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Video poker expert 'a real nut' about gaining an edge

| Friday, Oct. 14, 2011

Video poker guru Jean Scott plots out her gambling schedule on a spiral-bound calendar, meticulously penciling in the best deals she can find.

Double slot club points on Thursdays at one casino. Five times points on Tuesday at another. Bonus cash at a third.

"I'm a real nut about playing when we have the advantage," she says while at a Deuces Wild Multi Strike game at the Gold Coast in Las Vegas, a "locals" casino not far from her home.

"I work at winning."

Reaching into a purse large enough to double as a baby carrier, she pulls out a worn copy of her book "The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide." It shows the game she is playing has a 99.92 percent payback with optimal play — which she knows, of course. Gold Coast is doubling all slot points earned this day; Scott says that gives her an extra half-point of payback, for a total "EV" (expected value) of more than 100 percent.

She has the edge over the house.

Don't expect similar deals in Western Pennsylvania. The video poker Web site says Pennsylvania's best pay tables are at Mt. Airy Casino in the Poconos, where optimal play can yield a 99.5 percent return at machines with a minimum bet of $1 to $10.

Scott's oversize purse holds other goodies, including strategy sheets for a variety of video poker games. For her, knowing which cards to keep and throw away is second nature, but she likes having a written guide just in case.

"This (Multi Strike game) takes a lot of time to learn," says Scott, a retired teacher who started playing video poker 27 years ago with a goal of breaking even on gambling and enjoying the comps that came with the play. Her obsession with taking advantage of coupons and giveaways, including winning a car while being filmed for the "48 Hours" news show, earned her the title of "Queen of Comps."

In Multi Strike, you play up to four separate hands of video poker. Your bet covers all four hands. On a 25-cent machine, the bet to qualify for a 4,000-coin royal flush payout is $5 — $1.25 per hand.

If you win on the first level, you're dealt a second hand, and wins there are paid at twice the normal rate. If you win on the second hand, you're dealt a third hand, and wins there are paid at four times the normal rate. And if you win the third hand, you get dealt a fourth hand, where wins are paid at eight times the normal rate.

A loss at any level ends the round. So a loss on the first hand costs $5.

Scott says she plays four to six hours a week, while her husband, Brad, plays about 10 hours a week.

She often sends him to casinos to pick up free play and other bonuses they've earned. After his heart attack a few years ago, she encouraged him to have an occasional glass of red wine. She says that might make him the only man in America whose wife tells him to gamble and drink.

"This is kind of relaxing for us," says Scott, her feet propped on the base of the Multi Strike machine in a "not very ladylike" posture. Her wrists rest on her knees as she rapidly taps keys to hold and draw cards. "But it's good EV."

Each Scott started with a $400 buy-in. Jean says they ended the night with about a $400 loss.

"We are never concerned about the results of one session, one day or even one month," she says. "We know that if we just stick with only playing when we have an advantage, we will be long-term winners."

Sports betting has fans

New Jersey residents support a proposal to allow betting on professional sports, a new poll says.

The Associated Press said a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released this week shows 52 percent favor the measure, with 31 percent opposed. A nonbinding referendum on the November ballot will ask voters whether the state Constitution should be amended to permit sports betting. A federal ban would have to be overturned before any sports bets could be taken.

The poll said 71 percent of respondents had heard little or nothing about the referendum.

Money trail

Slot players lost $44.8 million in Pennsylvania's 10 casinos during the week ended Oct. 9, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's up from $43.7 million in the comparable week last year.

State taxes take 55 percent of that gross slot machine revenue — the amount left after all payouts.

Since the fiscal year started in July, the statewide payout rate is 90.1 percent; for every $100 bet, the machines return $90.10. Payout rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

89.85 percent: Rivers; gross slot revenue was $4.88 million for the week ended Oct. 9, up from $4.71 million last year.

89.72 percent: The Meadows; gross slot revenue was $4.5 million for the week ended Oct. 9, down from $4.66 million last year.

90.45 percent: Presque Isle in Erie; gross slot revenue was $3.26 for the week ended Oct. 9, down from $3.39 million last year.

question of the week

How much do gaming industry CEOs make?

In 2010, the average salary for CEOs of 33 companies, including casino operators and slot manufacturers, was $689,000, according to Casino Journal. The average bonus was $1.06 million, the magazine said, and the average long-term incentive, such as stock options, was $1.6 million.

Additional Information:

Jean Scott

Profession : Video poker player and author

Residence : Las Vegas (formerly Indianapolis)

Age : 72

Books : 'The Frugal Gambler;' 'More Frugal Gambling;' 'Frugal Video Poker;' 'Tax Help for Gamblers;' 'The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide'

Favorite game : Any game that with extra benefits gives a big advantage. '(Husband Brad and I) really like Deuces Wild video poker. And we like any game offered in the Spin Poker or Multi Strike format.'

Words of advice : Know the house advantage of any game you want to play. The higher your chances, the less money you will lose and/or the longer your gambling bankroll will last, so you can have fun longer.

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