What ever happened to positive machines?

November 06, 2001 2:57 AM
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Just like exciting new prototype concept cars, they seem to come and go ”” and public opinion seemingly has no bearing on the decision to let them disappear. Video poker machines that offer over 100 percent payback with computer-perfect play over many millions of hands are now few and far between, and in this belt-tightening economy the future doesn’t look all that rosy ”” especially for dollar and above players. For over a year we’ve been reading what the gurus have had to say about why this is happening. Now it’s time to understand what’s really going on.

First, when we talk about games that offer the player a theoretical advantage over the long term, we’re generally referring to 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, Full-Pay Deuces Wild, Full-Pay Jokers Wild, and a few other less-popular games. And we’re talking about a very insignificant percentage that really means nothing during our play ”” usually barely a percent over 100 percent, if that. In short-pay format, the same games are almost always offered around 99.5 percent on average, with the difference found in a five-credit reduction for one or more of the lower-end winning hands. All in all, given the fact that nobody ever plays anywhere near computer-perfect video poker over any amount of time, there is really no discernible variation in the end result. Those who get the extra credits will by force of habit play them off until they are gone.

If that’s the case, why then are many of the 100 percent + games being removed or having their pay tables lowered? I’ve studied this over and over again, and all roads lead to the same conclusions. Because positive expectation games are the centerpiece to all the mathematical theories behind the various video poker products available on the market these days, players are constantly warned by those who peddle this stuff that they will definitely lose if they play less than 100 percent video poker. But let’s take a closer look at this dubious message. Will players win over the long term if they only play “good” games? Of course not ”” unless they are extremely lucky. Will players lose if they only play negative expectation games? Again, it depends on the amount of luck experienced. Nothing is ever guaranteed in video poker, and saying you should win because the math says you are supposed to only underlies the desperation the experts themselves experience.

Casinos look at all the information disseminated about positive games as a possible threat to their bottom line. One day they’ll read about how it is the pros that are continually hitting these machines up for a profit. The next day they have to listen to one or more of them toot their horn about all the “free” comps they’ve received, and all the cash back they’ve taken the place for. But no one can argue the fact that the only real concern casino executives have is how the positive machines by nature withhold a smaller percentage than negative machines, and that anyone who plays them will get the extra five credits for certain hands along the way. When it’s time to tighten belts, changing pay tables is the most obvious way to proceed. No one individual or group of players can claim responsibility, regardless or the perceived superiority those in the video poker product-sales business would have us believe they command.

So what has gone wrong here? Simple. If the gurus had never come out with all the nonsense about how they are killing the advantage machines ”” and how we can too ”” I believe many of the machines would still be around, especially in higher denominations. They’ve brought so much attention to these games that casino executives really have no choice when it comes time to explain to the Directors what they’re doing to increase profits. At the end of the day, I have no doubt those who’ve written so much about “beatable” machines have bitten the hand that they say feeds them. And they have only themselves to blame for now having to come up with creative ways to manufacture a positive machine through the inclusion of intangible adders ”” something they said they would never do in the past. The good times could have lasted a lot longer”¦for them and everyone else.