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Payback obsession?

Sep 21, 2004 1:29 AM

For the player who makes his living playing video poker, memorizing all the pay tables and paybacks is imperative. But realistically, players are not as likely to memorize all the pay tables as much as remember which ones are worth playing and which ones should be avoided.

The recreational/vacation player, which includes the overwhelming majority of the people reading this article, tend to be less discriminating. The attitude tends to be that you’re here to gamble, and while you’re willing to spend some time finding the best pay table, you’re not going to spend the first three days of your vacation looking for the best games to play.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that you should sit down with no clue as to what the machine’s payback is either. In the end, it’s your choice to play, but you should have some idea of what the payback is and what that payback might mean to you.

Over the years, as the number of variations of video poker has increased, using a single rule of thumb for calculating the payback has become more difficult. Nonetheless, I’ll try and focus on the most popular games — the variations of the basic jacks or better. Full-pay jacks or better, paying nine for a full house, six for a flush and 25 for all quads (fours-of-a-kind) has a payback of 99.6 percent.

Each coin payout taken away from a full house or the flush costs the player about 1.1 percent. This is because each of these hands occurs about once in 90 hands, which translates to 1.1 percent of the time. As a four-of-a-kind occurs about 0.25 percent of the time, a reduction in one coin in the payout of quads results in a reduction of 0.25 percent to our overall payback.

Thus, if you were to find a game paying eight on full houses, five on flushes and only 20 on quads, you can quickly calculate the payback of the machine to be about 96.15% (99.6% minus 1.1% minus 1.1% minus 1.25%).

Some people might look at this payback and figure that it’s still better than slots (which would be true!), and sit down and play the game anyway. However, you should be aware of what a 3.45% difference in payback can mean to you.

First of all, the loss rate goes from 0.4% to 3.85%, an increase of nearly 900%. Secondly, if you play 600 hands per hour, and play the maximum number of quarters, you can expect your losses to go from $3 per hour to nearly $29 per hour. If you plan on playing for four hours per day, you can expect to lose an extra $100 each day. Personally, I can think of better things to do with $100 per day than to give it to the casinos!

So, while it may not be worth it to spend days looking for the best paying machines, it might be worth a quick walk around the casino to see where the best paying machines are. It is very common for a single casino to have the same version of a game with different pay tables in different parts of the casino. This way, they can advertise about their full-pay machines. At the same time, they are counting on the many players who don’t bother to look for these full-pay machines.