Website's databases aim to raise video-poker IQs
By Mark Gruetze
Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
Everybody knows someone who's just wild about playing slot machines. Others can spend hours at blackjack. Poker players are a gambling breed unto themselves.
Video poker diehards make up another species in the betting universe.
They're not numerous in Pennsylvania. The state's 11 casinos have relatively few video poker games among their 26,564 slot machines, and hardly any of those have pay tables acceptable to serious players.
Like blackjack, poker and sports betting, video poker can offer circumstances when savvy players actually have the advantage over the casino. Finding those opportunities takes diligence, practice and discipline, but it can be done.
Player-authors Jean Scott and Bob Dancer have been at the forefront of popularizing the smart way to play video poker; their books and software have helped thousands improve in their quest for royal flushes.
Video-poker games differ from traditional slot machines, because each card in the video-poker deck must have an equal chance of appearing; with traditional slots, the odds for each symbol vary.
In video poker, players are dealt five cards and have the option to replace any or all of them. Payouts are based on the strength of the player's hand; for example, a pair of face cards might return the amount bet, while three of a kind might pay triple and a full house might pay nine times the original bet.
Because the specific cards cannot be programmed to appear more or less often than others, computer-derived strategies give players the ability to know which cards are best to hold and discard in any situation.
Casinos control a game's payback rate through the payouts for what winning hands are worth. In Pennsylvania, a Jacks or Better game often pays six times the original bet for a full house and five times for a flush; in Las Vegas, where competition is fierce and video poker more popular, the same game usually pays nine times the original bet for a full house and six times for a flush.
The difference in those two payout schedules is costly to the player. With perfect play, the 9/6 machine will return 99.54 percent ($99.54 for every $100 bet over the long run) while the 6/5 game will return 95 percent. While better than traditional slots, a 95 percent return merits nothing but scorn in VP circles.
Anyone serious, or even curious, about video poker should bookmar k www.vpfree2.com, which tracks games at more than 400 casinos in the United States and Canada. It identifies the best payouts and has moderated forums open to veterans and newbies alike.
VPFree2's webmaster, who calls himself Jon, says he's been barred from casinos because of his winning play. He spoke with Player's Advantage on the condition that he not be identified.
“For some strange reason, there's this perception amongst the video-player community that they need to be secretive and anonymous,” he says.
Not that long ago, skilled players could easily find video-poker and blackjack games with a theoretical return of more than 100 percent — in other words, they had the mathematical edge over the house.
With the economic downturn, many of those opportunities have vanished. There's nothing unethical or illegal about that, but it means players need to be smart in their choice of games. That's where VPFree2's listings of games, pay tables and advice are helpful.
“My personal feeling is that casinos are taxation of the ignorant,” Jon says. “If you give (players) some information, perhaps they won't be quite as bad with their money. That's sort of the hope.
He compares the site's knowledge base to the research investors are advised to do before putting money in a mutual fund.
“You're supposed to know the return, you're supposed to invest with your head. There's no reason not to give the same information about a casino.”
Jon says the most common error among video-poker players is thinking they don't make mistakes.
“They don't practice,” he says. “They really don't know how well they play.”
A typical error is overlooking low pairs. He sees the irony in identifying another common error: trying to play too perfectly and overthinking the basic strategy.
“The strategy you need to practice should be simple enough that it can be played well enough,” he says. “If it's too complicated, you're guaranteeing yourself to make a lot of mistakes.”
VPFree2 lets players find out what games are available where they plan to gamble.
“Learn those particular games and the strategies for those games,” Jon says. “And put on blinders for all the rest of the crap.”
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio casinos bring in $350M in 2012
Ohio casinos won $56.7 million in December, bringing their 2012 total to $350.5 million since May, the Casino Control Commission reports.
Horseshoe Cleveland, the state's first casino, brought in $24.5 million, almost half the December total. Its 2012 total is $176.4 million, with $119.1 million from slots and $57.2 million from table games.
The other Ohio casinos are Hollywood Toledo and Hollywood Columbus. A Horseshoe casino in Cincinnati is scheduled to open in March.
Slot players lost $54.44 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending Jan. 6, the Gaming Control Board reports. That's up from $46.11 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.
The state gets 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots have been paid.
Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.95 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.95. Highest payout rate: 90.64 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.35 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia and Hollywood Penn National near Harrisburg.
Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:
Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $6.25 million, up from $4.85 million last year.
Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $5.49 million, up from $4.35 million last year.
Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.73 million, down from $3.02 million last year.
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