Does switching denominations during your video poker session affect your chances of winning?
by Bill Burton
Last week, while on a business trip in the South, I stopped by one of the casinos along the Mississippi River. I decided to play a little video poker, so I sat down at one of the multi-denomination/ multi-game machines. The first thing I do when I sit down at one of these machines is check out the denominations being offered. This particular machine had the option of playing for either quarters or dollars.
The next thing I do is to look at the games on the menu, and then compare the pay tables of each game to see if there is any difference in the payout based on the denomination of the game selected. In some casinos, there will be a lower pay schedule for lower-denomination games. The pay schedule turned out to be the same for the quarter and dollar games on this machine. As I ran through each game checking the pay schedules, it struck me how multi-game technology has made it easier so much easier for both players and casinos.
Years ago, each machine on the casino floor housed only a single game. If you wanted to play Jacks or Better, you had to try to hunt down a Jacks or Better machine that offered the denomination you wanted to play. If you wanted to change the denomination, or game, it would involve cashing out and walking across the casino to a different bank of machines.
From the casino’s standpoint, the major disadvantage with single game-machines was that they limited the amount of games that they could offer. A casino only had enough floor space to house X number of machines. And yet last week, the machine I played offered nine variations of video poker and four different video keno games, which I could play for quarters or dollars. So, this machine essentially replaced 30 single game machines. Obviously this technology has been a win/win for the casinos and the players, because you can switch games and denominations with the push of a button.
For some players, being able to switch denominations on the same machine will occasionally create confusion. I witnessed this when I was playing during my recent trip. I was sitting at one end of a three-bank machine and there was a man playing at the machine on the other end. The machine in the middle was empty. I was concentrating on my game and wasn’t paying attention to the other player. All of a sudden, he slammed his hand down on the counter of the empty machine and angrily shouted a curse.
I jumped up and looked over, expecting to see that he had narrowly missed a four royal or some other high-paying hand. To my surprise, I saw that he had just hit the royal flush. I congratulated him on his nice win. He cursed again, and said that he had just switched from dollars to quarters two hands ago—and if he had stayed with dollars, he would have had a $4,000 jackpot instead of “only” a thousand bucks.
I just shook my head and went back to my game. It had been a while since I’d gotten a royal, and I would have been thrilled with one at any denomination.
Hitting a jackpot after you switch to a lower denomination game does not mean that you would have hit it if you’d stayed playing the game at the higher denomination. Some video poker machines use a different program for each denomination game; others use the same. There is one way to tell if the machine you are playing uses the same program. The way to do this is to play a hand at one denomination and note the cards that were dealt after the hand is complete. Then switch the denomination of the game and see what cards are on that screen. If the cards are different, the machine is using a separate program. If the cards are the same, then it’s using the same program. Of course, this is only true if you compare the exact same game at different denominations. Deuces Wild, Joker Poker and other variations all use separate programs.
However, before you get upset if you hit a jackpot on a machine where the cards are the same, you have to realize that you probably would not have hit it if you’d kept playing at the higher denomination. This is because the machines have an internal computer chip that runs the Random Number Generator (RNG). The RNG is continuously cycling through numbers at lightning speed, even when the machine is not being played. When you hit the draw button, the RNG picks the combination of cards to be dealt at that particular microsecond. If you’d stayed playing at the higher denomination, it is extremely unlikely that you would have stopped the RNG at the exact time needed to display that same combination of numbers. In the time it takes to switch denominations to the new game, the RNG has cycled through thousands of combinations.
I didn’t try to explain this to the furious fellow who had just hit the royal, but after he left I did compare the quarter to dollar denominations—and found that this particular machine did indeed use the same program. I’m sure that if he knew that he would have been convinced that he missed “the big one.”
Incidentally, during that playing session I finally did hit a royal flush. And I was more than happy to take the win, even if I was only playing a quarter machine. That’s good enough for me.
Until next time, remember: luck comes and goes, but knowledge stays forever.
Bill Burton is the author of 1,000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets and Get the Edge at Low Limit Texas Hold’em, which are available online at www.billburton.com. He’s also an instructor for Golden Touch Craps: www.thecrapsclub.com
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