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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Resources for new video poker players

19 October 2016

Comment: Referring to banning smoking in casinos, in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Palace went nonsmoking building-wide a few years ago, and both staff and players seem very content. The Golden Nugget and Beau Rivage have gone nonsmoking in all but the gaming floors. Both also have select nonsmoking areas, including the poker room.

Reply: According to the Wikipedia page about smoking bans, Mississippi does not have a statewide smoking ban. Casinos are free to permit or prohibit smoking on the gaming floor, unless prohibited by local law — and my online searches didn't turn up any local smoking laws affecting casinos.

I don't play live poker, but I did notice that most, if not all, of the poker rooms in the casinos I visit are smoke-free. Poker rooms in Las Vegas started going smoke-free over a decade ago, according to this article in the Las Vegas Sun. One of the reasons given is that poker rooms tend to be small, enclosed spaces, which makes keeping the air clear more difficult. I would add that I think player density is also higher in the poker room than at a slot bank or gaming table, concentrating any smoke in the area.

Jeff Richgels, Online Editor at Madison.com, Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times, wrote to point out that "smoking is not banned in Iowa casinos (unfortunately)."

In last week's column, I was quoting from a Las Vegas Review-Journal article, which said that six states allow smoking in casinos. According to the previously cited Wikipedia page, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Wisconsin also permit smoking in casinos.


Question: I noticed in last week's article that you commented that you would avoid skills-based games and stick with video poker. I have long considered video poker to slots, but normally just play slots.

Can you offer some suggestions on resources that are out there to help me with the best percentage plays in poker? Are there cheat sheets or software games that will help me increase my skill level?

Answer: I was never very good at video games — poor hand-eye coordination, I guess — so I doubt I'll play the new skill-based slots much when they hit the slot floor. Last week I wrote about a first-person shooter game that was turned into a wager with the number of bad guys you shot determining how much you won. I got killed early on in nearly every try, so I don't think I ever shot enough intruders to win any money.

IGT showed a few machines that gave you the choice between a skill-based and a completely random bonus round. On one of the machines, the skill-based bonus round consisted of guiding your fish through an underwater cave, trying to eat the fish food on your way and trying to avoid hitting the cave roof and floor and trying to avoid being eaten by a bigger fish. Pressing a button caused your fish to rise; releasing it let your fish fall. I found it difficult to get my fish at the height I wanted. Now I realize that maybe the secret is to tap the button as needed, instead of holding it and trying to guess when to release it so the fish will descend to height where the fish food is.

In any case, yes, video poker will remain my go-to game for skill-based gaming.

There is a wealth of information about video poker online. Check out the video poker pages at The Wizard of Odds site. He has pages that will analyze a video poker hand and show you the best cards to hold. (Note to the Wizard: Please add NSUD to the list of predefined pay tables so I don't have to keep editing the FPDW pay table.) He also has a page that will generate the strategy for a video poker pay table, but note that the strategy must be curated to reduce the number of entries and make it playable. Better to buy a strategy card.

I use the strategy cards from Dan Paymar. The cards are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and I find his terminology very easy to understand. One card is $5 and the price goes down when you order more cards. His site is OptimumPlay.

A book I find valuable is The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide by Jean Scott and Victor Nacht. It lists the pa ytables available for hundreds of video poker games and gives the long-term payback and a volatility rating for each. It is available from Amazon and other sellers. Google it to see who is selling it now.

Two web sites are very useful. One, vpfree2 tells you where the best paying video poker machines are in every casino in the United States and Canada. VideoPoker.com You can practice playing all sorts of video poker paytables and game variations on this site.

I think you should check vpfree2 to find the best-paying video poker pay tables in the casinos you visit and then get the strategy cards for those pay tables. Even though I used plural nouns in that last sentence, new video poker players should learn one strategy thoroughly before attacking another one.

I strongly recommend that you start playing video poker. I'll admit that all the technical advances are in slot machines, not video poker, and many slots are a lot of fun to play. But keep in mind that the long-term paybacks of the worst video poker paytables are usually higher than the long-term paybacks of slots in that denomination. Playing slots can be your dessert, but your meat and potatoes should be video poker.


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