Maximizing Your Returns on Video Poker

By Linda Boyd
Times are tough all over and nobody can do more than guess at when we’ll start to see the light ending the tunnel. In the meantime, casinos, like every other business, have had to make some changes just to stay afloat.  Video poker players won’t find as many full pay machines as before, but they’ll see better deals for room, food, and entertainment. Seems we’ve reverted back to the Vegas World days where there are fewer high rollers and low rollers are getting a little more respect, as the late Rodney Dangerfield would say. A few years ago a guy complained on my Amazon page (amazon.com to purchase my book, “The Video Poker Edge”) that he had an easy time finding bad plays, like 7/5 and 6/5  jacks or better (7/5JOB, 6/5JOB) but it was really difficult to find the 9/6JOB. Guess what? Now he’ll have to look even harder. The good news is you can still keep your video poker edge, but it will take an extra effort and you’ll have to make a few adjustments. Here are some tips.
Be Flexible: The price of poker went up for those, like the Amazon scribe, who are upset because there are more video poker devices with bad pay tables than good ones. (This same guy was angry that I didn’t write strategy cards for video poker games with a huge house edge.) Unfortunately, there are less player advantage games now than a year ago, but you’re still supposed to be looking for them. They’re out there but fewer in number and sometimes only in lower denominations like quarters or dollars. Not only that, but often they’re ineligible for special promotions like cash back or comps. Suppose, for example, you can’t find any 9/6 JOB machines? Consider an 8/5 JOB progressive as an alternative. You will have a higher variance with an 8/5 progressive, since more of the expected return (ER) relies on a long shot royal, but it’s better than a non-progressive 8/5JOB. Make sure you have a rough idea of the royal payout amount to make the game’s theoretical return even money or higher. (For example, if the royal is 8,000 coins on an 8/5 JOB, then the ER is 99.5917%, slightly higher than 9/6 JOB. However, the variance is a whopping 81.75328; significantly higher than 9/6 JOB with a variance of 19.49564. Risky business!)
Check All Options: Don’t just plop down at the first available seat, even if you’ve found your game. That’s because there may be a progressive version of the same game. Maybe you’re looking for 9/6 JOB and you find a bank right away. Sometimes you’ll discover a progressive 9/6 JOB, which is even better, in the same casino. If you’ve found a progressive bank, say 8/5 JOB, look for other banks with possibly higher progressives.
Listen to Locals: One minute the casino is the hottest place in town and the next it’s a total wasteland. If you’re talking to locals, especially in Nevada, they’re likely to know the best deals in town. This is especially true in large casinos. Pros may be secretive, and for good reasons, but the average Joe is often proud to make others aware that he knows his way around nearby casinos. Sometimes local players will even give you coupons they won’t be using for special plays, like extra money for a royal.
Coupons: Some say they’re embarrassed to use coupons because it makes them feel cheap. Of course you should read the fine print carefully beforehand since most have some restrictions. However, if you’re following the directions correctly, definitely use them. You’ll find more and more people cutting coupons as well as an increase in the number of casinos issuing them.
Comps: Not so long ago people referred to comps as gravy or just more icing on the cake--not to be counted as part of the ER. Nowadays you may find easier comps but tougher cash back policies. You can’t blame the casinos for tightening their budgets, since they do want to remain solvent. Often two plays are equivalent in terms of the game’s pay schedule with the difference in the comps offered. Just the comps will give you a slight edge in an even money play.
Play Smart: There’s less wiggle room for errors when pay schedules are reduced. You used to find more full pay deuces wild machines (FPDW), ER 100.76%, but now you may have to settle for not-so-ugly-deuces (NSUD), 99.73%. To compensate make sure you spend extra time practicing on your software. Be aware that some frequently dealt hands, like two pair, are played differently.  With FPDW you hold just one pair (either one) to go for four of a kind, while you hold both pair with NSUD to go for the full house. Bottom line; make sure you know the key plays before depositing your money.
Even Money: If you really want to play then you should consider even money games a good deal, especially if you know how to play correctly. Where but a casino can you get an evening of theoretically free entertainment? If free anything is thrown into the mix, then it’s even better.
Lower Denominations: You may want to play in lower denominations than in the past. First of all, assuming two games have the same ER, and it’s a slightly negative play (NSUD is an example) you’ll be able to play longer. In addition, casinos aren’t turning their noses up so fast at low rollers. Now that rooms are cheaper as is the food you may still qualify for comps with less coin in.
Stay Current: When casinos are hurting they tend to lower the coin-in required for comps. Better a low roller, even a quarter player, than an echo. Even if you’ve recently visited a casino you should ask questions at the slot club desk. Sometimes casinos will tell you the minimum requirements for discretionary comps or the casino’s theo formula. (Theo is the casino’s theoretical edge over the player and is the basis for discretionary comps.) Often there are special promotions, like card of the day (COD, more money for specific four-of-a-kinds), or multiple points. Make it a point to find out all available perks before you start to play.
Final Thoughts: Who knows, tomorrow the economy could be fully recovered and businesses returning to the norm. In the meantime, casino players will have to adapt to the new mercurial conditions. In general, it translates to fewer cash incentives, but more cupie dolls and trinkets. At least the food, rooms and show tickets are significantly less expensive. For those who want to be around the action but keep their money off the tables there are more reasons than ever before to visit your local casino. For the video poker player looking to keep their edge they’ll have to settle for closer to even money plays than ever before. You’ll still be able to find some decent plays but you’ll have different rules and need to look harder. The guy who found it easy to locate bad plays but was disgruntled about having to take extra time to find the good ones is definitely in for more disappointment.

Linda Boyd ,a long-time table game player before turning to video poker, writes for “Southern Gaming”, “Midwest Gaming and Travel” and “Arizona Player”.
Look for Linda’s stories in the American Casino Guide. Her book, “The Video Poker Edge”, includes free removable pay schedules and her
free strategy cards for the most popular games. Available at Amazon.com, bookstores, or from the publisher: Square One Publishers