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Playing video poker with the locals

15 November 2011

Two to four times a year, I find myself in Las Vegas. It's mostly business — and I've even convinced my wife of that — but I make a little time to play. And in the interest of getting the best blackjack rules and best video poker pay tables, I take my play away from the Strip, to places where the locals play.

In the first week of October, I settled in at Sam's Town, several miles east of the Strip, on Boulder Highway. It's one of the last bastions of full-pay Deuces Wild, which returns 100.8% with expert play. Most don't play at expert level, and the games make money for the casino besides serving as an attraction to customers who pay attention to such things.

The deuces weren't kind to me, and when the twos aren't coming, you don't win. A woman down the row who had been playing for hours drew four twos for a 1,000-credit payoff, and gave a loud sigh of relief.

"At last!" she said. "This game is all about endurance. You play and play, and finally there they are. It's an endurance test."

My bankroll wasn't up for the endurance test, so I took a little walk and settled in at another bank of video poker machines. This one had 8/5 ACES Bonus Poker. Each ace has a letter, and if you get four aces in the right order so they spell, yes, ACES, it's the same 4,000-coin jackpot for a five-coin bet as you'd get on a royal flush. At 99.4% with expert play, it's a step down from full-pay Deuces, but still a strong play once you figure in comps and free play along with direct mail and online offers.

To my left, a 50-ish gent with graying blond hair, wearing glasses, was playing rapidly in spurts, but chatting up the cocktail waitress when she passed, and making conversation with those around him. Sometimes he'd give a play-by-play:

"Three 3s — can I get the fourth?" he'd ask. "No, not this time." Then, after a few minutes of rapid play, "First time I've been dealt two pair in a while. Come on, fill it . . . Nope. Well, I'll take the two pair."

But there was no play-by-play when the really big hand came up. I just happened to look up as he drew a jack of clubs to complete a royal flush. Before I could say, "Congratulations," it was gone. No celebration, no commentary. Just 4,000 credits on the meter and on to the next hand.

He saw me looking, put a finger to his lips and said, "Shhhhh." I smiled, nodded and went back to my game.

It was a far different experience than royal flushes were in the days before TITO. The machine would lock up, passers-by would sometimes offer congratulations, sometimes just nudge each other and smile as they walked on. Eventually a slot attendant or change person would come look at the machine, then leave and return with a supervisor and cash. The first time I drew a royal on a quarter machine, I was handed 10 $100 bills. After that, most royal pays consisted of nine hundreds and five twenties, presumably with the hope that one of those $20 bills would wind up as toke money.

The fellow to my left didn't want the attention.

"Hey, I'm sorry to shhh you," he said after a few more hands. "I know you just wanted to congratulate me, and I can appreciate that. But you know, one of the things I really like about the ticket pays is the privacy on a big jackpot."

I told him I understood, but noted that he liked to have his fun talking about the smaller pays.

"Oh yeah, I'm mostly a sociable guy. I like to have a good time and not just stare at the screen, and with the little hands that everyone gets all the time, a little back and forth is fun. But when it comes to something like a royal flush, I like to keep that to myself. No one needs to know I'm carrying around a thousand dollars, or a ticket worth a thousand dollars. When I head out to get my car, I want to be just another face in the crowd. I can put on my had-fun-but-lost-money face real good."

Not that he minded the attention when there was no other option.

"Back when most of the payoffs came by coins and you were carrying those buckets around, and when the royals were paid by hand, the attention never bothered me. I LIKED it. One woman who was sitting next to me when I drew a royal said, 'You don't seem very excited.' And I said, ARE YOU KIDDING! My insides are jumping!' And then I jumped up and down a few times, just to get her laughing. But now that it can be more private, I celebrate the small stuff instead. For big stuff, privacy . . . ."

That's the ticket, I suggested.

"You said that, not me," he laughed. "And I wish you hadn't."

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:

> More Books By John Grochowski