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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Do You Prefer Table Games with Jackpot Options?

8 February 2001

Jackpot versions of existing table games appear now and again. Some are intended to enhance the appeal for current players. Others are meant to attract solid citizens previously focused on the slots, who want a broader experience than the machines without sacrificing the chance that their next bet will beget a bonanza. All are designed to get more money in action, typically with high edge and good profit potential for the casino.

Monster payouts motivate lots of slot play. This is, after all, an era when even some Republicans muse about a second chance at the American dream by winning rather than earning it. Few table jackpot ideas stand the test of time, however. Many, proposals as well as those that make it to the floor, flunk the laugh test.

A roulette, blackjack, or craps aficionado certainly wouldn't object to striking it rich. But bettors steeped in the nuances of a game often cringe at changes, structural or superficial, especially if the "enhancements" require longshot side bets or involve strategies which would otherwise be spurned. Further, slot fans who might be tempted to try the tables still face the intimidation of the games, and are often discouraged at the low hit rates associated with most table jackpot schedules.

The pros and cons are illustrated by a twist some casinos are now considering for Pai Gow poker. In this game, bettors receive seven cards from which they form separate five- and two-card hands. The proposed jackpot would be awarded, for a side bet, to players receiving both a royal flush and a pair of aces.

Here are comparisons to help put the probability of winning this prize into perspective.

At jacks-or-better video poker, players receive five-card hands then dump and replace whatever they want. Optimum strategy yields a royal in about one round out of 40,000. The return is typically 800-for-1, low compared to the odds of hitting but appropriate in view of all the payouts for lower poker values.

Caribbean Stud players receive five cards, period. The likelihood of a royal is one out of 649,739. But jackpots for $1 side bets, progressive sums based on the amount wagered since the previous hit, start at $10,000 and often grow to $150,000 or more.

At conventional Pai Gow poker, the odds of forming a royal from five out of seven cards, irrespective of the other two, is one out of 30,939. Statistically, this is easier to hit than a royal at video poker. Adding the condition that the two-card hand be a pair of aces changes the odds to one out of 11,148,712 -- almost 20 times as remote as a Caribbean Stud royal.

You may wonder why something as seemingly minor as a pair of aces in the two-card hand matters so much. This small change makes a big difference in the number of ways final hands can be formed.

Only four combinations of five cards constitute royals in either case. But the other two cards can be chosen from the 47 remaining in the deck in 1081 ways. The total number of final Pai Gow poker hand sets including royals is therefore 4 x 1081 = 4,324. When the two-card hand must be a pair of aces, only three sets exist for each royal. (Say the royal is in hearts. Then, the pair could be diamond-club, diamond-spade, or club-spade.) The four possible royals times three combinations of aces is 12 hand sets.

Progressive jackpots with such steep odds could grow to astronomical proportions. Would they get high enough for the variation to become popular, and perhaps to spark more interest in the main game, despite the low chance of hitting? This depends on factors like needing a side bet rather than getting a bonus on a regular wager and, for the former, on the size and frequency of intermediate returns for lesser results. Will this or any new game or variation get past the scrutiny of the casino bosses and into the pits? If so, will it enjoy an enduring place in the gambling galaxy? Your guess is as good as the gurus' -- maybe better. As the poet of prognostication, Sumner A Ingmark, put it:

An authority supposes,
The majority disposes.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.