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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

11 August 2011

Q. Playing video poker, seven to nine times, I had a possible diamond flush, and, seven to nine times, a spade appeared. Where were the diamonds, clubs and hearts? The odds of this happening seem astronomical. Do you still think that poker machines are random, as you once stated?

A. Video poker machines are random. Streaks like the ones you mentioned are not only possible, they are inevitable.

Actually, a spade will appear on the draw an average of 1 in 3.92 times if your original fifth card was a spade, 1 in 3.62 if it was a heart or club. If it was a heart or a club, you will get a spade on seven consecutive draws an average of once per 8,146 trials. If it was a spade, the average would be once per 14,223 trials. Most likely, you had a mix, with a couple of fifth-card spades, the rest hearts or clubs. That would bring the probability to somewhere in between, 1 in 10,000 or so.

That's hardly astronomical. In fact, given the millions of trials played on video poker machines every day, streaks like that happen to someone every day — to several someones, in fact — just by normal, random chance. You happened to be the someone on that particular day.

One thing I learned early on in analyzing these days is not to pay much attention to short-term streaks. Streaks happen. They're normal, random and not at all predictive. If you'd charted out 300 sessions, and every session had a streak like that, I'd say you had something. But what would actually happen in charting out sessions over a long period is that you'd draw your flush card something close to the normal expectation of once per 5.2 trials. In any single session, anything can happen, even drawing a spade 7 or 9 times in a row.

Q. What is your opinion of the Video Lottery Terminals being used to play video poker at the racinos in New York? I learned from the New York State Lottery Commission that the payout percentage for video poker on VLT machines to be 92%.

A. As I'm sure you've realized, the game you're playing on a New York VLT isn't really video poker. You're playing a lottery game, and the video poker cards are just shown to you as a representation on the lottery game that's already been played as soon as you push the button. It's as if you're drawing a lottery scratch-off card from the top of a stack. Whatever is on that card is what you'll get.

Your decisions on a VLT make no real difference. On video poker machines with random number generators, when you discard a card, it's equally probable for any of the remaining 47 cards to turn up as a replacement. You can calculate odds and strategies, and your strategies make a real difference in your return.

On a New York VLT, your final result already has been determined by your lottery result, and your strategy makes no difference whatsoever. Should you make a mistake on the draw of what is meant to be a winning hand, VLTs can be programmed to fix it — a genie or a wizard or some other host symbol magically turns your hand to the winner it should have been.

If you choose to play, understand that you're getting a game of pure chance where strategy makes no difference, and all the things you've read about percentages and strategies in video poker do not apply to New York VLT games.

Q. We sometimes walk up to a machine that has credits from a previous player. Is there a general rule regarding credits a previous player has left in a video poker or slot machine?

A. Some casinos claim that any abandoned credits belong to them. But I've had employees at others point me to machines that have credits on them. It seemed like a nice customer service touch when a slot attendant pointed to a game and said, "You should start there. It still has some credits."

Wait a few minutes and make sure the machine has really been abandoned, but it's pretty common for other players just to play off abandoned credits.

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

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John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.