CasinoCityTimes.com

Gurus
News
Newsletter
Author Home Author Archives Author Books Send to a Friend Search Articles Subscribe
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

author's picture
 

Questions about video poker paybacks

8 September 2008

One of my hosts at the Venetian implied that video poker payoffs are down all over the strip at the big hotels. He said the hotels realized that VP was becoming less profitable for them because of the presence of too many skilled players. I can see a huge difference between my payoffs in 2005-2006 vs. 2007-2008. I'm playing the same way: usually always double/double bonus poker.

And the last three trips have been just about as bad as they could be. Is my host right? Can the casinos manipulate the return on VP?

I'd appreciate your insight.

Robert

Dear Robert,

I used to be a regular at the Desert Inn, right next to the Venetian. I knew many of the people who worked there. There was even one 9/6 Jacks or Better machine that I and many of the employees referred to as my machine, because I had hit my first royal flush on it.

The DI's slot director once told me that I may be disappointed with the casino in the future. He said they were considering replacing the bank of 9/6 Jacks or Better machines with 8/5 Jacks and other pay tables with lower long-term paybacks.

He was right. I was disappointed, but not because they removed the high-paying video poker machines. I ended up being disappointed because Steve Wynn closed down the whole place.

You and other correspondents have said that your "payoffs" are down. I'm not sure what you mean by payoffs. Do you mean that you are hitting less frequently? Or do you mean that you're winning less and losing more overall?

There are many variables that influence how much you win or loss. If you're playing a negative expectation game (which you are at the video poker machines in the Venetian) and you give a lot more action in 2007-2008 than you did in 2005-2006, then we would expect your losses to be greater. One variable is the amount of action exposed to the house edge.

The house edge is another variable. High-paying video poker comes and goes on the strip (I used to have no problems playing dollar 9/6 Jacks at the DI, Treasure Island and Caesars Palace), but the strip casinos market their properties based on the quality of their rooms, restaurants and shopping, not on how good a gamble they give on their games. Strip casinos can install pay tables with lower long-term paybacks without alienating the vast majority of their client base.

One think I noticed missing in your letter is an exact specification of the pay table you play. You have to be aware that just because two machines both say Double/Double Bonus, it doesn't mean that they have the same pay table. In my DI story, the machines would still have had "Jacks or Better" glass on them, but the pay tables would have been different.

I think your host is right. On the whole, the long-term paybacks on video poker on the strip has gone down in the past few years.

The only way casinos can manipulate the returns on video poker machines is by changing the pay table.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Last weekend, while traveling through Northern California, I stopped at a casino to play video poker. I have Bob Dancers' VP program on my computer and always check all machines' pay tables when I go into a casino, before I pick which to play.

I had my charts, and had just sat down at a Game King to play Double Double Bonus, which should have paid 97.87%, according to the pay table. A few minutes later, a technician started working on the machine next to me, which had the same pay tables as they all did in that bank of Game Kings.

The technician asked what the charts were, I told him that they helped me determine the payback rate of the games on the machines. He told me they are no good, because it didn't matter what the machine said on any game, they were all set at 94%. Now, I had checked and only one the other games in that Game King reflected that on the pay table, but none of the rest. I asked him again, about the specific games on the Game King and he told me again, "It doesn't matter what it says. I set all the machines and I set them all at 94% payout."

I called over the guard, and took the technician's name. He was insistent that regardless of the pay tables on the Game King, everything on that machine was set to 94%. I left right away.

I don't think this is legal. It is a small Indian casino. Is it legal, and if not, who do I complain to?

Mbg

Dear Mbg,

It used to be much easier to describe how slot and video poker machines work. The states in the Midwest and Mississippi based their rules on New Jersey's rules, which were based on Nevada's rules, so all the machines worked the same way. Then Native American casinos started growing beyond bingo parlors and, unless their tribes negotiated compacts with their states, they had machines that worked more like bingo drawings and instant lottery tickets than Vegas-style slots. That was OK for a while because there were two separate sets of manufacturers of each style of game. But then the companies that manufacturer Vegas-style machines (Class III) realized how much money they weren't getting by not having machines that followed the rules for Native American casinos without compacts (Class II machines) and reworked their machines for that market. As a result, there are now two versions of poplar games like Double Diamonds, one that determines results on its own (Class III) and one that acts like a bingo drawing (Class II).

You didn't specify the casino, so I don't know which type of games it has. If it has Class II games, then the technician was correct. It doesn't matter what the pay table is because the machine's programming is not equivalent to dealing from a deck cards, as it is on Class III video poker machines. Tipoffs that you have a Class II game are the presence of a bingo card on the screen and some sort of a bonus mechanism that awards you more than you one on the poker hand.

So, your first step is to find out if the casino has Class II or Class III games. If Class III, then the most likely explanation is that the technician was mistaken. In any case, we can dig deeper it the casino has Class III games.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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