QUESTION: I know that when I play video poker, I can’t expect the advertised payback percentage every time. Sometimes I’m going to hit some big hands and win, and sometimes I’m going to hit nothing and lose.
But on the average, when I don’t hit anything really big, like a royal, what’s a reasonable return to I expect?
ANSWER. On most video poker games, royal flushes account for about 2 percent of your long-term return. When you read that 9-6 Jacks or Better returns 99.5 percent with expert play, royals account for about 2 percent of that. Between royal flushes, you’re playing about a 97.5 percent game.
Within that 97.5 percent, of course, there’s room for a whole lot of volatility. Sometimes you’re going to hit a cluster of four of a kinds, and win big even without a royal. Sometimes you’ll struggle to find anything better than two pair, and you’ll have a session that doesn’t begin to approach 97 percent. It happens.
I remember one big session in the early days of riverboat casinos in the Midwest, back when legalized gambling was first reaching beyond Nevada and New Jersey. The boats were required to leave the dock for two-hour sessions. I was playing 8-5 Jacks or Better --- as good as it got on this particular boat at the time --- and hit a four of a kind, and then another.
Cruise time was almost over, so I pushed the button to cash out. The tokens started to pour into the tray … and then the hopper jammed. I waited, and waited, and waited some more. By the time an attendant came over to check, there were only about 10 minutes left until the doors would close and I’d be stuck for another cruise. He cleared the jam … and the hopper stopped again. This time it needed a fill.
There was no question of getting off the boat now. I was stuck. So while waiting for the hopper fill, I started playing the next machine. Within five hands, I had another four of a kind. A few minutes later, quads again. Then again, and again. Within half an hour, I had six sets of quads to go with the two four of a kinds on the other machine.
If we’d had ticket in, ticket out payoffs in those days, I’d have been happily off the boat with profits from two quick four of a kinds. Instead, my bankroll was even happier with six more quads, although my wife was a little miffed that I was a couple of hours late.
That’s a long tangent just to say big wins are possible without a royal. And, of course, large, fast losses are part of the game, too. But overall, your payback percentage is about 2 percent lower whenever your session doesn’t include a royal flush.
QUESTION: How much odds do they have to give you on the craps table before the player has an edge when betting pass and taking the odds?
ANSWER: Unless we’re talking about dice controllers and non-random rolls, the player never has an edge at pass-free odds combination. The combination has two components, the pass line bet and the free odds. The pass bet carries a house edge of 1.41 percent, while the free odds are an even bet. The more odds you’re permitted to take, the more the house edge on the pass portion of the combination is watered down. At single odds, the house edge on the combination is 0.8 percent; at double odds, 0.6 percent; at 10x odds, 0.3 percent; at 100x odds, 0.02 percent. The house edge gets smaller and smaller, but never disappears entirely.
In all my years of playing in casinos, I’ve seen only one proposition that had no house edge without also requiring you to take on a bet that did give an advantage to the house. That was in the mid-1990s, when one of my regular casino haunts offered a field bet that paid 3-1 both on 2 and 12. When both 2 and 12 in the field pay 2-1, the house edge is 5.56 percent. When the 12 pays 3-1 instead, the house edge drops to 2.78 percent. When both pay 3-1, the house has no edge at all ---- which is why you so rarely see such payoffs
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