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# When to play progressive video poker

4 September 2014

One of the decisions video poker players have to confront is when to play a progressive machine. The starting point is doing a quick calculation of expected returns, if you know the games and are up for a little arithmetic.

On most video poker games, royals account for about 2 percent of the overall return. That’s not an exact figure – it’s 1.98 percent given expert play on 9-6 Jacks or Better, 1.96 percent on 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, and so on.

But the 2 percent assumption enables a quick calculation. On a quarter video poker machine that has a base value of \$1,000 for a royal flush, you can add a percent for each extra \$500 in the royal jackpot, or about a tenth of a percent for each \$50.

It’s a formula I put to good use on a July evening when my wife Marcy and I headed off for casino fun. Our pattern is to start by playing penny slots together – we are there to have fun together, after all. She has some favorites, including Wolf Run and video versions of Goldfish, and she’s up for trying new games.

When exploring the casino takes us to a video poker area, we’ll separate for a bit. Marcy likes to play video poker on a computer for free, but doesn’t like betting \$1.25 at a time on a quarter machine. I have no such qualms.

I knew exactly which video poker machine I wanted to play. It had 10-6 Double Double Bonus, a 99.96 percent return with expert play, along with 8-5 Super Aces (99.94), Not So Ugly Deuces Wild (99.73) and other goodies.

Alas, it was occupied, and the other machines didn’t have games near that caliber. I was left to decide among the likes of 9-6-5 Double Bonus Poker (97.8 percent) and 7-5 Bonus Poker (98.0 percent).

Another game in that range is 9-5 Double Double Bonus, a 97.9 percent game with expert play. Double Double Bonus is a higher volatility game than Double Bonus, and much higher than Bonus Poker. That’s because it has more of its return tied up in big hands, especially the 2,000-coin return for a five-coin bet when you draw four Aces plus a 2, 3 or 4 of the kicker. Double Bonus’ quad payoffs max out at 800 coins on four Aces, while paying more on more frequent hands such as flushes and straights in the available versions. Bonus Poker is a low volatility, extended time on device game because of its 2-for-1 payoffs on two pairs, double the return I’d get on the other two games.

What swung the decision for me was that Double Double Bonus had a progressive jackpot, and the other two didn’t. On this night, the jackpot stood at a little more than \$1,500 and I knew that increased the overall theoretical return by about a percent. Instead of being a decision based on preference in volatility, there was a very clear percentage advantage to playing Double Double Bonus.

Of course, that extra percent is all tied up in royal flush possibilities, and when royals don’t come, you’re getting a much lower return.

Luck was with me. I was dealt a Jack, Queen and Ace of clubs, then drew the King and 10. An attendant brought me \$1,513.50, with most of it in a check, and a form for me to autograph to make sure Uncle Sam gets his share.

I took out my phone to text Marcy with the good news, and had typed “Royal!” It was to be a one-word message, but before I could hit “send,” she was standing beside me, ooohing and aaahing over the J-Q-K-10-A on my screen, in that order. She didn’t stay long, though. Non-progressive royals go straight onto the credit meter nowadays, but with progressives of more than \$1,200 you have to wait for an attendant to unlock the machine. About the fourth time through the celebratory music, Marcy decided her time was better spent on Wolf Run than in waiting for my payout.

Normally, by the way, I’d have written this just as a tip on calculating progressive royals’ effect on paybacks, and left Marcy out -- she likes it better that way most of the time, but understands the need to personalize these things.

However, on the way out, she collected a progressive jackpot of her own. A Price Is Right slot caught her eye, and within three spins she went to the Plinko bonus, released her disk, and saw it bounce from peg to peg down to the mini jackpot spot. Her prize: \$17.41.

“This means my name is going in, doesn’t it?” she said. And we left to find a royal-worthy dinner.

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Best of John Grochowski
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.