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Mini jackpots sweeten the pot

Apr 20, 2004 3:48 AM

Despite the avalanche of new games to tempt the public, the old standard Jacks or Better seems to be the springboard from which the designs originate. In its basic form, paying a 9/6 schedule, the game has great appeal. Not only is the payback very liberal at 99.6 percent for expert players, but it is attractive in more subtle ways as well.

The hand values are familiar to most new players, so this is likely to be the first game a novice can understand. The game is easy to learn with some degree of skill since many hands are not ambiguous as to reasonable discards. The volatility is lower than most games, so players can get a fairly long play even if their cards are not running hot.

When the game is offered with an 8/5 pay table (referring to full house/flush awards on a per-coin basis), the payback is necessarily reduced by 2.3 percent to only 97.3 percent, a figure which was large enough to attract players, but still keep the chandeliers on the ceiling. Don’t ask me why there are no 8/6 or 9/5 versions around to split the difference ”” I don’t know ”” but there are lots of 7/5 and 6/5s around where the competition is not a factor.

Progressive royal jackpot problems

For a long time, the progressive jackpot has served as the bridge over the 8/5 gap and it universally applied to the royal flush. By applying a portion of that 2.3 percent shortfall to enlarge the jackpot, the lucky players who arrived after the unlucky players could play the game at something better than 97.3 percent return . . . provided they were lucky enough to hit that jackpot soon enough. That statement in itself points out the two serious drawbacks to progressive jackpots: (1) players wait for the big ones, and (2) their loss rate, assuming no jackpot is hit, is double that of the 9/6 machines. Some new ideas were certainly needed and the industry has responded in the traditional way.

Non-progressive mini-jackpots

Almost to a man, every manufacturer has apparently come to the same answer ”” use a mini-jackpot. The most popular twist is to assign an extra value to a specific type of four-of-a-kind winner. This is attractive to players because they know they can get quads whereas there are still many serious players who have never hit a royal. No wonder, with royals coming up only once in about 40,000 hands on average while quads hit about once in 425 plays and quads of a particular single rank, once in 5,500 plays. In addition, the player need not learn a brand-new strategy because the same strategy as Jacks or Better is almost perfect for these games.

Some of the quads mini-jackpots have proven very popular. Aces and Faces, (a.k.a. Royal Court) with higher payouts on aces and face card quads, Bonus Fours (higher on aces, and twos through fours) are typical. They will be around a long time. Many other, with pay table variations galore have joined the fray. A few, like Bonus Sevens have even added quads mini-jackpots onto 9/6 machines, bringing the payback up to 100 percent.

Evaluation of pay table variations

The usual aftermath of an avalanche of game variants is a rash of confusing pay tables. Players can immunize themselves against being misled by these tables if they apply a bit of arithmetic to their game search.

If we add up the payouts on all ranks of a standard game, we get 13 times 25 which equals 325. They account for 5.9 percent of the overall payback from the machine (25/423) and to a close approximation all ranks will hit quads equally. Looking at a machine on which the sum total of quads payouts is higher than 325, we can easily calculate the payback value of the extra payouts. Case in point, Royal Court pays 80 on aces and 40 each on the three face cards. This is 100 units above standard (55+15+15+15), so this is worth 100/ (423x13), which is 1.8 percent. In effect, this nearly restores the 8/5 shortfall. For Bonus Sevens the extra 25 is worth 0.45 percent bringing the 99.6 percent up to over 100 percent.