Giving Players The Edge – Video Poker
A new type of player-friendly progressive video poker offers unique rewards
By Henry Tamburin
“By the time this article is published, there will have been more huge progressive jackpots hit at the M Resort than the rest of Vegas sees in a year.”
With many casinos downgrading their good video poker pay schedules and/or cutting back on their promotions and mailers, it’s refreshing to see a popular casino take the bold step of installing a different type of progressive machine—one boasting returns that most of the time will exceed 100% (meaning, it’s a positive expectation game for players).
These impressive new machines are the brainchild of video poker experts Frank Kneeland and Bob Dancer (Kneeland is the author of the book The Secret World of Video Poker, and Dancer is the author of Video Poker For the Intelligent Beginner). The following is an interview I conducted with Kneeland about these new player-friendly games.
Note: The payout for a royal flush on a progressive machine increases incrementally as players play the game. The rate at which the progressive meter increases is set by the casino (it’s usually a percentage of the amount wagered; for example, a 1% meter rise means $1 is added to the jackpot for every $100 bet or coin-in). The casino sets the jackpot initially at 4,000 coins ($1,000 for a quarter-denomination machine, or $4,000 for a dollar).
Frank, in a nutshell, what’s so special about these new machines?
These machines contain eight video poker games. They were installed at the beautiful M casino in Henderson, NV (about a 20-minute drive from the Strip, heading south). Even though the games have a low return at the reset (the amount of the royal flush after it has been hit), they’re programmed for a very fast meter rise, meaning it will not take much play before the games have a positive return.
The idea for these new progressive machines wasn’t completely original and was based on a mistake another casino had made. What Bob and I did was retool the concept and morph the basic idea into something sustainable and pitch-able to a casino. Between the bragging rights and marketing opportunities it offers, we turned a mistake into a super great idea.
What’s the meter rise on these machines?
It’s a 4% meter rise, meaning for every dollar wagered, the meters progress four cents. In addition, the money that funds the jackpot is evenly split between the eight different games. Therefore, for each $2 wagered, the meter on each game goes up a penny. If you don’t know how big a deal this is, it’s hard to give a brief explanation, so I’ll use an industry standard to give you an idea. The M’s progressive goes up roughly four times faster than the next best progressive machine in Las Vegas. Got it? So it’s not just better…it’s much better.
Here’s one more point to keep in mind. The value of a progressive is defined by its ability to exceed 100% return, and though linked to its meter rise, the value increase is non-linear and logarithmic. A progressive with four times as much meter-rise is not merely four-times better. It might exceed 100% return as much as 200 times more often. For example, doing a mathematical analysis for the V (or Value) rating for 6/5 Bonus Poker yielded a difference of 183 times better with four times the progression. The equation to calculate V is in my book.
How exactly does a player benefit from this 4% meter rise, when it’s applied equally to the eight-progressive games?
The primary benefit to players is that the bank of progressive machines in this format is a sustainable venture for the casino. Even though edges (positive returns) will be available occasionally, or even often when players come to M to play the high meter, the casino puts them to work pumping up the low meters as well, leaving another jackpot for a potential player on the next shift to hit. In the past, with a classic single-meter progressive, the person hitting a high jackpot leaves nothing behind for the next player, creating long periods where the meter is unplayable to the large majority of discerning video poker players. A machine that is always in the player’s favor is great for the player, but a detriment to the casino and they wouldn’t tolerate that for long. The big advantage for the player with these new progressives at M is that these machines have the potential to last a long time.
Which video poker games are on these new machines?
There are eight games on them. I’ve listed them below along with their base return (BR) at reset, and the break even (BE) points at a quarter and a dollar denomination. (The BE is the exact dollar amount of the royal flush where the return equals 100%. When the amount of the jackpot exceeds the BE, the return on the game is positive for the player.)
|Game||BR||BE 25 cents||BE $1|
|6/5 Bonus Poker||96.87%||$2,350||$9,400|
|6/5 Super Double Bonus||96.87%||$2,350||$9,450|
|8/5 Double Double Bonus||96.79%||$2,400||$9,500|
|16/13 Deuces Wild||96.77%||$2,600||$10,400|
|15/7 Kings-or-Better Joker Wild||96.74%||$2,700||$10,850|
|9/6/4 Double Bonus||96.38%||$2,550||$10,100|
|7/5 Bonus Poker||96.25%||$2,600||$10,350|
Notice that the base returns are very low at reset. Usually, only clueless players will play video poker games with such a low return. Even though there are many clueless players, in the past it still took a while for the amount of the royal flush to build up. However, that’s not the case with the new progressive machines at M.
Have your games been a hit so far? Are players scoring some big royal flushes?
Within the first two weeks, three $4,000+ royal flushes were hit for quarter denomination; several more royals were hit over $3,000; and there even more in the $2,000+ range. By the time this article is published, there will have been more huge progressive jackpots hit at the M than the rest of Vegas sees in a year. Moreover, the best part is that a bunch of people playing these games doesn’t mean the big jackpot will be gone when you get there. It just means you might have to switch games to take advantage of whatever game has the highest royal flush. It’s like the mythical hydra—cut one head off, and two grow back.
Is it fair to say that if player visits M, he can expect to find at least one of these games when it’s above the break-even point and has a positive return?
The times that I’ve visited M, there has been at least one game with an over 100% return. I think it would be very safe to say your chance of finding a 100%+ progressive at any given time is better at the M than anywhere else currently in Las Vegas (or any place else for that matter). This is the fastest-rising progressive video poker machine in Las Vegas. (This excludes the quarter full-pay deuces wild progressive machines at the Palms, which also have a 100% return at reset but the meter rise is very slow and not eligible for promotions. Progressives like these are always good, but never great.)
How is the casino making money on these games?
Simple: strategy errors. Have you tried to play eight different progressive games perfectly, changing frequently between them? It’s not easy. However, there’s enough overlay in these new machines that it’s possible for many players, even if they don’t play with 100% accuracy, to be playing the best deal in town. I think it’s nothing short of amazing that a casino has put in machines where if you play well, you’ll do well. It should be hard, and the casino should make money off those who aren’t dedicated [to playing accurately]. If it was simple, everyone could do it and the game would be non-viable.
Are the playing strategies for these games difficult to learn?
Not any harder than the non-progressive versions of the same games. It’s just different. What’s hard is remembering all of them and changing between them in mid-session. For me, it’s really fun and challenging. I love it because it’s the first time I’ve had to pay attention and think in awhile.
What’s one of the biggest mistakes a player can make when playing these progressives?
I hope and pray your readers know better than to play a progressive in such a way that they won’t be eligible to hit the progressive. This means you should always play max coin. The biggest mistake I think people might be prone to making on this bank is playing their favorite game, rather than the one that has the highest return when they are there. For example, I saw someone hit the Double Bonus Poker for $2,300 (25 cents) when they could have hit the Joker Wild for $4,300. I consider that a big mistake.
How many of these progressive machines does M have, what are the denominations, and where are they located?
There are 10 dollar and 20 quarter games. They are located near the center of the casino, and have signs on them with the words, “Maximum Royals” in large letters. Soon, they will have an overhead meter that will clearly show the amount of the progressive jackpots.
How high do you expect the returns to go on these games?
It will fluctuate a bit. The highest I’ve seen so far is a 104.5% return. However, a 101+% return should be a daily occurrence. (Getting single points from the slot club plus the addition rise of the meter when you play adds about 0 .8% to what ever the base-return is when you sit down and play.)
Do you expect other casinos across the U.S. to follow M’s lead and install similar progressive machines with fast-rising meters that will have a positive return for players most of the time?
I do, and I expect variations on this theme. For example, 98% return games with 2% meter rise or 92% return games with 8% meter rise, etc. Starting out with any game and bringing the total return up to 100% with a fast meter-rise, with the casinos making their money solely from the strategy errors, seems like a very enlightened concept that should please players and casinos alike.
Is there anything else a player needs to know about these new progressive machines?
When the amount of the royal flush gets high, a player should be going after the royal flush aggressively, meaning the playing strategy will alter. Bob and I will discuss these strategy changes on our radio show, and I will be publishing the strategies for these new high-progressive games in my video poker column in the Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com). Players should also be aware of the high variance on these high-progressive games; therefore, between royals you could lose a lot of money very quickly. What this means is that you’ll need to have enough bankroll to survive the swings (and enough bankroll to hit that first royal flush). Higher returns lowers risk of ruin, but larger infrequent jackpots raises variance, making these games better but different. For example, losing $3,000 to win $4,000 is a perfectly reasonable profitable situation as long as you have $3,000 to lose.
Is there anything else you want to add about these new progressive machines?
Well…you are missing a very high royal flush jackpot right now, as you read this. For those interested, Bob Dancer and I will announce the amount of the royal flush on these games every Thursday on our Las Vegas-based radio show (www.klav1230am.com, 7-8 p.m. Pacific Time). However, don’t wait to hear it from us on the radio; you should assume a big jackpot is available all the time. You can’t keep a good man or the M’s new progressive down for long.
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the smartgaming.com website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit www.bjinsider.com/free). For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog that contains training products for video poker players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at smartgaming.com.
Giving Players The Edge – Video Poker.