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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Some numbers – take notes – there'll be a quiz

13 May 2011

Dear Mark: In video poker, do higher-denomination games always pay more than lower-denomination games? It seems nickel slots never pay as much as quarter slots, which pay less than dollar slot machines, so I assume that holds true with video poker. Claire D.

Don’t muddle up slots with video poker, Claire. You are correct in that in general, $5 slot machines pay more than $1 slots, which pay more than quarters, quarters more than nickels, which pay more than pennies, but that does not necessarily always apply to video poker.

With video poker, it is the pay table that tells you the maximum long-term payback percentage of a machine. True, you will usually find better pay tables as you climb the denomination ladder, but video poker games with the same pay table return the same percentages over the long haul, despite differences in coin denomination.

For instance, let’s look at a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1. This version of Jacks or Better is regarded as a full-pay video poker machine, and returns 99.5 percent with optimal play regardless of whether you were to play nickels, quarters or dollars.

If the full house and flush paybacks were reduced to 8 and 5, your return would drop accordingly, but again, Claire, it wouldn’t matter what coin denomination you were playing.

And how much are you giving up with these reduced pay tables? With perfect play and playing maximum coinage, a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine returns 99.5 percent, the 9/5 game 98.4 percent, the 8/6 game 98.3 percent, the 8/5 game 97.3 percent, and a 7/5 machine returns only 96.2 percent.

Dear Mark: If you choose not to play the full amount per hand on video poker, would playing one versus two coins make any difference? Jenny S.

No, Jenny, with but one exception, and that is only if you hit a royal flush. Payoffs are proportional to the number of coins played. For example, two pair returns two coins with one coin played, four for two, six for three, eight for four, and 10 for five. The one exception, Jenny, and it’s a big one, comes with the royal flush, which pays 250 coins for one, 500 for two, 750 for three and 1,000 for four – and when you put that fifth coin in, payment soars to 4,000 coins.

Getting back to our 9/6 Jacks or Better example (abandoned above), if you do not play the maximum number of coins, your theoretical return is reduced from 99.5 percent to 98.05 percent.

These percentage differences derive from the assumption, Jenny, that over the long run you will hit your fair share of royal flushes with the full coin amount played. Royal flushes are expected about once every 40,000 hands, or about once every 80 hours of play at typical speed. Otherwise, over those 80 hours of play, expect more losing sessions than winning ones. I never said it was going to be easy.

Dear Mark: Few players do it, but is it advisable to double down after splitting pairs? Dave C.

Doubling down after splitting pairs is an advantageous rule for the player that lowers the house edge.

In all the years pitching cardboard, Dave, I was always amazed at how few players took advantage of this player-favorable rule. When used correctly, doubling down after splitting pairs lowers the casino's edge by approximately 0.14 percent.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Don’t be a gambler; once a gambler, always a gambler." — John W. Gates, 1909 warning from the 54-year-old ‘Bet-a-million’ Gates, legendary U.S. gambler, to a Church conference in Texas.
Recent Articles
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.