The irony of ironies

Jul 6, 2004 6:09 AM

I’m proud to announce that with this week’s issue, my column will be appearing weekly. I find it ironic that this happens just as GamingToday launches SlotsToday. I realize that most of the gaming world considers video poker machines to be slots. I think this is because historically there have only been two categories of gaming — table games and slots. Clearly, video poker machines are not table games, and they do resemble slot machines, physically anyway.

From the standpoint of how much space they take up, how easy they are to move around and how they need to be serviced, video poker machines resemble slots. From a casino management perspective, it makes sense to categorize video poker machines in this way.

But this is where the similarities end. From a standpoint of payback and strategy, video poker resembles table games far more than slot machines. Need proof of this? Assuming you’re reading this while still in the casino, take a little stroll.

Walk through the table games area of the casino. Find a Three Card Poker table. Find the paytable on the cloth, and given that, you’ll know exactly what strategy to play and what the payback will be. Keep walking and find a Let It Ride table. You’ll be able to do the same thing. The same goes for Caribbean Stud Poker, Four Card Poker and Boston Stud or even 3-5-7. Quite frankly, you could do the same with Casino War and the Big Wheel. You’ll get a little more debate on the exact payback of blackjack, craps or roulette, but the discrepancies will be relatively small and everything you need to know to play correctly is right there in front of you.

Now head over to the slots area. Find a bank of slot machines that look alike. What’s the payback? Is the payback of each machine that looks identical in fact the same? You have absolutely no way of knowing. I guess the only good news is that despite not knowing the payback of the machine, it won’t affect the strategy you’ll use, because the only strategy is whether to press the button to spin the wheels or to pull the handle, and that only applies to machines that still have handles!

Keep walking through the slot area over to the video poker machines. On the front of the machine is the paytable and the variation of the game (Deuces Wild, Joker Wild, etc.). Just like the table games, that’s all you need to know to figure out the payback and strategy for the game. If two machines sitting next to each other have identical paytables, you can be assured that they have identical paybacks. Of course, like all games based on random events, two people can sit down at each of these machines at the exact time and play for a few hours with one winning big and the other losing big. In the long run, however, you can be sure that the overall payback of each machine will be virtually identical.

If the gaming industry had asked my opinion, I would put video poker machines into a category all their own. Combining the best of both worlds, video poker provides the same excellent payback opportunity as table games, when proper strategy is utilized, while allowing the casino the same flexibility available to slot machines with regard to the physical layout of the casino. I guess if they had asked, today might have been the launch of Video Poker Today as well!