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Best of John Grochowski

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Sometimes there is a free lunch

9 August 2011

There's only a handful of casino games in which the player can get an edge. Start with blackjack for card counters, video poker at certain pay, craps for a select few dice controllers. Add in live poker for those more skilled and disciplined than their opponents, and sports and racing betting for serious handicappers. That's about it.

But there are opportunities to play on the positive side if you take into account the value of cash back, free play, room and meal comps and other perks. If you're playing 9/6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5% with expert play, and get a couple of tenths of percent back in free play in the casino plus direct-mail vouchers, it doesn't take many free lunches to get you above break-even.

That's the situation I found in mid-July when I visited a casino with a particularly good deal for older players. As a member of the over-50 brigade, I took note of the sign detailing an offer for a free breakfast or lunch buffet for any over-50 player who earned at least 10 player rewards points on that gaming day.

I was at the casino, planned to spend several hours, and was going to eat sometime during the day. It wasn't an expensive buffet — only $6.99 for breakfast or $9.99 for lunch. But free is always the right price.

My first move was to check the quarter, single-hand video poker games. There were several 25-centers that hovered around 99% payback with expert play. There was 9/6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5% with expert play, along with 10/7/5 Double Bonus Poker (99.1%) and 25-15-9-4-4 Deuces Wild (98.9%), the game players sometimes call "Illinois Deuces" or "Airport Deuces."

I settled in at a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. This was the first high-paying video poker game, the game that sparked video poker's popularity explosion in the 1980s. By today's standards, it's a little tame. There are no big bonuses on fours of a kind. With five coins wagered, any set of quads pays 125 coins, a far cry from the 800 on four aces, 400 on four 2s through 4s or the 250 on other fours of a kind on the Double Bonus game.

But it pays 2-for-1 on two pairs, while two-pair hands on Double Bonus just gets you your money back. That more than offsets the four-of-a-kind bonuses, while leaving a low volatility, even-keel game that's perfect for a little comp chasing.

When I settled in for a little Jacks or Better, I found I was getting one point for every $8 wagered. That meant I'd need to play 64 hands and wager $80 to accumulate 10 points for the buffet. At 99.5% return, my expected average loss on $80 in play was 40 cents. On the 9/7/5 Double Bonus game, the expected loss would be 72 cents, and on Deuces Wild game, it would be 88 cents.

That didn't mean it was going to cost me precisely 40 cents for the buffet. I could have won money in the session, maybe even drawn a royal flush for $1,000. I could have lost a $20 bill, or even more. Those winning and losing sessions over time balance out to an average 40-cent loss per $80 wagered.

So what's your payback percentage when you include the value of the buffet? When you make $80 in wagers on 9/6 Jacks or Better, your average return is $79.60. Add in $9.99 as the value of the lunch buffet, and the total return is $89.59. That's a 111.99% return. When you include the value of the comp, you're playing a positive expectation game.

How much can you play before the expectation is no longer positive? The expected loss with expert play doesn't reach $9.99 until you've made $1,998 worth of wagers. That's 1,598 and a fraction hands of 9/6 Jacks or Better with five coins wagered per hand. Even if you play for about three hours, your average result with expert play is on the plus-side.

My session started off like it was going to be a loser. I bought in for $20, and it was 18 hands before I drew anything better than a high pair. By then, I was down to 30 credits. But I made a one-card draw for a flush, and a few hands later drew a full house. I was up to 95 quarters, then played down to my original buy-in before cashing out.

I had my $20 back, and I had my lunch, too. To me, that's a winning play.

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