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# Playing It Smart: How much money do you need to play video poker?

16 June 2008

Sure. You can go to a casino flat broke, find a quarter on the floor, drop it into a slot machine, and enjoy a few hours of action on the way to a fortune. Back here on planet Earth, a 25-cent stake isn't apt to go very far. How much do you need to get a decent shot at staying in action and maybe emerging a winner?

The answer depends on many factors. Besides luck, of course, these are the game you choose, the size of your bets, and how you frame your goal as earnings or as the time you get to play.

Even so, the answer isn't as straightforward as you might wish. There's no way to decree "you must have X dollars," period. It's a matter of weighing probabilities. That is, at a designated game under one or another set of circumstances, you might balance 47 percent chance that \$50 will be enough for two hours against 62 percent chance that \$100 will suffice for this much time.

Here's an example. Make believe you play 25-cent jacks-or-better video poker at five coins per spin. And, say the machines in your friendly neighborhood casino with the lowest house advantage are "8/5" versions (payouts are 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes). The overall return on these games is 97.3 percent.

Assume you average six rounds per minute. With a \$50 bankroll, your chances of being in action are 33 percent after an hour, 22 percent after two hours, and 18 percent after three hours. With a \$100 bankroll, the probabilities increase to 62 percent for an hour, 44 percent for two hours, and 36 percent for three hours.

Turn the question around. How fat a fanny pack gives you 90 percent confidence of being in action for at least one, two, or three hours? Statistical analysis suggests that your stake should be \$180, \$260, or \$325, respectively.

Pretend you know where the casino hides some "9/6" jacks-or-better games. These return 99.5 percent. The improvement over 97.3 percent enhances your prospects of staying in action on a given budget. With a \$50 stake, the gain is from 33 to 36 percent for an hour, 22 to 26 percent for two hours, and 18 to 21 percent for three hours. With \$100, the increase is from 62 to 65 percent for an hour, 44 to 49 percent for two hours, and 36 to 41 percent for three hours. Likewise, to be 90 percent certain of surviving the respective periods, stakes called for in the higher-return games drop from \$182 to \$175, \$260 to \$250, and \$325 to \$305.

The patterns are similar for other video poker configurations. Volatility doesn't change much among the options you're liable to encounter. However, returns can vary by a few percentage points, and these can have a major impact on bankroll requirements.

For instance, one common kings-or-better version of joker poker pays 150-for-1 on five-of-a-kind, 80-for-1 on a wild royal, 50-for-1 on a straight flush, and 20-for-1 on four-of-a-kind; with optimal play, overall return is 98.4 percent. Another kings-or-better game pays 200-for-1 on five-of-a-kind, 100-for-1 on a wild royal, 50-for-1 on a straight flush, and 16-for-1 on four-of-a-kind; the optimal return on this game is less 95.7 percent.

On a \$100 bankroll, chances of survival on the 98.4 percent game are 59 percent for an hour, 43 percent for two hours, and 35 percent for three hours. With \$100 on the 95.7 percent machine, chances decrease to 54 percent for an hour, 37 percent for two hours, and 29 percent for three hours. To be 90 percent confident of being in action at least two hours, you'd need stakes of \$280 in the 98.4 percent game and \$310 in the 95.7 percent version.

These bankroll criteria exceed what most solid citizens guess for games involving small bets. Even on 9/6 machines, it takes over \$300 to be 90 percent certain of three hours' action. The culprit is the decision rate. Three hours is more than 1,000 rounds for most video poker buffs. At \$1.25 each, gross wager tops \$1,250. You'd risk as much in two hours at a \$10 blackjack table with six active spots. And, you may think \$1.25 is chump change but \$1,250 is real dough. The beloved bard, Sumner A Ingmark, put it thusly:

A mistake gamblers make causing loss of control,

Is forgetting the parts all add up to the whole.
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Best of Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.