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HOME > > Ask the Slot Expert: Cold winter means bad video poker in Wisconsin?

Ask the Slot Expert: Cold winter means bad video poker in Wisconsin?

18 June 2014

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

It may not have been true in Connecticut that paytables were changed when slot revenue was down, but I can tell you firsthand that this was done here in northern Wisconsin after one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record.

In late April I was in our local casino, Potawatomi Carter Casino Hotel, on a Tuesday night and then again on Friday of the same week. In a matter of three days, all the video poker paytables on ALL the machines were changed.

Here are a few examples: All the full houses on all the games went from 45 or 40 to 35 and 30 coins -- and most notably, on Jacks or Better the full house went from 40 to 30 -- from so-so to terrible! On Dueces Wild the full house went from 20 to 15 and the flush went from 15 to 10.

There was a bank of 12 Double Bonus Progressive machines that paid 45 for a full house and 30 for a flush. That bank now has 12 or so poker games (four with progressives), and keno games and other video slot games. The 9-6 paytables are gone, replaced by 7-5 and 6-5 games. It is a tragedy for local video poker players.

I would like to know what happened to the Royal Flush jackpots that were over $1,200; the new progressive games all started out at merely $1,000.

Also the poker bar, which has about 28 machines, "caps" their royal flushes at $3,000. Is this legal, and what happens to all the money contributing to the progressive, over and above the $3,000?

Last year their dollar progress grew to $10,000 and it too was capped.

The Double Double Bonus progressive also includes the straight flush, which is nice, but it too is capped at $125. The Double Bonus progressive on the floor (which is no more) did not cap its straight flush, and I won it twice, once over $300 and another time over $200.

To add insult to injury to video poker players, on May 1, Potawatomi Carter also changed their point system so that it now takes $4 coin in to earn a point, instead of $2 which it was -- and still is -- for regular slot players.

They have gotten a lot of complaints and lost a number of poker players, but don't seem to do anything about it. I believe their new slot director from Las Vegas just told them he could get back the lost revenue by changing the slot holds on video poker and the point system -- by sticking it to the locals and summer tourists.

The other nearest casinos are 26 and 55 miles away. One, Mole Lake, now has great video poker paytables with lots of 9-7, 9-6 and 9-5 machines, but it has meager promotions, bad food, and lousy comps.

I guess we are stuck with what we put up with. Potawatomi's Milwaukee casino also has terrible video poker paytables and they are fighting the expansion of the Kenosha casino by the Menominee Tribe. Goodness knows we need a new casino -- only with decent video poker paytables!

Wisconsin's Governor Walker should require better paybacks for Wisconsin residents, rather than just seeking big contributions from all the Tribes for his re-election campaign and future run for the Presidency!

Cold Winter = Cold Video Poker pay tables at Carter Casino Hotel in Northern Wisconsin.

Dear Cold,

The Golden Age of video poker is over. When I started going to casinos regularly in the late 1990s, 9/6 Jacks machines were plentiful even on the Las Vegas strip and a dollar through a video poker machine counted the same as a dollar through a slot machine. Today good video poker paytables are getting harder to find and most slot clubs require more play from video poker players than slot players to earn the same reward. (We really can't complain, though, when the long-term paybacks on video poker are much higher than those on the slots.)

I checked online and found that the Potawatomis have a compact with the state of Wisconsin, so their casinos offer Class III machines. When they changed the paytables on their video poker machines, they lowered the long-term paybacks on the machines.

I don't think you can blame the change on the cold winter, though. It's more likely due to an overall strategy of trying to earn more revenue from the slot floor. Many casinos are replacing their high-paying video poker paytables with lower-paying paytables without going through a brutal winter.

One possible reason for the replacement is that video poker players are getting better. Some slot directors I've spoken with said that players were giving up about four to five percentages points in long-term payback by playing hunches instead of a mathematically derived strategy. When more players play with a strategy and get closer to the maximum payback possible from a paytable, the casino has to lower the paytable to maintain the same hold. Another possible reason, of course, is that it just wants to earn more money from the machines.

I watch the world news almost every evening and I can't remember a time when every single broadcast had a story about extreme weather in some part of the country. I fear that you have more tough winters ahead. Is the casino going to lower the paybacks again after the next cold and snowy winter?

I don't know what the rules are for shutting down progressives in Wisconsin. I didn't find anything online. In New Jersey, it used to be that the casino had to wait until the progressive was won before it could shut down the machine or machines feeding it. Alternatively, it could move the excess above the reset amount to another progressive machine or link. Casinos complained that it took to long to replace underperforming machines, so they are now allowed to cancel the progressive and keep the money after giving 30 days' notice to the public.

I think that is unfair. The casino funds the reset amount. The players fund anything above that and that money belongs to the players. According to an article on NJ.com, when New Jersey allowed casinos to cancel progressive jackpots in 1992, the casinos kept $16.6 million in the first three months and that extra revenue "often made the difference between profits increasing or decreasing at the time."

It's ironic that legislators think they are protecting the public when they limit the number of casinos in an area. What they're actually doing is giving a casino a monopoly on gaming and the ability to set the price. I'm not saying that State Highway 32 in Wabeno has to turn into the Las Vegas strip, but having two or three casinos relatively close together forces them to compete with one another and players usually benefit from the competition.

As for the bad food and lousy comps at Mole Lake, that reminds of the joke about two people complaining about a bad restaurant. One person complains that the food is not good and the other says, "And the portions are so small."

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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