Q. When I play video poker, why do I only get half the slot club points as when I play the slots? I’m betting just as much money — more, since I bet five quarters at a time on a video poker game, but only three at a time on a (three-reel) slot machine. But I get a point for every $4 I bet on a slot machine, but it takes $8 to get a point on video poker. Can you explain why? Am I better off just playing the slots?
A. Most casinos nowadays require more play per point on video poker than on slot machines. That’s because they’re giving more money back on the games at video poker.
If you’re playing quarter three-reel slots, chances are your long-term paybacks range from about 90 to 93 percent, and if you’re playing penny video slots, you can knock a few percent off that. If you’re choosing the best video poker games in any jurisdictions, you should be able to do considerably better than that. Maybe your casino doesn’t have quarter machines with 9-6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5 percent with a strategy that’s not difficult to learn. If you’re in a weak video poker area, maybe it doesn’t even have 8-5 Jacks or Better, which returns 97.3 percent with expert play. But chances are it has 7-5 Jacks or Better (96.2), or some other game with an equivalent payback percentage.
Those low-level options aren’t great video poker games, and many casinos have far better options. But even the “bad” video poker games bring returns 3 percent or 4 percent or more than the average paybacks on quarter slot machines.
The difference in slot-club cash back doesn’t begin to make up that difference. When I received your email, I wrote back to ask how many points it takes to redeem for a dollar in your club. You said 100 points brings a dollar in cash back. That means a slot player is wagering $400 for each dollar in cash back, while a video poker player wagers $800 per dollar back. The cash-back return calculates to 0.25 percent for slot players, and 0.125 percent for video poker players.
If I’m playing a slot that returns 93 percent and get 0.25 percent cash back, my overall return is 93.25 percent. If I’m playing a low-paying video poker game, the kind I try to avoid, that pays 96 percent, and add 0.125 percent cash back, my overall return is 96.125 percent — still 2.875 percent better than on the slot machine.
Hey, I’d love to have the best of both worlds — high-paying video poker games with cash back and comps at the same level as slot players. But video poker play isn’t as profitable for the casinos as slot play, so it’s only natural they’re going to reward slot play at a higher level.
Q. I was playing a Double Bonus Poker on a Multi-Poker machine, and I noticed that on the glass up top it said, “Only highest hand paid.” This wasn’t Triple Play or Ten Play, where you have more than one hand going at a time, so why the warning on only the highest hand being paid?
A. The disclaimer is about hands that include more than one winning combination. If you have a full house, your hand also includes three of a kind, two pair and sometimes pairs of Jacks or better. If you have a straight flush, your hand also includes a flush and a straight. What the machine glass is telling you is that you’ll get paid only on the highest-winning combination in your hand.
There used to be a game that paid off on every winning combination in a hand. It was called Multi-Pay Poker, manufactured by WMS Gaming. Once I was playing the game, demonstrating to my brother how it works, and I hit a royal flush. In addition to being paid on the royal, I was paid on a straight flush, flush and straight — a nice little bonus in addition to the royal jackpot. A while later, a slot supervisor came out and said she’d seen in the morning’s records that I’d been paid this strange-looking jackpot, and wanted to know how it could be such an odd number on a non-progressive machine. Seems she didn’t know how Multi-Pay worked. She sat down at the machine next to me and started to play, and I talked her through it until she hit a couple of hands with multiple payoffs and satisfied herself that I really was entitled to my jackpot.
Such odd payoffs don’t occur on games currently in distribution, that pay only on the highest-winning combination contained in a hand.
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.