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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Which video poker paytable is best

4 January 2017

Question: I have been going to Atlantic City for years. Most of the video poker machines that used to payoff are gone and replaced with penny machines. The casinos are beating the people and what is the casino control commission doing?

Which in your opinion is the best video poker machine to play?

Answer: Penny slots are taking up more and more of the casino floor. If players keep playing them, casinos will keep installing them. When I mentioned to a slot floorperson at my local casino that I missed the non-smoking video poker machines that were replaced with penny slots, she said, "Yeah, pennies are taking over the floor."

The best video poker to play is a combination of a number of factors. First, start with a list of the paytables available in the denomination you want to play. You can find this information at VpFree2.com

Next evaluate each paytable according to these criteria:

Long-term payback
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As a general rule, you want to play the paytable with the highest long-term payback. The following criteria, though, may make a lower-paying paytable better for you to play.
Slot club benefits
Here in Las Vegas, the positive expectation paytables have lower slot club benefits than the negative paytables. The paytables, for example, may take two or four times as much play to earn a point. Some casinos limit the paytables to quarters and have the deal speed fixed at slow.
Strategy
You can frequently find strategies online or in video poker books, or you can use one of the programs that generates strategies. Is the strategy for a paytable a strategy that you can learn? If you can't learn the strategy, you may actually end up playing at a lower effective long-term payback than you would on a paytable with a simpler strategy even though that paytable has a lower perfect-play long-term payback. A slot director once told me that the industry estimates that most players who don't learn a strategy give up about five percentage points in long-term payback.
Volatility
Paytables that pay less for frequently hit hands so they can pay bonuses on quads and quads with kickers are more volatile than the paytables that don't pay bonuses. The lower payoffs mean that you don't get as much mileage out of hitting those more frequent hands and you'll have to feed the machine more often. We all love to hit big payoffs, but do you have the bankroll -- and the stomach -- to keep feeding a machine in between jackpots? (The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide by Jean Scott and Viktor Nacht gives volatility ratings for just about every video poker paytable available.)
Availability
If your casino has only a few of the highest paying machines, it doesn't make sense to learn how to play them if you can never get on them.

Evaluate all of these criteria together to determine which paytable to play. Here's how I made my decisions.

The highest-paying game at one casino is Triple Double Bonus at 99.58. Even though there are only 14 of them, you can always get a set at one. Plus six of them are non-smoking. But, they're all upright machines, the strategy is very complicated, and all those bonuses make the paytable very volatile.

The next best is 8/5 Bonus Poker at 99.17%. There are so many of these machines that it isn't worth counting them. You can use a 9/6 Jacks strategy and it's just a little more volatile than 9/6 Jacks. This is my game of choice in this casino even though it isn't the highest-paying paytable offered.

Sam's Town in Las Vegas has four positive expectation paytables, but there are only eight of them. They're only nickels or quarters and the deal speed on the machines is set to sloth. It takes four times as much play to earn a point on these machines and the points are not multiplied -- not even by the tier-level multipliers. There are two Deuces Wild paytables that pay more than 9/6 Jacks, but there are only a few machines and they're quarters and nickels. My game of choice is 9/6 Jacks because it was available in dollars and because there were dozens and dozens of them -- but now Sam's Town has only eight.

At Station Casinos properties, I play NSUD. You get full credit on them, they're available in dollars, and there are plenty of them. They have positive paytables, but they take four times the play to earn a point and usually top out at quarters.

Weigh all of the criteria to decide which paytable is best for you.


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