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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask The Slot Expert

23 November 2000

Dear John,

(No, I'm not breaking up with you!)

I've read many of Frank's books, including "Victory at Video Poker". In this book he also talks about video blackjack. I live in S. Central PA. The Charlestown Races in Charlestown, WV are about an hour's drive from here. They were bought a few years ago by Penn National Gaming and have since been updated with VLTs and slot machines. On the multi-game machines they have, they also offer video blackjack.

I was wondering if you could give me an idea of the percentage payback/return of these machines. Even though my wife and I held our own against these machines, I suspect the payback is kind of rotten. (Using Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker, I did an analysis of the VP that they offer and the best machine I could find only offered a 93% payback. The rest were much worse.)

I will try to describe the details of these machines for you:

  • They offer splitting of pairs, including aces, but not resplitting
  • You can double down, but not after splitting
  • They offer insurance
  • No surrender
  • No special payoffs for anything like "5 card charlie" or whatnot
  • Dealer must stand on all 17s
  • Dealer does not win pushes

The payoffs (I will illustrate with the minimum 2-coin bet):

  • Blackjack - bet 2, pays 12 (your 2 plus 10 from the house)
  • Regular win - bet 2, pays 3 (your 2 plus 1 from the house)

I suspect that the 3-for-2 payoff on winning a regular hand is taking an extreme toll, but really don't know how to figure out on a percentage basis how bad it really is. (Frank's book offers how much each variance in the rules adds or subtracts from the payback, but this option wasn't one of them.)

Hope you can help on this matter. If you need any more info, let me know, but I think I covered the relevant facts. As always, love the site. I learn a lot from it. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Sincerely,
Sam

John responds:

Dear Sam:

Thanks for your kind words about our site.

I've forwarded your message to Frank to get his take on this video blackjack game. I'm a blackjack novice myself, but it sounds terrible to me. I don't think the rules make the game bad. I think the 3-to-2 payoff on non-blackjack winning hands is the real killer.

Although a good game occasionally sneaks by in a multi-game machine, most of the time the paybacks are similar for all of the games in the machine. If the best video poker you could find pays back about 93%, I would guess this blackjack pays back about the same, if not even a bit less.

I'll let you know if Frank has anything to add about this game.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John

Frank responds:

If blackjack didn't pay 3:2 in the real world, the casino would have about a nine percent edge. So the fact that a regular 1:1 pay has now become 0.5:1 makes me think that the game probably has a 10 percent edge for the casino. That's just a guess of course. I figure that 5:1 payoff for the blackjack that comes up once every 21 hands on average just isn't a big enough bonus to make up for the awful payout on the normal hands. I'd avoid this game like the plague. Maybe some of the computer simulators on Wong's page might want to have a go at this game and give the accurate results.


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@home.com.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots