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Short Pay Machines Short-Change Players

8 October 2002

She plays every week, and she knows that in the long run, a fullpay Double Bonus Poker machine that pays 10-for-1 on full houses, 7-for-1 on flushes and 5-for-1 on straights will give more back to players than a Double Bonus machine that pays less on any of those hands.

"But I don't see why I should worry about what a machine is going to do in the long run," she says. "When I play for a few hours, either I'm going to get lucky or I'm not. If I hit the big hands I'm going to win, and if I don't I'm going to lose."

Every so often, I'll hear from Martha after she has a winning session. Somehow, I never hear from her after the losses.

The latest call came just last week, after she'd been playing 8-5-4 Double Bonus Poker. It's a game I'd walk miles out of my way to avoid, with an ugly 94.2 percent expected return with expert play. The expected return on full-pay Double Bonus is 100.2 percent, but the version Martha was playing knocked full house paybacks down to 8-for-1, flushes to 5-for-1 and straights to 4-for-1. Even the most common short-pay Double Bonus game in the area, with a 9-6-5 pay table, would have been a big improvement over that.

Nevertheless, when I heard Martha's voice on the line, I knew she'd had a winner.

"I only had an hour before I was meeting my friend at the buffet," she said. "I brought $50 to play with, and it lasted the whole hour, playing five quarters at a time."

An average video poker player plays about 500 hands per hour, meaning maximum-coins wagers on a single-hand quarter machine total about $625. The expected loss per hour on 8-5-4 Double Bonus is a little more than $36. That's not what you can expect every time. More often than not, losses will be bigger and faster. But when the jackpot hands come--royal flushes worth 4,000 coins or four Aces worth 800 coins--the player can win big even on a bad game.

"That's not what happened to me," Martha said. "The biggest hand I hit was four 10s, for 250 coins. But that came on my next-to-last hand.

"I went through my first $20 just like that. But my first hand on the second $20 was a full house. Then I got another one on the next hand. Before long, I got a flush, and another full house. Just as it seemed I was about to lose it all, I'd hit a straight here, a full house there, and I'd have money to play with again."

How much did she win?

"I'm getting to that. It was almost time to meet my friend, and I was back down to 10 credits. I was starting to think about whether I had time to play my last $10, or whether I should just go with a $40 loss.

"Then it happened. On the deal. I got four 10s. I didn't even have to draw. That was worth 250 quarters. I played one more hand and lost, so I cashed out 250 quarters. I got $62.50 from the cashier, so I finished up $22.50. All those short payoffs you talk about didn't matter, did they? When I got lucky and got the four of a kind, I won."

I congratulated her on the win, but said I couldn't agree that the short pays didn't matter.

"What do you mean?"

How many full houses, flushes and straights did she think she'd hit?

"Quite a few. Those are the hands that kept me going, short payoffs or not."

On the average, players hit about five or six full houses in 500 hands, five or six flushes and five or six straights. Playing 8-5-4 Double Bonus means that with five coins wagered, we're paid 10 coins less for each full house, five less for each flush and five less for each straight than if we were playing full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus. If we go conservative on the estimate and figure five of each of these hands in the hour, it means returns of 50 fewer coins per hour on full houses, 25 fewer on flushes and 25 fewer on straights.

"What are you getting at?"

Well, in an average hour--a bit below average, actually, since we used a low end estimate--she'd given away 100 coins, or $25, by playing the short-pay game. With similar luck on a full-pay machine, profits would have more than doubled.

Not only that. Martha obviously didn't have average luck on this machine. She did considerably better. If she had just one extra full house, one extra flush and one extra straight, that's another $5 the short pays cost her.

And what if that big hand hadn't come just then? She easily could have walked away a $40 loser. But with the full payoffs, she'd still have had 100 or more coins on the screen. They could have kept her in action that much longer, waiting for the big hand.

"I'm happy with the way things turned out."

She should be. She was very lucky. But players give themselves a better chance to stay in the game and get lucky more often if they stick to the good games.

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