But the editor here asked me to do some thinking 'outside the box' when it comes to playing slot machines and this article is the result. When you're finished, you may be just as surprised at my conclusions as I was.
The argument for playing video poker as opposed to playing slot machines is compelling. Based upon 'long-term' results, there's little doubt in my mind that the average video poker machine, when played properly, offers a better return on your gaming dollar than the average slot machine. That's primarily because video poker is a game of skill and the competitive situation amongst the casinos of the world -- be they Internet-based or brick-and-mortar operations -- has required the casinos to offer games with a very high return when compared to most slot machines, which are not games of skill. Casinos can offer relatively high return video poker games simply because most people don't play them skillfully, so the casino makes a profit from the players’ mistakes.
I can show you how to get the maximum return out of a video poker machine, but you need to remember that the maximum return may still be less than 100%. Any theoretical return of a video poker machine that's less than 100% means the casino has an edge over you, just as is does in Roulette, Baccarat or slot machines. The difference is that the casino's edge in a video poker game may be (but isn't always) comparatively small; in the neighborhood of 1% or so. Even by making a lot of mistakes, the average player can likely achieve a long-term return of over 97% when playing a good video poker game. By 'good', I mean a game like full-pay Jacks or Better, which is widely available on the Internet. This version of video poker offers a return of 99.54% if the player uses the proper playing strategy. That translates into a casino edge of about 0.50% which is similar to the average Blackjack game and is undoubtedly a lower edge than the average slot machine, which is typically 3-5% at best.
However, to effectively realize the total return of a video poker game one must, at one point or another, receive a Royal Flush and its cousin, the Straight Flush. These are rare; a Royal will come only once every 40,000 hands and a Straight Flush once every 9000 hands, on average. Because we're dealing with averages in a random game, there's nothing to stop you from getting a Royal on your very first hand, but it's not likely to happen. And the short-term lack of such hands alters the return you can expect when you play, say, 1000 hands of video poker, which is two or three hours of gaming. I don't want to get too involved with mathematics here, but the Royal Flush and Straight Flush add a total of 2.53% to the 99.54% return of the full-pay Jacks or Better video poker game that I mentioned earlier. Because it's not realistic to hit either a Royal or a Straight Flush during the course of 1000 hands of play, your return will likely be more in the area of 99.54% minus 2.53% or 97%. That translates into a 3% casino edge, which is not far removed from that of a good slot machine.
What is a 'good' slot machine? Well, I don't know, because they cannot be measured like a video poker game. But, just for discussion purposes, let's say we can identify a slot machine that has a long-term return of 97% (a 3% casino edge) and it requires 3 quarters per spin. Generally, a quarter video poker game will require 5 quarters per hand and both slots and video poker games can usually be played at a rate of about 400 spins or hands per hour. You can easily see that playing 400 spins on a slot machine at $.75 per spin means you'll be betting $300 per hour and playing 400 hands of video poker means you'll be betting $500 per hour. If the casino's edge, in the short-term, is 3% on each game, your expectation is to lose $12 per hour while playing the slot machine and $15 per hour when playing the video poker game, assuming you use the proper strategy.
Sure, if you're going to play on a regular basis, are willing to finance the inevitable losing sessions that are part and parcel of video poker and are willing to learn the proper playing strategy, then video poker is a better way to go, because your long-term results will likely be much better. But to many people, gaming is a form of relaxation or entertainment so I can’t blame those who'd rather play a slot than a video poker game, especially if you have a spare $20 that you want to gamble with. Throw in the fact that many slot machines -- primarily those without a progressive jackpot -- pay proportionately; that is, the return for one quarter played is one-third of the return for three quarters played, your $20 might get you several hours of entertainment. But unlike going to a movie, play or sporting event, this is entertainment that could see you walking away with a profit.
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