Who Pays for the Video Poker Bonuses?
by Alan Krigman
Video poker fans who enjoy games with no wild cards are being tantalized by new machines offering bonuses for four-of-a-kind. The old standbys we knew and loved returned 25-for-1 for any quads. Along came bonus babies boasting 80-for-1 for four aces, 40-for-1 for four twos through fours, and 25-for-1 for four of anything else. Next, double bonus games paid twice as much for the corresponding hands. Now, there are triple bonuses at 240-for-1, 120-for-1, and 75-for-1 for the same results. Double and triple whammy games also escalate full house and flush payments.
Specific pay schedules for the three types of machines vary among jurisdictions and joints, depending on factors like the whims and generosity of the casino bosses. The table below shows payouts on three such games in one of Atlantic City's posh punting palaces.
Appearances are deceiving and coupons for all-you-can-eat buffets abound. Still, everyone knows that nothing in a casino is really free. Certainly not the extra money returned on flushes, full houses, and especially quads at multiple bonus video poker. A glance at the payout tables shows just where Peter is robbed to pay Paul. Single bonus 25-40-80 machines return 2-for-1 on two pair, while double and triple bonus games pay only 1-for-1. And while single and double bonus versions both return 1-for-1 with pairs of Jacks or better, Jacks and Queens lose on the triple bonus game and only paired Kings and Aces get 1-for-1.
The usual way to compare slot machines involves "payback percentage." This is the fraction of all money wagered that's returned to players. With the indicated returns, the paybacks are 96.77 percent for single bonus, 97.23 percent for double bonus, and 95.33 percent for triple bonus. Players get the most back on these double bonus games, less on single, and least on triple.
Payback percentage isn't readily apparent from round to round. And small payback differences seem more important to the Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevskiis than the video poker buffs of the world.
A more intuitive way to compare machines involves the tendency for most solid citizens to go for the gold and not quit 'til they get it or their money runs out. This means they want as long a session and as many tries at a big score as their stakes can buy.
This is the gambler's survival criterion. And it highlights the cost of shaving the low end to boost the high. Say a bunch of bettors start with $250 and never hit more than a full house. Betting five quarters, an average of 85 percent will survive at least 1,070 rounds on single bonus, 710 rounds on double bonus, and 500 rounds on triple bonus. Betting five dollars, longevity drops to 192, 130, and 95 rounds on the respective machines.
Of players who aim higher, the many who miss therefore finance the few who succeed. Does this imply you should avoid games with bonus payouts? Or that if your bankroll is $250, you have to play the quarter and not the dollar machines? Not necessarily. It's a matter of your personal preferences and proclivities.
For instance, since you're playing video poker, it stands to reason you'd quit after winning 800-for-1 on a royal with five coins -- since this is the most you can hit on one round. If you won't also walk when you grab 50-for-1 for a rare straight flush, you may favor games featuring 240-for-1 or 160-for-1 on four aces. Conversely, if you know you'll sneak over to the cash or credit card terminal for extra money after your initial stake is depleted, maybe you should look for games where you can last the longest on whatever made sense before you left home. The muse of the machines, Sumner A Ingmark, said it like this:
adopting the wisest perspectives,
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