Positive play poker machines on the rise

Jul 9, 2002 2:49 AM

It wasn’t so very long ago that one of the constant cries among writers in town was about the disappearance of video poker machines having a theoretical payout of over 100 percent with flawless play throughout eternity. Casinos such as the Reserve (which for some reason will never feel like anything other than the Reserve even though it is now a Fiesta Station) became famous for having every machine and game in full pay format ”” with many offering the coveted 100+ percent pay schedules. While all of the Coast properties also kept up a similar inventory, it wasn’t too hard to locate a positive play virtually anywhere around town ”” and even occasionally on the Strip. But something happened.

One of the first signs that these machines could soon be gone for good was when the Reserve suddenly lowered most of its pay tables. For about a year afterward other casinos followed suit. Then the articles in the magazines and newspapers started to heat up. It was a constant rant of how this casino and that casino had no choice but to remove the machines or lower the pay tables because "the pros were beating the heck out of the machines." Some on-line chat even went so far as to say that these extremely talented players would be the demise of video poker as we know it. That style of journalism sells, because nobody knows who most of these "pros" are, let alone if they win, lose, or even play. So being always in search of the truth, I set out to find the reason(s) for what was happening to these beloved machines ”” as well as just who these mysterious culprits were.

My first stop was the Reserve. When I questioned casino management about their recent decision to change their pay tables, they took it as confrontational since they thought I was one of the writers who had claimed something that just wasn’t so. When things settled down, I was told that it was nothing more than a simple business decision. Similar to all companies in the world, when the Board of Directors demands increasing profits, management responds. In this case, since a loyal clientele had been established, five credits less for a flush or full house was not expected to chase them away to other Boulder Strip properties that already had these pay tables. It was a bold move ”” one in which casino after casino around town began to follow suit.

I was able to question management at three other popular local casinos, and in all cases the answers were exactly the same ”” while they scoffed at the mention of a few "gifted" players being the cause for the reductions. And in all cases it was agreed that since every player of every skill or luck level has the same opportunity to get flushes or full houses, no one class of player could ever be responsible for such pay table reductions. Bottom line is what’s important to those who would rather keep their jobs than scour the help-wanted ads. But to keep continued customer loyalty meant they would have to turn up the heat on the slot club promotions. And that’s exactly what has been going on since, with new and more creative methods being used to keep players strapped to their seats hours longer than they used to be.

Having had that part of the equation resolved very straightforwardly, I then focused my attention on just who all these pros are that were supposedly killing the positive expectation machines. Turns out the guru definition of professional player" is quite a bit different than mine. While I believe a professional in the field of video poker is one who earns the majority of his or her income from direct profits of the game, the "other" definition simply refers to the many mathematical minds out there who have a keen understanding of the probability theories related to playing the game ”” whether they play once a year or hundreds of times a year ”” and whether they lose or win. So what we essentially have is a lot of people (i.e. "pros") who buy into the same theories as the writers. A bit of a stretch, but we get the picture.

So what has happened to trigger the comeback of the "advantage" machines in the past six months or so? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Simply take a look at the enormous success enjoyed by the Suncoast in Summerlin. When it opened it was truly gambling theory genius at work. The property is basically wall-to-wall full pay video poker machines, with many being the over-100 percent variety. The same local writers rapidly spread the word of this video poker heaven, and there instantly became a huge and very loyal customer base.

Of course, all of the "pros" frequent the Suncoast ”” as well as those who expect to win just because there’s a plus sign after the 100 percent on many of the games through the $2 level. But while we all know it is impossible to beat the house without consistent luck or a disciplined short-term, goal-oriented strategy, everyone there thinks they are going to win because they are playing positive expectation games. Management must have been reading my mind ”” or my book. Now all the other local chains and independents are loading up with positive games once again. They are even taking unprecedented steps by installing 10/7 double bonus nickel machines ”” some places in multi-play and/or with progressive jackpots. Recognizing many locals play nickels, it’s a profitable move long overdue.

But one casino has had to take it on the chin due to poor planning in the arena of advantage games. When the Suncoast was under construction, I met with casino management at what was then the Regent ”” now Rampart Casino at the Marriott in Summerlin. I was very impressed with such a beautiful resort, and suggested that they not only re-install the positive games that were once on their floor, but they fill the place with nothing but these type games ”” and before the grand opening of the Suncoast next door. That has not happened ”” yet. As a result, one casino flourishes while the other has a history of struggling. I believe the Regent could have been the Suncoast in terms of success, because full pay machines bring in not only advertisement ”” it brings in players ”” and lots of them with a fistful of cash in one hand and a slot club card in the other. It’s a competitive business, and casinos are recognizing that the more positive games they have, the more profit they’ll have.