While I don’t expect Continental Airlines to put its best people on the in-flight entertainment project, I do expect software that reflects the underlying game accurately! Would anyone consider it acceptable to play a game of baseball on a computer where the pitcher kicks a football to the batter, or where you get 4 strikes and 3 balls? Of course not!

So, if any executives from Continental Airlines are reading this, please send me an e-mail and let’s create some casino software that you can be proud of. Your customers don’t need anything fancy, just something to HELP them practice their video poker and blackjack!

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

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