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Better returns can make for bigger losses

25 May 2007

Dear Mark: If a larger denomination slot machine returns more, then how come when I play at a higher limit, like dollars versus quarters, I end up losing more money? Beth S.

Even though the house edge is lower when you play larger-denomination-coin machines, you can also have a greater expected loss. Let's see why.

Using Nevada's revenue statistics as an example (the figures from other gaming jurisdictions will be within a percentage point or two), dollar slots pay back all but 4.5%, quarter slots 7.5%, nickel slots approximately 9% and penny slots around 12% of the money played through them.

Note, Beth, that the higher the denomination of the machine, the better your chances of being a winner. Yet, you are going to lose more money at the higher limits, especially without a significant win, simply because you are cycling more money through these machines, for a smaller hoped-for percent return, when you play at a higher denomination.

Dear Mark: On a Jacks or Better video poker machine, how should I play the following hand? Should I keep a suited 10 and queen, or keep an unsuited jack and queen? Jeff D.

Smart players discard certain cards to optimize the "expected value" (win potential) of their hands. It's called perfect basic strategy, Jeff, and it's the secret to winning at video poker.

So exactly what do I mean by "expected value?" Expected value is the average value of all the wins attainable after the discards are replaced, assuming that the optimum cards are retained, and that each possible draw occurs. In your example, Jeff, the correct strategy is to keep the suited 10 and queen and discard the unsuited jack.

Dear Mark: In Texas Hold'em, what happens if both players use all five cards on the board to form their hand? Can both players use the unused cards in their hand to settle a tie? Shelly F.

In Texas Hold'em, any player remaining in the game at the end will determine the highest poker value among the combination of their two cards dealt face down, the five community cards, or both. It is NOT a requirement that the player use either of the hole cards.

When two or more players have poker values of the same rank, then the individual cards will be used to break the tie, and if necessary, all five cards will be considered.

What NEVER settles a tie, Shelly, is either player using the two unused cards in their hand.

Dear Mark: What should the meter be reading in Caribbean Stud Poker before it would be justified playing the progressive jackpot? Also, what is the casino edge on the game itself? Nick L.

Caribbean Stud offers a progressive jackpot that you may qualify to win on any hand by adding one additional dollar to your original wager. The top prize is paid when a player is dealt a royal flush. The problem, Nick, is that there are 2,598,560 possible five-card combinations in a standard 52-card deck. With four ways to make a royal flush, the true odds of hitting a natural royal are 649,760 to one. Huh? Pretty long odds, isn't it?

Only you, Nick, can decide what size jackpot justifies making a dollar donation to the casino every 45 seconds.

As for the game itself, the casino edge for Caribbean Stud is a hefty 5.3%.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Try to decide how good your hand is at a given moment. Nothing else matters. Nothing!" — Doyle Brunson

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.