It’s no secret that when I go to the casino I like to have a good time. Those good times often take place at a casino bar where there is always video poker available.
While being near comped drinks is nice, the returns on bar top video poker are often the worst in the casino. For example, a casino may have a 9/6 Jacks or Better game on the floor (returns over 99%) but the bar may only have a 7/5 Jacks or Better game (returns just over 96%).
These shorter returns at the bar are noticeable. It may only be $3 for every $100 played but it decreases the amount of time the money lasts in the machine. This also increases the price per drink.
It’s important to remember, when budgeting for your night at the casino bar, even though the drinks are complimentary they aren’t free to the casino. The house advantage the casino has in the games covers the cost of your drinks.
Not every casino bar has lower pay tables but the majority do. Casinos that are geared toward tourists are notorious for having poor returns on their bar top video poker. This is the price of convenience.
Every video poker game, from Bonus Poker to Deuces Wild, has shorter pay tables. There are even a few bars that will include random games not found anywhere else in the casino, like Shockwave poker, in their bar top games. On average the video poker games have returns somewhere around 96%. These are still better returns than video slots or keno options at the bar, but it’s not optimal.
So what should we do when playing video poker at the bar? There are two choices – play smart(ish) or play for fun.
When playing video poker at a casino bar there really isn’t a smart way to play. When I want to play on the smart side I’ll stick with Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker because those are the games where I can play with almost perfect strategy.
I figure playing games where I know the right moves means I should be able to extend my dollar longer. In that time, maybe I’ll hit a hot streak and walk away with a few bucks.
When I’m not paying too close attention to the games, I’ll look to the most outlandish video poker I can find just to have a little fun. Shockwave comes to mind as a game where I’m just looking for fun. I’m just playing to get 4 of a kind to produce a Shockwave where the screen changes colors. Maybe I should learn the strategy but I’d rather focus on games I play more often.
Casino bars usually offer bad video poker returns but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Choose games where you have the highest understanding of strategy or just play a game because it’s fun. Either way, you’re hanging out at a casino bar and that’s fun.

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This morning, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about a game he is developing.
I explained that playing “perfect” strategy would be nearly impossible due to some subtle complexities of the way the game is played. As a result of this, the game would not likely play anywhere near its “theoretical” payback.
Many games have this problem. Blackjack pays 99.5%, but very few players play anywhere near this. Ultimate Texas Hold’em has a payback well into the 99% range, too, but stats from the casinos make it clear very few players, if any, can manage this high of a payback.
My friend stated he thought he would be able to play the game close to the theoretical because he is an accomplished poker player. I asked him if he was an accomplished video poker player and he said he wasn’t.
I told him any table game against a dealer was really nothing more than playing video poker and had no resemblance to poker. You see, poker is about reading players, understanding their betting patterns and their tells.
Video poker is about one thing – math. There is no one to bluff. All that matters is what is the probability of all final hands given what I choose to discard. Let’s take a look at a simple example: 5-spades, 5-diamonds, 6-club, 7 hearts, 8 diamonds.
In theory, there are 32 ways to play this hand, but I think we can quickly rule out 29. I don’t think anyone is seriously going to consider holding only the off-suit 6-8 or holding all 5 cards (which would result in an immediate loss).
There are really only three possibilities, two of which are identical. The player can either hold the pair of 5’s or the 4-card Straight (hence, the two identical possibilities as it doesn’t matter which 5 the player keeps.)
If the player keeps the 4-card Straight eight cards will result in a straight and the rest in a loss. So, if we add up the total payout, we’d have 8 straights at 4 units each for a total of 32 units. There are 47 possible draws. We divide the 32 by 47 to get 0.68. This is called the Expected Value (or EV) of this hand using this possible discard strategy.
Calculating the Expected Value of holding the pair is a bit more complex, but easy enough to calculate using a computer. There are 16,215 possible draws if the player holds two cards. We look at these possible draws and at the final hands.
The player can wind up with a Four of a Kind, Full House, Three of a Kind or Two Pair. We add up the total payout of all of these winning hands and divide by 16,215. The result is an EV of 0.82.
This Expected Value is greater than that of the 4-card Straight, so the proper play is to hold the Low Pair. When playing video poker (and virtually every other casino game), the proper play is to follow the one with the highest EV.
You don’t go with a “hunch” that a 5 is coming up or you just feel a 4 or a 9 is going to fill out that Straight. There is a distinct probability of each of these events occurring and we use those probabilities to our advantage. This is what allows a player to achieve the theoretical playback of a game.
It is an advantage because most players don’t play this way. Because of this, the casinos can off the games with a relatively high payback, knowing they can rely on human error to pad their profits. For the players who play according to the math, they have the advantage of being able to play to the theoretical payback over the long run.
Mastering video poker takes some significant effort. The strategy is complex and learning whether to hold the Low Pair or the 4-card Straight is merely one example of a strategy where if you play by what you think is right that may in fact be quite wrong.
The good news is thanks to guys like me, the toughest part of learning the strategy (creating it) has already be done for you. The next step is learning that strategy and putting it to practical use.
We’ll save more of that for next week.

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I don’t always play for the best percentage and never for comps, but both matter and go hand in hand at times.
The small percentage of money you save by playing the right games can go a long way, like offering things you wouldn’t normally get and allowing you to play longer.
Most people I know love freebies from a casino or any business. I love them, too, but playing for freebies doesn’t always work out well for me so I don’t. That said, I keep comps in the back of my mind.
When I first visited casinos I used to only play craps and blackjack. I always thought these were the games that “men” play. A friend of mine used to get better offers from the casinos and he only played 25-cent video poker. This was before casinos increased the amount of video poker play needed to earn points. He played fast and he earned his comps.
No table game could match his speed and he taught me something that would change how I gamble in a casino. I learned video poker strategy and added it to my gaming repertoire.
I learned there is little strategy with slot machines, but I added them to the mix in the casino when video poker play was increased at most casinos. The combination of tables and machines earned me comps like it was my job.
Unlike my friend, I only play full pay video poker machines and high limit slot machines, which return more money than pennies. I was playing video poker longer than my friend because of the slight percentage advantage in the games.
I was playing the right blackjack games and earned a couple percentage points advantage over the casino. This allowed me to spend some time playing more mindless games, with a larger house advantage, in the casino because I was saving a few percentage points by playing the other games.
The combination of playing smarter games allows me to play longer in the casino than most of my friends. It also allows me not to worry about my advantage when they want to play games with a larger house edge. Ultimately, the money evens out.
If played correctly, the extra percentage points I save by playing smart games allows me to play longer, which will allow me to earn better comps than my friends. I’m not playing for the comps but I’ll take them.
Those few percentage points you can save allow you to be a little more frivolous with your game play when you want. It also allows you to earn an extra complimentary lunch.
Seriously, who doesn’t want lunch that’s paid for by someone else?

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Up to now my column has focused on live keno but I am aware many readers like to play video keno as well.
Video keno, though, has one major weakness and that is lack of the ability to play most way tickets – until now. There is 3-6-9 keno, 2-4-6-8 keno, 7-way keno (groups of 4-3-2 playing all ways), and a few others.
Way ticket keno is, of course, possible for home use. Masque has a program (costs about $30) that allows you to write any way ticket up to 9 total spots per game by actually circling the numbers on your PC. But in the casino your choices to play ways on video keno are limited.
But the advent of 20-card keno makes “ways” possible. Here is an example of how to do a way ticket. The source used is Bill Holmes excellent book, “Keno Book of Ways” (out of print now, but accessible online).
You need to find a way combination that will have 20 ways, using each possibility as of one your tickets on 20-card keno. We will use a 10-spot grouped as 4-2-1-1-1-1, which has one 10, four 9’s, seven 8’s and eight 7’s for a total of 20 total ways.
The 20-card keno uses letters to separate each ticket, thus you have tickets A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T. But don’t worry about remembering your ABC’s as the letters are shown clearly on the screen.
To make things simple the 10 numbers we choose are 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60. The group of 4 will be the numbers 51, 52, 53, 54. The group of 2 will be the numbers 55, 56. The four groups of 1 (kings) will be the numbers 57, 58, 59, 60. Each of these last four numbers is its own group of one.
You press the screen on each letter and then you input the numbers for that ticket. Continue doing this for each group. Ready? Here’s how it goes!
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60 (group of 10) (4-2-1-1-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 (group of 9) (4-2-1-1-1-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60 (group of 9) (4-2-1-1-0-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 60 (group of 9) (4-2-1-0-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60 (group of 9) (4-2-0-1-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 59, 60 (group of 8) (4-0-1-1-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 (group of 8) (4-2-1-1-0-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59 (group of 8) (4-2-1-0-1-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 60 (group of 8) (4-2-1-0-0-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59 (group of 8) (4-2-0-1-1-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60 (group of 8) (4-2-0-1-0-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 60 (group of 8) (4-2-0-0-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 (group of 7) (4-2-1-0-0-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58 (group of 7) (4-2-0-1-0-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59 (group of 7) (4-2-0-0-1-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 60 (group of 7) (4-2-0-0-0-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 59 (group of 7) (4-0-1-1-1-0)
51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 60 (group of 7) (4-0-1-1-0-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 59, 60 (group of 7) (4-0-1-0-1-1)
51, 52, 53, 54, 58, 59, 60 (group of 7) (4-0-0-1-1-1)
The above groups would be exactly the same as playing the same numbers, grouped the same way, in live keno. Due to the nature of video 20-card keno we have to bet each separate group. It is similar to lottery keno where to play ways you need a separate play slip (ticket) written for each “way.”
One caution here though. Video keno is MUCH faster than live keno. Thus, the suggestion is play for less or a lower coin denomination to avoid a streak of bad luck that could empty out your wallet faster than your comfort level.
As always, play only what you can afford to lose and make sure to put in your slot card prior to play.
Unless some of these video tickets are on a progressive, you should get the same amount, proportionately, for betting fewer coins. It is the same as being able to play ways for a lower rate (with pays adjusted accordingly percentagewise) in live keno.
This methodology also works for those who like to play for fun on the excellent website videopoker.com. While the site is mainly for video poker enthusiasts, they also have several types of video keno you can play for free, even on the basic level. For a small monthly fee you can upgrade to the Silver and Gold levels respectively to bypass seeing ads and to get more features. This site is excellent practice play for when you get to the casinos.
Let me know how this method of playing “ways” on video keno works for you. Best of luck to you, and may your spots come in SOLID!

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Video poker machines have been popular in Las Vegas since their introduction in the 1970s, and are a staple of casino revenue. For the casual player they can be appealing because they present an opportunity to play poker for real money without the intimidating atmosphere around a poker table. For more serious players, video poker has one of the lowest house edges to be found and with the right pay table and a sound use of strategy, the advantage can actually be in the player’s favour (albeit only slightly).
Although all video poker machines are essentially a version of draw poker there are a growing number of variations; at last count, there were 56 different types of video poker games on offer in Las Vegas, and literally hundreds of different titles. From the traditional 9/6 Jacks or Better game, to the extravagantly-named Double Bonus Super Triple Play, these variations can be subtle or dramatic with each requiring a distinct strategy and approach to playing (see this full list of video poker machines from Lasvegasadviser).
Video poker can be played at a level to suit most bankroll sizes, although the number of machines in Vegas offering a coin size smaller than 25¢ are diminishing. Nevertheless, there are still games with a coin size as low as 5¢ while games offering $100 coin size are common. Almost every video poker machine gives the option of playing between 1 - 5 coins on each hand, but when choosing a game to suit your bankroll it’s important to remember that the biggest jackpots are only available when playing the maximum number of coins.
Video poker games also offer progressive jackpots, where machines are linked and a percentage of each losing hand contributes to a potentially unlimited jackpot that continues growing until someone on a networked machine hits a Royal Flush. These can grow rapidly, and have substantive effect on both payout percentage and strategy as they increase in size.
For the casual visitor to Vegas, or someone not overly familiar with casinos, there might not appear to be much difference between playing video poker or slots. However the differences are substantial, both in terms of how the games are played and the potential returns.
Superficially similar in appearance, and having some points in common such as progressive jackpots and variable coin sizes, there are ultimately few similarities between video poker and slots. Both games may run on a RNG, but there is nothing random about playing video poker successfully. It’s a game that rewards strategy, thought and practice, while playing slots leaves players with very few choices to make and almost nothing they can do to influence the outcome of a spin or game.
Given the technology involved and the nature of the game, it was unsurprising when video poker became one of the first land-based casino games to migrate successfully online, where it is just as popular as it is in Vegas. There are some distinct advantages to be gained, however, from playing online.
One of the biggest complaints about recent video poker developments in Las Vegas is the significant reduction in the number of full pay games (games where optimum play can see a payout percentage of slightly over 100%) that casinos offer, much to the chagrin of full-time and committed players who now have to spend increasingly large amounts of time searching out machines with favourable pay tables. Playing online removes that frustration, in that there is no need to search for rewarding games—they are always available and easily accessible.
There is greater consistency in pay tables online too. It’s not uncommon in Vegas to find two identical machines next to each other, one offering 9/6 JoB, the other offering 8/5. Online video poker doesn’t have these variations within the same title, and this is also applies to payout percentages. Without the overheads and running costs of a land-based casino, it’s not uncommon for an online casino to have a payout percentage of 99.8% across all of its video poker games, not just a few, and this means that the
House edge is reduced right across the board when you play online - see this article on online video poker for a more detailed explanation.
At the same time however variety can be a virtue when it comes to seeking out new games and variations, and again online casinos have the edge over its Vegas rival offering a much bigger choice of gams. The quality of game play is also generally better online, with superior graphics and sound quality as is to be expected from casinos who do all of their business in the virtual world.

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I often look for the best returning games in the casino. Whether I play them or not depends on where the day (or night) takes me.
It’s common knowledge penny slots return less money to the player than higher limits games. The smart approach to slot machines is to play the highest limit game you can afford. However, the wind doesn’t always guide you toward the smartest slot machine plays in the casino.
Sometimes it’s fun to play the penny slots because of the loud noises and bright lights. Sometimes penny slots are a nice way to ease into the gaming day at the casino.
Every state’s gaming commission has minimum returns a casino (or other gaming establishment like a bar) must adhere to for slot games. Slot games consist of slot machines, video poker and keno machines.
Video poker returns are typically in the 90% range while video keno usually has some of the lowest returns in a casino. Slot machines, even penny slots, are somewhere in the middle.
Since slot machines are controlled by a random number generator chip there really isn’t a specific correct strategy that works when playing penny slots. There isn’t a specific strategy because the results of each spin on a slot machine are random.
That said, there is one piece of strategy/advice for any penny slot player to maximize their returns. Always play the maximum bet to qualify for a bonus. While that advice is great it can get expensive on certain games, so you’ll want to pay attention to the rules of the games.
Some of the penny machines can have a max bet near $5 per spin. That may not be what you want, or expect, when playing a penny slot. Read the buttons because you may not have to play the maximum wager to qualify for a bonus.
Some games, like Wizard of Oz, will allow you to qualify for the bonus based on 2 credits per line, which is 80 cents for 40 lines. Sure, you can wager 5 credits or $2 per spin if you want to – but you don’t have to.
Every slot machine is different so make sure you pay attention to the buttons to know what you have to wager in order to maximize your returns. Play whatever you’re comfortable with, and if that’s $5 per spin, have a good time!
When playing penny slots I will often play with a min-max strategy, which is simply wagering the least amount to qualify for a bonus round. This will ensure maximizing returns on the specific game.
The min-max strategy is great for easing into the morning by sipping coffee while playing the nine-line Top Dollar penny slot. That’s only 9 cents per spin and I qualify for a bonus. That’s smart, cheap and fun!

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