Low pay schedules in Pa. frustrate video poker fans
By Mark Gruetze
Published: Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
Diehard fans of video poker find themselves in a dilemma at Pennsylvania casinos.
Their favorite games are available, but the pay tables generally are so bad that some players won't spend time or money on them.
“‘Bad' is a kind word” for local pay tables, says Greg Rogers of Center, a VP fan who recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas. He says he generally avoids playing video poker at his home casinos but played a lot in Vegas because of the more favorable pay tables.
Video poker games are different from slot machines. With traditional slots, each spin is a matter of pure luck; no skill or strategy is involved.
In video poker, the machine deals five cards at random. Players choose which ones, if any, to discard, then draw replacements. The machine pays depending on the strength of the poker hand after the draw. In the basic Jacks or Better game, a pair of face cards or Aces returns your money; two pair pays double, and trips, straights and flushes pay progressively more.
A royal flush gets the jackpot, typically 4,000 coins on a maximum bet of five coins.
Video poker is an inviting game for smart gamblers because each card must have an equal chance of appearing. Computer simulations of millions of hands have determined the best strategy for holding and discarding in any conceivable situation. Casinos adjust the house advantage through the pay tables.
By looking at a machine's pay table, players can tell when one will have a higher payout, over time at perfect play, than another.
For example, Rogers found many 9/6 Jacks or Better machines in Vegas. That means a full house pays nine credits for each coin bet and a flush pays six. In Pennsylvania, 8/5 and 7/5 pay tables are common.
A 9/6 Jacks or Better game has a return of 99.54 percent with perfect play, according to “The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide” by Jean Scott and Viktor Nacht.
The 7/5 game has a 96.15 percent return. That's better than the return for a traditional slot but too low for serious VP fans. Advantage players won't play unless the pay schedule offers at least a 100 percent return when comps and cash-back offers are figured in.
The website www.vpfree2.com, which tracks video poker offerings throughout the United States, says Mt. Airy is the only Pennsylvania casino offering games with a return above 99 percent with perfect play. Those are a Triple Double Bonus game and a Jacks or Better game, each with minimum bets of $1 to $10. Typically, video poker requires a maximum bet of five coins to qualify for the 4,000-credit payout for a royal flush, meaning the per-spin cost on those machines is at least $5.
Many video poker players wonder how the machine deals the second round of cards: Do they come out with the five cards for the original hand and stay “underneath” to be exposed only when the first card is thrown away?
The answer is no.
Mike Trask, corporate communications manager for Bally Technologies, says a random number generator determines which five cards are dealt at the instant a player pushes the deal button. When the player pushes the draw button on Bally machines, the RNG selects five more cards to be dealt. The first of those goes to the first open spot, the second to the second open spot and so on. Other manufacturers might have a different process, he says.
Video poker strategy can vary slightly by game and pay table. The best way to learn is with a software program for your computer. A popular one is “Video Poker for Winners!” by Bob Dancer, a pro player who teaches classes in Las Vegas.
Once you learn the strategy, check the pay table before you play. Machines that look identical can have different pay tables. Also, many machines offer a better pay schedule at $1 per credit than at 25 cents per credit.
Rogers knows the value of looking around. He says that on a recent visit to The Meadows in North Strabane, he found a 6/5 pay table on most quarter Double Double Bonus machines; he kept looking and found the same game with an 8/5 schedule.
“I couldn't believe some people just blindly sit down and not look at something as basic as the pay table,” he says.
“If I can't find anything I like, I avoid (playing).”
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Storm helps PA. top N.J. revenue
Pennsylvania casinos won $243.7 million in October, topping New Jersey's monthly gambling revenue for the first time since May.
Superstorm Sandy, which hit the East Coast at the end of October, cut into the gambling win of both states. New Jersey was hit harder, as Atlantic City's 12 casinos were closed for four days.
Pennsylvania casinos won $55.3 million at table games and $188.4 million from slot machines last month, the Gaming Control Board reported. Table game revenue was up by 4 percent from October 2011, although slot revenue was down by 2.6 percent. The board blamed Sandy for the drop.
New Jersey casinos won $209.4 million in October, with $60.24 million from table games and $149.15 million from slots, the state's Division of Gaming Enforcement reports. Historically, New Jersey has been the country's No. 2 gambling destination, behind Nevada. Pennsylvania exceeded New Jersey in monthly gambling revenue from November 2012 through May.
Slot players lost $43.07 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending Nov. 18, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's up slightly from $43 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.
The state gets 55 percent of that gross revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots have been paid.
Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.94 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.94. Highest payout rate: 90.61 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest payout rate: 89.3 percent at Hollywood Penn National.
Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:
Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $5.37 million, up from $5.03 million last year.
Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.36 million, up from $4.35 million last year.
Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.43 million, down from $2.77 million last year.
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