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Ask the Slot Expert: Royals and high volatility video poker games

15 July 2020

Question: Is the potential for a royal flush worse than normal when playing high volatility games such as Triple Double Bonus that I like to usually play?

Answer: What's normal?

This question gives me the opportunity to be a stickler for details. The strategy you play determines how frequently you get a royal flush. If you played Triple Double Bonus using the 9/6 Jacks strategy, you will get royals with the frequency that arises from the 9/6 Jacks strategy. The fact that you're playing a Triple Double Bonus paytable doesn't enter into the calculation.

The paytable should not be irrelevant, however. The paytable should dictate which strategy you use.

It should, but it doesn't always. I've seen people bouncing from one paytable to another. I suspect that many times they're not even aware of what payouts have changed, so they use the same seat-of-the-pants strategy for each paytable.

I can understand that when you're playing small stakes just for fun to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle (Hey, a hat trick of cliches!). A few years ago right before Christmas, I had a few dollars of free play and used it on some quarter TDB. I got four aces and waited for the machine to rack up 400 credits. Four hundred came and went and the machine kept adding credits.

I checked the hand again and realized I had a kicker with the aces. That's a grand, baby, not a hundy. A nice Christmas present.

I saw the funniest example of not knowing what you're playing a long time ago in Atlantic City. A couple of older ladies were playing Deuces Wild. Now, I'll admit that this was so long ago that I'm probably as old now as those ladies were then. They were dealing and holding and drawing and having a great time rooting each other on.

I was with my cousin and we were sitting such that we could see the hands on the ladies' screens. After seeing them play a few hands, my cousin had to say to them, "You know, you're playing Deuces Wild. The 2s are wild. You really should be holding on to them."

One lady replied, "Oh, we don't know what we're doing. We're just here to have some fun."

Let's say you have the latest Intel processor chip implant and you're able to play every hand mathematically perfectly based on the paytable. The Wizard of Odds has a number of pages on his site that give the probabilities of hitting the paying hands for a number of different paytables when playing perfectly.

For the different Triple Double Bonus paytables, the probabilities range from 0.000022 to 0.000028 (this probability is an outlier because the paytables with this probability for the royal pay about 5000 for the royal). Taking the reciprocal to make the numbers more meaningful, that's once every 45,454 hands to once every 35,714.

For comparison, the probability of a royal in 9/6 Jacks is 0.00002476 (40,387 hands), 8/5 BP is 0.000025 (40,000 hands) and NSU is 0.000023 (43,478).

I think it's fair to say that you'll hit royals a little less frequently in strategies for paytables with wild cards or premium hands in the middle of the paytable because you always hold a wild card and sometimes it's better to go for one of the premium hands than hold a partial royal.


Question: An update on the tribal casino here in Prescott, AZ.

They have been open three weeks with temp checks at entry, masks required, no smoking inside the casino, masks for all staff, and temp checks daily for all staff.

My unofficial observation (three times there on veterans day) is that the number of players is lower than the first two days of opening. Staff tells me that they have had some incidents about the mask requirement.

Answer: This letter was sent on 6/24, before Arizona began its current spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, but after three Gila River Indian Community casinos had closed again after a security guard employed at one of the casinos had died from COVID-19.

It's deja vu, all over again. Just take the headlines about hospitals and ICUs filling up from a a few months ago and replace New York with Arizona, Texas, Florida, Los Angeles....

The situation here in Las Vegas is about the same as you reported. The two casinos I've been to since reopening check your temperature before you can enter, but I've read that some casinos do not. All staff have been masked since reopening, and mask wearing among patrons went up from about 75% to 99% after it became mandatory. Nevada doesn't have 100% compliance because it still allows smoking. I've seen people pull down their masks to take a drink and then put the mask back up, but smokers pull it down for as long as they're smoking and then sometimes just leave it down.

I've seen the same dip in players. A good number of people, but far from crowded, on opening weekend, generally followed by a decline in the following weeks. I was surprised at how crowded the parking garages were two weeks ago. I'm ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that it was July 4th weekend and that's why the garage was the most crowded it's been since reopening. The number of cars fell back down to prior levels last weekend.

Last week I posted a link to an article that speculated that Nevada's casinos might have to close again because of the number of cases in the state. Last Thursday, Governor Sisolak announced that bars would have to go back to Phase 1. Bars that don't serve food had to close again and bartops and bar areas in restaurants had to be closed to customers. All drinks must be served through table service.

Casino bars had to close too. I checked out one casino bar. All of the bartop machines were disabled and all of the chairs were removed.

A bar owner in this article, Many of Nevada's bars are closing again. Are casinos next? Here's what we know. thinks that maybe casinos should close again to prevent visitors from California and Arizona from bringing the virus to the strip. Why do bars have to close yet casinos can stay open. Bar owners have sued over the latest closure order (Clark County bars suing over latest closure order).

The plaintiffs claim that 80% of the bars were in compliance with the then-current regulations in checks conducted on July 3. That may be the case, but it's not what I saw in interviews with bar owners on their last day of operation last Friday. In the background behind the owners being interviewed were a half-dozen or so patrons, sitting or standing close together, no one wearing a mask.

I understand the owners' frustration with having to close, and then close again, but any business whose business model depends on having a large number of people close together in a relatively small space not wearing masks is not compatible with this pandemic.

Take movie theaters. The status of the movie theater I go to went from reopening July 4th to reopening mid-July to check back soon as we monitor developments.

A local casino has significant difference from a local bar. The area in the casino is much greater. I am easily able to stay six or more feet away from another person. On the couple of occasions when somebody sat down closer than I would have liked, I got up and moved.

Another difference is that the air volume in the casino is much greater than that in the bar. Any virus particles shed in the breath of an infected person can be diluted more readily. Moreover, a much larger percentage of the patrons in the casino wear a mask a much larger percentage of the time.

And finally, there have been outbreaks traced to bars (just Google "outbreak traced to bar"), but no outbreaks traced to a casino. Cases, yes but no outbreaks -- so far. (An outbreak is a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.)

That said, Nevada may have to close casinos and other non-essential businesses, go completely back to Phase 1, if it can't get the spread of the disease under control again.

Let's see how we did containing the virus this past week. Data is from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
07/14 3,355,457 135,235 28,744 617 422,861 5,102 5,607 57
07/07 2,932,596 130,133 23,137 560 351,367 3,394 5,006 24
06/30 2,581,229 126,739 18,131 536 278,941 6,406 4,367 26
06/23 2,302,288 120,333 13,764 510

Please keep sharing your experiences, comments and thoughts about casinos in the COVID-19 era. Does your casino check your temperature before you can enter? How well is it doing in limiting how frequently you have to wait in line? Does it have adequate markings on the floor to encourage distancing? Are people following the request to distance? Does the casino have an adequate number of hand sanitizer stations throughout the casino? Does the casino keep them stocked? Are players wearing masks? Are people wearing them properly or do you see a lot of peek-a-boo noses and chin bras? Have you seen staff request patrons to put on or fix their masks? How are you dealing with all of the plexiglass barriers that casinos have installed?

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