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Best of John Grochowski

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A Shuffle through the Gaming Mailbag: Short-Pays on High-Limit Video Poker

22 June 2004

Q. I visited the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and was surprised to see changes on the payouts. On $5 9-6 Jacks or Better, the 250-coin payout for straight flushes had been slashed to 239 coins, and on $5 10-7 Double Bonus the same had been done on four of a kind, 5s through Kings. I suspect this was done to enable players to stay under the threshold for a W-2G form. That change didn't really excite me because those machines are too rich for my blood, anyway. But I was surprised to see they had done the same thing to $1 10-7 Double Bonus, too. Any comments?

Scott, via e-mail

A. On $5 games, cutting 250-coin jackpots to 239 coins isn't much of a loss. Instead of a $1,250 payout, the return drops to $1,195, just under the $1,200 threshold at which the IRS requires the casino to have the player sign a W-2G before the payoff can be made. Those who itemize taxes, keep careful records and deduct gambling losses from wins may overcome any federal tax bite, but many winners will pay hundreds of dollars in federal income tax on the larger jackpot.

And don't forget, those $1,200-plus jackpots are reported to the state, too. On state income tax returns, Illinois does not permit deductions for gambling losses. Most Illinois taxpayers are going to pay $37.50 in state income tax if they're paid the larger figure.

It's a different matter on $1 games. There is no question of a W-2G when the jackpot amounts are $250 or $239. Dropping the straight flush or four of a kind payoffs in that case just pads the house edge a bit. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, the expected return with expert play drops from 99.5 to 99.3 percent, while in 10-7 Double Bonus the long-term figures drop from 100.17 to 99.8 percent.

For the select few who play at expert level, the change in paybacks takes Double Bonus out of the positive range. But most players don't play at expert level, and the house dropping paybacks in this way is a lot less painful than reducing payback on full houses or flushes, where a drop of one unit - dropping full houses from 10-for-1 to 9-for-1 - for example, costs the player about 1.1 percent of the long-term return.

Q. Can you recommend a good multihand video poker book? I'm not a video poker beginner, but I'm not too sure about playing multiple-hand poker. I'm going to Las Vegas soon and want to play more of these poker games, but I need to understand it a little better.

Deb, via e-mail

A. There is no book that specifically addresses multihand games. However, I can tell you that for almost all multihand games, the best strategy is the same as on single-hand games. It doesn't matter whether you're playing Triple Play, Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play or Hundred Play, the math works out the same.

The one tip I have for those games is that if you can't afford to play maximum coins, step down to a number of hands where you can bet the max. Not being eligible for the top royal flush jackpot decreases our expectation by about 1.5 percent in the long run.

The exception to all this is Multi Strike Poker, where you have to win the first hand or get a free ride to get to the second hand, and so on. That puts more emphasis on just advancing in the first hand or two, and we have to adjust strategies accordingly.

Q. Recently, I was in the casino on a cruise ship and they had a blackjack table with some unusual rules, and it sounded so good, I just had to play, but I don't know if I was being sucked in or what. Here are the rules:

  • 3-2 payouts on Blackjack (even if the dealer was showing an Ace), any combo of 6, 7 and 8, or any five-card combo totaling 21.
  • Immediate payouts at 21, even though the dealer hasn't completed his hand.
  • Double down and/or surrender at any time. (Forfeit half of the bet on surrender.)

For the house: Eight decks with ALL the Queens removed.

Good deal? Bad deal? I couldn't tell. Have you ever heard of this variation of blackjack?

Walt, via e-mail

A. What you have is essentially the same set of rules that goes into Spanish 21, except that the Queens are removed from the deck instead of the 10-spots.

There are a couple of positive Spanish 21 rules missing from your list in this game. Spanish 21 pays 3-2 on 7-7-7, pays 2-1 on suited 7-7-7 or 6-7-8 and 3-1 on either in spades. There's a $1,000 bonus on suited 7-7-7 if the dealer has a 7 up, and others at the table get a $50 envy bonus. And in addition to a five-card 21 paying 3-2, six-card 21s pay 2-1 and seven-card 21s pay 3-1.

You don't tell me if the dealer hits or stands on soft 17, so I can't give you a precise house edge. My best estimate is that this is about a 1 percent game with a specially adapted basic strategy, more than double the 0.43 percent house edge in an eight-deck game with the dealer standing on all 17s and double after split permitted.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski