Gambling

It Might Not Scratch My Itch – Gambling With An Edge


I was walking through Sam’s Town here in Las Vegas on a Tuesday in June. The casino offers 10x points (worth 0.5%) for seniors on Tuesdays and I was scouting the place looking to see if anything might be of interest. Even after all these years, scouting is part of my routine.

I’ve been restricted from receiving mailers for more than a decade at all Boyd properties (including Sam’s Town), so anything I find has to be good enough by itself to be worthwhile, because there won’t be additional benefits coming down the road.

I came across a 50¢ (actually it was for quarters, but you had to bet 10 of them) 9/5 Double Double Bonus Poker bank where the progressive was at $4,600.

This is a pretty high number, given the royal starts at $2,000. As a general rule of thumb, 1,000 coins added to the royal adds about a half percent. This was 5,200 extra coins on a game that starts out at 97.8% approximately. I was sure the game was positive with no slot club at all, but on a day with a 0.5% club, it was clearly a good play.

I know the strategy approximately, but not exactly. I have not played this game with such a high progressive for some time, but I was aware of many of the adjustments. There was only one seat open on the bank of 10 machines, so if I wanted to have the option of playing this, I had to sit down now immediately. Which I did. If, after contemplation, I decided not to play the game I could always leave. But the seat would likely not remain open if I thought about it while standing up.

My problem was that I hadn’t played video poker for $2.50 a game or less for a couple of decades!  No matter how positive the game is at these stakes, this is not the game I wish to be playing.

Some people can go back and forth between denominations easily enough, but there is a psychological aspect to it as well. Playing this game for $5 coins would have been interesting to me. Playing it for 50¢ coins, not so much.

Still, I regularly play dollar games these days, which I didn’t do a few years ago. Simply put, my welcome at casinos isn’t universal and the casinos with good $5 and higher games in Las Vegas are mostly not interested in my action. Since there are some good dollar games around, I play them.

Also, sometimes I play slots for 75¢ or 80¢ a hand, although usually faster than I play video poker. That isn’t the first denomination I seek out, but sometimes that’s where the advantage is this time. So, if I sometimes play for these stakes, clearly $2.50 a hand is not beneath me.

I found myself hoping nobody I knew saw me playing these stakes. They might conclude “Bob lost all his bankroll and now must play for lower stakes,” which isn’t the case at all. My initial feeling was one of embarrassment. Nobody spoke to me in a way that indicated they recognized me. But I’m writing about it here, so obviously I no longer feel the need to keep it a secret.

One man two seats down from me kept looking at me as though he might recognize me. (I didn’t recognize him, but more than 100,000 students have gone through one or more of my classes over the past 30+ years and I don’t recognize them all.) Possibly, he thought it was me but wasn’t sure. Possibly, he remembered me from somewhere and couldn’t figure out how he knew me. I was basically silent, so I didn’t give away clues that way.

As I was pounding away, the players around me were different from what I was used to. When I’m playing a positive game, I’m looking to play quickly — because time is money. Among strong players, this behavior is typical. Older ladies on both sides of me would watch the credits add up when they hit a full house or higher. I would “slam” the button causing the credits to add up instantly. They were averaging perhaps 400 hands per hour while I was playing more than twice that.

Possibly these people were on some team, paid by the hour. Possibly they just saw the $4,600 number, which they recognized as being at possibly an all-time high for this machine and sat down to take a shot at it. I didn’t pay attention to what strategy they were using, so I have no idea of their competence. This is a game that can be quite expensive if you’re not the one who hits the royal.

Even when I’ve passed either of the two full banks of quarter deuces bonus progressives at the South Point, the players seen to be playing much more seriously than they are at Sam’s Town. Probably because there are so many decent video poker plays at South Point and relatively few at Sam’s Town. But I’m not sure.

Fortunately, I was dealt AAAA4 and 2222K (which didn’t improve on the draw) in the 900 hands I played before somebody else hit the royal at $5,100. My score was positive on this day, although that’s something my readers care about more than I do. Keep playing games where I have the edge, and over time, good things will happen.

It will probably be easier to sit down at a game this size in the future now that I have “gotten over” my reluctance. But it had better be a big edge. Playing these stakes for less than a one percent advantage is just not very interesting.

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