Payback’s overrated!

Jul 8, 2003 3:42 AM

What if all the positive EV (expected value) video poker machines vanished? Now there’s a scary thought. Or is it?

Positive EV games mean more credits for certain winners. Certainly, only a fool would play anything else, right?

It is true that only a small percentage of those who play video poker really know what they’re doing, and out of those who do it is inconceivable to believe that they always play games with a theoretical value over 100 percent.

So why do all the books, all the chatter, and all the columns place so much importance on Nevada casinos constantly installing and/or removing their 100 percent plus games?

To begin, no computer-perfect, long-term strategy player ever plays a negative game. How do I know this fact? Look at the game’s history.

Just four years ago the most famous names in the game consistently wrote of how they would never, ever play a machine that in theory pays less than 100 percent while combining EV and cash back.

As higher limit positive games disappeared and cash back percentages were reduced, they began creating positive plays as if a new era in video poker had begun. Comps still didn’t make it into the EV formula, but we began seeing how year-end player loyalty gifts, airline miles, free-play coupons, tournament invites, and even over-the-slot-club-counter trinkets were now staples in every advantage player’s determination of purpose. The wheel had indeed been recreated.

Today, the challenge to play a positive game is even greater. More cash back reductions as well as machine removals have started to affect even the quarter players. So what’s a guru to do?

The same as every player who believes they only play advantage games: They now add in room, show, food and drink comps (albeit in a roundabout way), and the all-important casino promotions.

A few even toss in special VIP attention as having some sort of intrinsic value. It’s as if everyone who talks about the game has forgotten the true reason we play ”” to win money!

Now let’s fill out the cycle. Let’s assume all games were less than 100 percent with cash back, bounce-back cash, or any other benefit included. So what happens to all the players?

Well, the majority will still play on, since they didn’t care about pay tables one way or the other in the past and they don’t now. But those who look to play the best games possible at over 100 percent payback have a problem to face.

Even with their faulty thinking that a double-royal promotion will add a hefty percentage to their negative game — thereby making it a positive play — it means absolutely nothing to anyone who doesn’t get a royal.

And that, my friends, is nearly everyone. Yet, most easily forget that casino management would not have these promotions if they did not experience a boost in profits from each and every one of them.

Am I missing something here or what? Since the general overall reduction in positive games, have the casinos not responded with more multi-point days, more tempting promotions, and more announcements that new locals casinos were going to be opening and existing ones expanded in the coming couple of years? And who out there still believes you have any advantage over any casino at all by playing any game the exact way they want you to?

By the end of the day, this all boils down to one simple fact: Those who play video poker regularly, regardless of what they say, write, or tell us they swear to, will never stop playing unless forced to.

By obtaining a fresh bankroll from any means possible, players who believe non-stop play is the only way to gain a tiny percentage win will continue to feed their habit until they run out of food.

If casinos lower all pay tables, the only difference will be in deciding where to go tonight. It’s the nature of the game to reel you in, chew you up, and spit you out only when the taste of your money is gone. Promotions only serve to facilitate that frenzy. You can either be a smart player and see all this, or one who simply thinks that they know what they are doing.

Smart players understand that casinos think in terms of the long run, so they play for the short run. Casinos want you to spend many hours at their establishments, but smart players set goals and promptly leave when they are reached.

Advantage players are uncomfortable unless they are playing at any casino rope ’em in promotion, believing it’s being held solely to hand over the money.

Intelligent players see right through that nonsense — and play at promotions only if they happen to be at the right place at the right time.

Slot clubs want you to feel special because of all the points you’ve accumulated as you attain "Presidential" or "Platinum" status.

Smart players don’t care one bit about their point balance, cash back, or smiles from their host.

And finally, all players should seek the best pay tables possible. The smartest of players know any machine can be beaten in the short-term, however, and do not have a cow if a positive machine is nowhere to be found. So what’s an advantage player to do? I have no idea. I play smart.