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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: One progressive for multiple video poker machines

5 June 2019

Question: We just returned from Laughlin, NV. We went to the Edgewater casino and played video poker at the bar. All the video poker games are tied to a single jackpot.

I've never seen this before and wonder what kind of odds you are getting. I didn't look at all the games, but Double Bonus poker has a 9/6 pay table. I would think this would drop your percentages a great deal with one jackpot for all games. We didn't play long as I didn't feel we were playing very good machines.

Answer: I frequently don't know exactly what people mean when they say "odds." Mathematically, odds are a ratio that describes how much a bet pays (blackjack pays 3-to-2) or the likelihood of something happening (the odds of rolling a 7 with two dice is 6-to-30). In the context of your question, though, I'm sure you're referring to long-term payback.

Consider Megabucks. Multiple machines in a casino, in Las Vegas and in Nevada are all competing for the same jackpot. The fact that multiple machines are vying for the jackpot has no effect on the long-term payback on a machine or any player's chances for hitting the jackpot on a spin.

Similarly, the fact that multiple machines were competing for the royal progressive has no effect on the calculations. A person's probability of collecting the progressive on any individual hand is based on the strategy she is using. The long-term payback for the paytable is just the usual calculation but with the value of the progressive used for the royal flush instead of 4,000. The other players don't enter into the equations.

The other players have only this one effect. If you were the only one playing for the jackpot and you played non-stop, you would eventually hit it. With other players competing for the jackpot, there's a chance that one of them will hit the jackpot before you do. But even if someone else gets the jackpot, it just resets to 4,000 credits and the long-term payback falls back to that of the paytable without the progressive. And then the progressive will climb again with play. To paraphrase the old Lay's commercial: Hit as many royal progressives as you want. We'll just make more.

There was one casino here in Las Vegas that used to have a popular video poker progressive — well, it was popular when it got high. My friends who work there said it was a mixed bag when the progressive got high. Sure, the high progressive excited players, but video poker teams would Bogart the machines and the regulars couldn't get a seat. When someone hit the progressive, the pros scattered like cockroaches when the light comes on.

In any case, the display above the machines with the progressive showed two progressive numbers. One was for the royal flush. I don't remember what the caption on the second number was. It was a dollar progressive and both numbers were usually in the $4,000s with the second number lower than the first.

I finally asked a slot floorperson what the second number was. He told me that it's the reset value for the progressive. Instead of resetting to $4,000 when the progressive is hit, it resets to this secondary value and a new secondary progressive is started at $4,000.


Question: I play at Majestic Star casino in Gary. All their machines seem to be adjusted not to pay. The other day I got 280 free spins at 150.00. The machine didn't pay $50.00 while in the bonus round. When you ask questions their reply is go somewhere else. I see that happening with other people. It appears the computer is not moving. I play everything from dollars to pennies and their machines are the same. It is legal for casino to adjust machine from federal standards down to a lower standard. Most of the people have stopped coming to this casino because of such a low payout. On weekends you can see from one end of the casino to the other because all the people have gone somewhere else to play.

Answer: According to the statistics from the State of Indiana posted on the Amercian Casino Guide website, the average long-term payback on the machines at Majestic Star is firmly in the middle of the paybacks in Indiana's casinos at 90.48%. When comparing paybacks, you have to keep in mind the mix of video poker to slots in the casinos. Casinos with a higher percentage of video poker machines will likely have a slightly higher overall long-term payback. So even though Hoosier Park has the highest payback at 91.7%, its slots may pay back the same as those at Tropicana (the lowest at 89.53%), but Hoosier's overall average is higher because it has a higher ratio of video poker to slot machines.

In one of the slot design seminars I attended around the time that video slots with bonus rounds were starting to take over the slot floor, the presenter described the dilemma faced by slot designers with the bonus round. The designer has to balance how much can be won in the bonus round with how frequently it hits. Bonus rounds that hit frequently can't pay as much as bonus rounds that hit less frequently.

Today I played a machine I hadn't played in a long, long time. I had forgotten how infrequently its bonus round hit. I got to the bonus round only three times in 570 plays. The bonus round did not hit frequently, but it had the potential to pay big. On my first two plays of the bonus, I won $60 and $40 -- not bad for a $1.50 bet. On the last play, I won a little over $10.

It's incredibly disappointing, but sometimes you just don't win much in a bonus round.

There are no federal standards for slot paybacks in non-tribal casinos. Each state sets its own minimum long-term payback. In Indiana, the minimum is 80%. All casinos pay back much more than that.

Now, let me ask you a question. If you really think there is something funny about the machines at Majestic Star, why do you still play there?


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