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A Shuffle through the Video Poker Mailbag

2 September 2003

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag, which is stuffed with video poker questions:

Q. I was interested in your column recent column on Multi Strike Poker. Does it make any difference where you play, or are the games the same?

Vicki, via e-mail

A. It does make a difference. I made my way to Joliet, Illinois, recently, and recorded the pay tables at the Empress and Harrah's casinos there. There is a huge difference between the games, with Empress offering better pay tables.

Multi Strike starts with a 20-coin bet instead of the single-hand standard of five coins. A winner or a "free ride" on Hand No. 1 brings a second that doubles the pay table; a winner or free ride there brings another hand paid at four times the first, and a winner or free ride on that hand brings a fourth paid at eight times the first.

In the comparison below, the payback percentages listed are for expert play on a single-hand game. At Multi Strike, for those few who play at expert level, the returns will be about two-tenths of a percent higher. The numbers before the payback percentage, such as the 9-5 on Empress' Jacks or Better game, refer to the one-coin paybacks on full houses and flushes. In Double Bonus Poker, the third number listed is the one-coin payoff on straights.

JACKS OR BETTER: Empress 9-5 (98.4 percent); Harrah's 7-5 (96.1)
BONUS POKER: Empress 7-5 (98.1); Harrah's 6-5 (97)
DOUBLE BONUS POKER: Empress 9-6-5 (97.8); Harrah's 8-5-4 (94.2)
DOUBLE DOUBLE BONUS POKER: Empress 9-5 (97.9), Harrah's 8-5 (96.8)
TRIPLE DOUBLE BONUS POKER: Empress 9-6 (98.2), Harrah's 7-5 (94.9)
SUPER DOUBLE BONUS POKER: Empress 8-5 (98.6), Harrah's 7-5 (97.5)
BONUS POKER DELUXE: Empress 8-6 (98.5), Harrah's 6-5 (95.2)

In addition, Harrah's has three wild-card games not on the Empress machines--short pay versions of Deuces Wild (97.1), Joker Poker Kings or Better (96.4), and Deuces Wild Bonus Poker (96.2).

None of these games come close to matching the best games at either casino. And because you can lose 20 coins at once, without even seeing the third, fourth and fifth hands, Multi Strike is an extremely volatile game, one at which the player can lose quite a lot of money very quickly in a bad streak. It's not a game in which knowledgeable players will want to accept short pay tables.

I like Multi Strike quite a lot, but I'm hoping the truly awful pay tables such as those at Harrah's are a trial balloon that will disappear quickly.

Q. Do video poker games in taverns work like those in casinos? Are cards dealt from a randomly shuffled deck? Can you figure payback percentages?

Paul, via e-mail

A. I wouldn't count on it. Video poker games in taverns are, in theory, there for entertainment purposes only. They are not regulated as gaming devices.

It is not difficult to program a video poker game to yield a lower percentage than it would seem to have according to the pay table. The easiest way is to program the game to substitute cards on the draw a certain percentage of the time when the player is about to draw a winner.

Such programming is not legal in Illinois casinos. In the Illinois gaming regulations, Section 3000:660, paragraph "b" says in part, "After selection of game outcome, the Electronic Gaming Device must not make a variable secondary decision which affects the results shown to the player."

In other words, if you've held Ace-King-Queen-Jack of spades and are about to draw the 10 of spades, the game may not substitute a different card and cost you a royal flush.

That's not necessarily the case with tavern games. There's nothing to prevent such variable secondary decisions because they're not supposed to be there as gaming devices in the first place.

Q. Is video poker a game of chance or a game of skill?

Mr. Royal, via e-mail

A. It's a game of chance, with strong elements of skill. Missouri, at a time when casinos were permitted to offer only games of skill, had video poker but not slots. And when Frank Scoblete was writing Victory at Video Poker, Rex Carlson of the Nevada Gaming Control Board told him, "If a player understands how to read the [pay table] chart, the player can determine exactly what he faces, unlike a regular slot machine where the percentages are unknown.

"Video poker in Nevada is a game of skill and luck. That skill factor must be there for a machine to be a video poker machine. They are not slot machines."

IGT, which makes most casino video poker machines, says its games are the same everywhere in the country, including Illinois. They are all tests of both luck and skill.

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:

> 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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski