Too good to be true!

Jun 24, 2003 6:08 AM

This is for those who are always on the lookout for a beatable video poker machine; you know the type. You’re walking through the casino with your significant other when, suddenly distracted, your head turns to scan a deck of machines. You stop dead in your tracks with no concern to the original mission of finding a restaurant.

Finding a brand new game is as exciting as stumbling across any positive expected value (EV) machine in one of the new mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. The goal is simple: Find it and remember it.

For most of my past working life, the business that I worked in has taken me to nearly every part of the world. Invariably and quite to my surprise, casinos seem to be almost everywhere. Many are not run in same fashion in which US casinos are accustomed.

Some require formal dress and/or a membership, some include an expensive entrance fee, a 24 hour pre-signup regulation, and I have even visited one that required a local escort in order to enter.

I have a strict policy of never putting money into a video poker machine in these places. In fact, you can rarely find a video poker machine. Many of these casinos only have table games.

Few foreign countries look upon the video poker machine as anything more than an entertaining video game of some sort. Gambling is usually a serious matter ”¦ formal, mature, and tight.

In early 1999 I broke from my policy of staying away from such machines ”” but thankfully only once. While staying at the Hyatt Regency in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I took my usual stroll through their small but securely managed on-site casino.

My eyes popped wide open as I stared in disbelief and bewilderment. I had found three machines with payout schedules that, if honestly and truly 100 percent random, would bring any stone cold professional in Las Vegas to his knees.

The payout scheme was simply unbelievable. It stated a 57-card deck that the machine advertised as being shuffled prior to each hand. This was extremely enticing. The deck included five Jokers.

The coin denomination, in local currency of course, was equivalent to about 15 cents per coin. The machine was a 1-100 coin machine, similar to many found at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. Even more attracting was the pleasing music the machine played as you played, the bells and whistles that went off as winners were hit, and the voice that announced each winner in a very congratulatory manner! It had, in effect, more gadgetry than any machine I to this date have ever encountered.

What were the game and payout schedules? Hold on and sit down! It was a Sevens-or-Better machine. Yes, sevens! This was nearly enough to sign my name to its seat. What followed was more astounding. When betting five coins, which is how I would only play, the payouts increase proportionately as does the amount of coins-in increase. This was how it paid back on a 5-coin bet:


Pair Sevens or Better: 5
Two Pair: 10
Three of a Kind: 15
Straight: 20
Flush: 30
Full House: 45
Four of a Kind: 125
Straight Flush with or w/o Joker: 500
Five of a Kind: 1000
Royal with or w/o Joker: 4000
Five Jokers: 8000


Any knowledgeable player could immediately realize that, even without Jokers, this game is better than 100% payback. Add in these Jokers, I figured, and the game turns me into a millionaire! I would even apply to extend my visa for a few weeks and quit my job.

All these wild ideas raced through mind as I was swept off my feet and into the chair. I pulled out $100 and handed it to the attendant. He quickly opened my machine and set it at 660 credits — something that made me a bit nervous. But the fever set in, and the only aspect I could control was playing five credits per hand. I did not expect to see five Jokers, but I was counting the number of Royals per hour in my head.

How did I fare? Well, let’s say the Casino Managers and this machine did their job flawlessly. My $100 investment disappeared in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Not only did I fail to see a single quad, but Jokers were very rare, only two full houses (both dealt) came out, and one flush appeared.

Straights were non-existent, and getting three of a kind on the draw from a pair occurred only twice. If it were not for the fact that this game had a double-down option, which I was forced into utilizing, I would have been gone in half an hour.

Well, when I came back home I was too embarrassed to tell my wife of this adventure until after we hit a royal flush at the old Reserve (now Fiesta Henderson). That’s what it took for my confidence to return — such a crazy thing.

But I still try to rationalize what I did in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Of course, it now seems clear that I was temporarily overcome with anticipation against something that has reminded me why we all go out and take the risks we do in gambling. You can’t win if you don’t play. In this case, "can’t win" seems to be the key phrase.

Still I wonder, what if? Nah!! It had to be too good to be true and in the process a lesson was learned. I very seldom get off-track in my professional play these days since that experience. I only play for profit in Nevada. But what a stir it would create if one of the local casinos were to install one of these wild machines! Too good to be true wouldn’t be the right words.