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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Slots and pots revisited

14 April 2003

Dear Mark,
If the house edge is only .05% on a 9/6 video poker machine, how important is hitting the royal flush in the overall payback? I usually play a $1 machine. Joe L.

As stated in past columns, 9/6 (full house: 9, flush: 6, one coin inserted) Jacks or Better video poker is associated with a house edge of 0.5%.

But if you do not hit a royal flush, the casino advantage will be higher. As a matter of fact, Joe, the royal flush is so dominant in casino payout calculations for video poker machines, that until you hit that royal flush you'll be losing beaucoup more than chicken scratch, especially on a $1 machine.

Even with your keen eye identifying machines with a decent payback, expect to lose more than the .05% house edge on a 9/6 video poker machine. "And why is that?" you ask, mentally doping out the statistics of the thing. Because, Joe, the casino trolls figure that once in every 40,000 hands, some buckaroo is going to drop a Royal Flush on 'em, and they'd better be ready for it. From the typical player's point of view, that's a bit scummy, since his never wife will never let him play 40,000 hands.

So how much of a hit are you taking without hooking a royal flush? On a $1 Jacks or Better 9/6 machine, the kind that you play, you will lose at a rate of 2.5% while you hope, pray and sweat for a royal.

Here's another way of looking at it. If you were to play 600 hands per hour, you should expect to lose about $75 per hour, on average, for each hour you play without hitting that elusive royal. Waving bye-bye to that kind of chump change might be a mild annoyance for some, but catastrophic for others. You recall that old household tune: "Remember the second mortgage."

Dear Mark,
I have a question about playing slots. If I were to play a 3 coin, $1 slot machine that states a 98% payback or better, and I put in only one or two coins, do I still get the 98% advertised payback? Or is that only when I play the maximum coin amount? George A.

For almost all multiple-pay and multiple-play slot machines, playing the maximum coin level will yield the best percentage payback. You can see this on the machine's pay table; note the proportional differences among payoff categories. For example: One coin inserted pays 500 coins, two coins 1,000, and three coins a tidy 4000. Paydirt, George, when you play three coins, but when you play fewer, that advertised 98% payback spirals south.

If you can afford to play the maximum coins allowed, George, do so. If you cannot hack that on the one-dollar-eater, you might switch to a lower denomination machine.

Dear Mark,
Compared to Caribbean Stud Poker and Let it Ride, is Three Card Poker a better game to play? Lowell A.

The object of Three Card Poker is to have a three-card poker hand (no draws) that beats the dealer's three-card poker hand. Or, if you do not want to bet against the dealer, you can bet instead that your three-card hand will be at least a pair.

The casino's edge for the Pair Plus is 2.3% and for the Ante wager it's 3.4%, based on the initial bet, or 2% and 2.3% respectively based on the total money wagered. The house edge for Caribbean Stud Poker is 5.3% and 3.5% for Let it Ride. Three Card Poker, Lowell, is clearly the better game for the player.

Gambling quote of the week: "People are led to believe that they can use some sort of voodoo or crystal-ball gazing to win, then they go out and lose their hard-earned money plying those worthless techniques." Jean Scott, Strictly Slots

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.