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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Why It's Worthwhile to Check Video Poker Payout Schedules

6 August 2002

Most video poker buffs choose games they find interesting or lucky, or that boast big jackpots. So they go for Double Jokers, Deuces Wild, Triple Bonus Jacks or Better, or whatnot with nary a thought to the payout schedule glaring out from the belly glass. A few aficionados do check the payout lists, shopping for high return percentage and complementary low house advantage.

Identifying statistically attractive configurations was easier when the selection was smaller and the choices narrower. The task is now confounded by a bewildering bevy of bonuses for anointed hands, as well as games with several simultaneous games offering rich rewards for results such as royals at multiple positions.

Does it really matter? Do the nuances - small fractions here or there - make any practical difference?

To the casinos, certainly. If 10,000 players cycle $10,000,000 through the machines in a month, 96 percent return is expected to leave $400,000 in profit while 95 percent should yield $500,000.

To the rare stalwarts who make careers of video poker, a percentage point up or down can also have a major impact. But not many solid citizens, even those who play enough to earn zirconium club privileges and tasteless gifts, reach a level where the house advantage overwhelms the fluctuations inherent in the game.

What about the more typical players, who come to gamble not thinking about lifetime wins or losses, but about their chances of success here and now? There's no single answer because people don't all play the same way. But you can get a handle on the effect of variations in payout schedule in terms of a model session at a plain vanilla no-bonus jacks-or-better game.

Say you start with a bankroll equal to 200 bets. Perhaps $250 for a $0.25 machine, five coins at a time. Assume you want to play either until you earn 1,000 units profit - $1,250 for the proposed situation - or, if not, stay for at least four hours.

Most maximum-coin jacks-or-better payouts differ only on full houses and flushes. Royals pay 800-for-1, straight flushes 50-for-1, quads 25-for-1, straights 4-for-1, triplets 3-for-1, two pairs 2-for-1, and high pairs 1-for-1. On "9/6" machines, full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1; returns are 99.5 percent. On "8/6" machines, it's 8-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes, returning 98.4 percent. The "8/5" games, with 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes, return 97.5 percent. And they don't sink far below "6/5," at 6-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes, overall return being 95.0 percent.

The accompanying list illustrates how these changes in the payout schedule and return percentage affect the chances of earning 1,000 units before losing 200 regardless of time played, or of being in action with a 200-unit bankroll after 1,440 rounds (four hours at the fast but not superhuman clip of six rounds/minute).

How return percentage and session expectations
change with payout schedule on video poker
game

return
percentage


(%)

chance of
winning 1,000
before
losing 200
(%)
chance of still
being in action
after 1,400
rounds
(%)
9/6
99.5
12.7
75.5
8/6
98.4
6.0
72.8
8/5
97.5
2.6
70.0
6/5
95.0
0.3
63.6

The figures show that the chance of winning 1,000 units before losing 200 is scant in any case, even on a machine that returns close to 100 percent. But, as low as a 12.7 percent probability at 9/6 video poker might be, it's over twice that of an 8/6 game and almost five times better than the likelihood of scoring as well on an 8/5 machine. Likewise, at 63.6 percent, prospects of a 200-unit stake buying at least four hours on a 6/5 game aren't bad, but 8/6 returns at 72.8 percent are better. The differences are small, but worth trying to find the good games. And, if your old favorite casino is holding back, try next door. Your new favorite has an all-you-can-eat buffet, a carbuncle club, and promotions where they give away toaster ovens, too. As the wryly respected render of irony, Sumner A Ingmark, rhymingly wrote:

Someone has to pay the price of what comes free,
Someone must be you, it surely isn't me.

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.