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Strengths and Weaknesses of Casino Games: Other Electronic Games

27 April 2004

Different players want different things out of trips to the casinos, and they choose games for different reasons. Last week, we looked at strengths and weakness of reel-spinning and video slot games - why some players like them and why others avoid them.

This week, let's give other electronic games - video poker, video blackjack and video keno - the same treatment. Then next week, we'll turn our focus to the tables.

VIDEO POKER

Strengths: Low house edge. The best video poker games have house edges even lower than those on most table games, and a select few - not available in the Chicago area - enable a skilled player to gain a mathematical edge on the house. Comparing pay tables enables knowledgeable players to tell a high-paying game from a low one at a glance - something that's not possible on slot machines. Variety of games enables players to pick the machine that best suits what they want out of a game, whether it's a bigger secondary jackpot such as the 2,000 coins for four Aces in Super Aces Bonus Poker, an even-keel game with a longer run for the money such as Jacks or Better with its 2-for-1 payoff on two pairs, or more chances to win at once as in the multiple-hand games such as Triple Play Poker. High level of interactivity as players choose which cards to hold and which to discard. Chance for skilled players to improve their odds - unlike the slots, player skill makes a difference. Minimum bets are low; someone who wants to pass time playing video poker can bet as little as a nickel a hand at the Gary casinos.

Weaknesses: Play is very fast, with 500 hands an hour being a moderate pace. A player betting the maximum five coins per hand on a single-hand quarter machine risks more than twice as much money per hour than someone betting $5 a hand at a full blackjack table. Unskilled players face a much larger disadvantage than the theoretical house edge, with most players spotting the casino an extra 3 to 5 percent. Not all video poker games have low house edges, and players have to be well-schooled in video poker variations to tell the difference. Expert strategies can be difficult to learn, and often are counter-intuitive - plays that common sense would tell you are the best way to attack the game sometimes actually give the house a little extra edge.

VIDEO BLACKJACK

Strengths: Familiar game with rules nearly identical to blackjack on the tables, making the video version easy to play. Basic strategy for the table game can be used on the video versions. In Nevada and many other jurisdictions, though not Illinois, players can even take basic strategy cards to the machines to help make their decisions. House edge is lower than on most slot machines. Harassment by other players over strategy decisions, sometimes a problem on blackjack tables, is not a factor on single-player machines. Minimum bets are low - in some casinos, you can play video blackjack for a quarter a hand, while it takes $5, $10 or more a hand to play table blackjack in the same casinos. Some video blackjack games - though not many and none in the Chicago area - have rules better than those commonly found on tables. Some multiple-player video blackjack consoles found in other markets deal out as many or more cards between shuffles as table blackjack dealers, and card counters can play on the machines without getting the same kind of heat they get at tables.

Weaknesses: The games with good rules are few and far between. Most video blackjack games pay only 2-for-1 on blackjacks, which is just another way of saying even money. Given a $5 wager, a player who is dealt a blackjack wins $5 on most video blackjack machines, but wins $7.50 on most tables. That means most video blackjack games have higher house edges than the table games. On the few machines that give 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks, players have to be careful to wager an even number of coins - machines can't pay 3-2 on a one-coin bet, so you'll get even money instead. Places to play are scarce. Check the multiple-game machines such as Game King, but not all have video blackjack. Video blackjack plays much faster than table blackjack, 400 or so hands an hour, compared with 50 an hour at a full blackjack table.

VIDEO KENO

Strengths: Easy to play - just pick your lucky numbers. Player can choose between having a large potential jackpot by playing a large amount of numbers, or a higher hit frequency by playing fewer numbers. Low minimum risk - in some casinos, you can play keno for a nickel a game. Some newer machines allow "way" tickets and combinations, just as in live keno. Play is slower than on slot machines due to time spent selecting numbers, minimizing risk.

Weaknesses: Difficult to find places to play, although Trump and Majestic Star in Gary have video keno, and Empress in Joliet just put keno on some of its Game King machines. House edge, usually just above Illinois' 80 percent minimum, is higher than on most electronic games. Players who repeat the same numbers every game play nearly as fast as on slots, raising risk.

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