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# Have screwdriver, will gamble

11 August 2003

Dear Mark,
When I'm at a video poker machine, I sometimes hear people say that these particular machines are looser (sometimes tighter) than some of the other video poker machines they have played. If every game uses a 52-card deck, how can a video poker game be any different than any other machine? Shouldn't the odds all be the same at every machine? Tom T.

Youbetcha. Random is random, but sneaky is also sneaky. You identify tightness or looseness of a video poker machine by standing tall in front of it, introducing yourself with a smiling hello, and INSPECTING THE MACHINE'S PAY TABLE. The sneaky-peeky, that's called. Memorize that. The pay table reveals what the casino pays for a pair of jacks or better, two pairs, threes-of-a-kind, flushes, a full house, etc. Math laws set the odds, but the accountant sets the price.

Take your standard jacks or better machines, for instance. A 6/5 pay table (6 coins returned for a full house, 5 for a flush, with one coin inserted) would be considered tight, no, very tight; whereas a 9/6 machine (9 for a full house, 6 for a flush, with one coin inserted) would be considered loose.

If you were playing on an 8/5 machine (8 coins returned for a full house, 5 for a flush with one coin inserted) you'd be giving the house an additional 3% edge over what they'd get from a 9/6 machine. You see, Tom, random surely is random, but a slight alteration on the pay table brings that sharp grin to the face of the casino owner.
Another example — the key to evaluating the potential return on the very popular Deuces Wild machine is the payoff on four-of-a-kind. If that hand is paid out at 20 for 5, with one coin inserted, rather than 25 for 5, the machine is considered tight. Why? Well, fours-of-a-kind occur frequently, and this lower payoff drops your percentage return by well over 6%. Ouch!

But with your own mental screwdriver, you can tinker even that machine into the loosest cow in the casino. With maximum coin play and perfect strategy, a five-coin return for four-of-a-kind gives you a slight edge against the house — a 100.76% return versus 94.34% if the machine returns just four coins.

As illustrated above, Tom, with a modest mental toolkit, you can create your own loose and tight machines.

Dear Mark,
Since you love to slam my favorite game of keno all the time, how's about your views on bingo, especially as played in casinos. Ray D.

When you are down to your last fiver, trying to score free hooch, perhaps even needing a place to sleep, the keno parlor can seem a gambler's oasis. But, when you need a calculator zapping out exponential notations just to figure out the payoffs, even you might get a bit crusty on good old keno.

But, when it comes to playing bingo, Ray, bingo can be sound gambling. Yep, you're reading it right; that was no misprint.

Bingo is one game the casino offers that generally operates as a loss-leader for the house. Casinos can actually show a net loss for bingo by paying out more in guaranteed prizes than they take in. If you think \$5 is a hefty price for a buy-in, try any special non-cash game — yes, FREE — that some casinos occasionally advertise.
Yo, keno players, are you hearing this? Bingo does offer a great return and is a nice, relaxing change of pace when you're on a losing streak and need to slow your losses.

Gambling quote of the week: "Video poker is here to stay, and if it is here to stay then it is taking in far more money than it's giving out." —Rob Singer, gaming author.