A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

26 January 2012

Q. At the Atlantic City casinos there is a Let It Ride side bet known as the three card bonus. What is your opinion of this bet? Should this bet be made or is it best to avoid it?

A. There are several different pay tables on the three-card bonus bet. The most common brings you even money on a pair, 3-1 on a flush, 6-1 on a straight, 30-1 on three of a kind, 40-1 on a straight flush and 50-1 on a mini royal consisting of A-K-Q of the same suit. At that pay table, the house edge is 7.1%, making it a bet I'd avoid.

On his wizardofodds.com site, Michael Shackelford lists five pay tables for the game, giving the house edge for each. The best one has the same paybacks listed above except on flushes where it pays 4-1 instead of 3-1. That reduces the house edge to 2.14%, making it a playable option. That might be of particular interest for you as an Atlantic City player, since Shackelford says the only place he has seen that pay table is the Borgata.

Q. The end of 2010 and all of 2011 was an exceptional time for me in video poker. I hit seven royal flushes in that period. I was close to the 40,000 hand "royal flush cycle" in that period, and according to the Poisson distribution, the chances of hitting seven royals in a single cycle is about .0073%.

I want over my career statistics, and since 1999, when I began playing $1 video poker, I have played close to one million hands of video poker. My totals so far: $20,400 down in raw totals, with 21 royal flushes. In that time I have received about $48,000 in cash and casino comps. Since I have been playing 9/6 Jacks Or Better exclusively, my raw totals are right in line with $5 million in coin-in and the 99.5% return on the game.

With these totals, I've realized that I have gotten as much out of the game as I can. It is now time to leave video poker for good. When I started, it took almost two years to get my first royal flush. After that, it took another year of play to get the second royal flush. In that time, I've fallen behind by as much as $30,000 in the game. That was a bad run. I've now gotten a great run to "balance it out."

With the great variance that comes with video poker, I don't want to go through these ups and downs again. If I had to do it over again, I would have learned to play no-limit poker sooner. Sure, I'll miss the comps, but I'll be better for it.

A. This e-mail came in January from a long-time reader who has written to me often, almost from the beginning of this column in 1994. His mention of the variance in video poker came at an interesting time, since I'd just had an online discussion with a blackjack/craps player who had read something on house edges on video poker. He said he had just dismissed the game out of hand, figuring it was a machine game that would rob him blind, but needed to take a fresh look since he learned there are positive games.

I warned that while a 99.5% payback in video poker is the same as a half-percent house edge in a six-deck blackjack game with ordinary rules, the route we take to get there is much different. Roughly 2% of our long-term payback in video poker is tied up in those rare royals, leaving a game with many more losing sessions than winners. Blackjack is closer to being an even-keel game, while video poker is a wild ride of big wins and fast losses.

That's something every video poker player needs to understand before committing to any serious play. You're going to lose more often than you win. Even for a frequent player, there can be entire years with no royals. And there can be years in which you hit several more royals than the average. Big wins balance frequent losses, but as this e-mailer found, it can take a LONG time with wild bankroll swings to reach that balance.

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This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.
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