Q. Once it became common knowledge to only play Jacks or Better video poker machines with a 9-6 pay table, Las Vegas casinos promptly responded by removing Jacks or Better games from their casinos. What is the next best game we should all look out for?
A. It’s an oversimplification to say that casinos promptly removed 9-6 Jacks or Better when they found the game was paying out more than expected — some casinos still have it — but let’s tackle the basic question.
The question boils down to this: In video poker, there was a period when casinos didn’t have a solid grasp of how much the games would pay. There was a period of opportunity for players before casinos began to change the games. Is there another up-and-coming game that will give players that period of opportunity until casinos have time to adjust?
I don’t see such a game on the horizon. Electronic games must pass testing by state commissions or independent testing labs such as GLI before they are licensed for casino play.
The labs have gotten much better at testing games accurately, and their equipment has become more sophisticated. An example I like to point out is in Illinois, where full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker was legal when introduced in the state in the mid-1990s and is illegal today.
Under state law, no game in Illinois may have a theoretical payback percentage of more than 100 percent. The theoretical on 10-7-5 DB is 100.17 percent, something players have known ever since the game rolled out in Nevada in the early 1990s. Illinois licensed the game and two casinos offered it. However, both casinos later moved to new facilities in the 2000s and bought new equipment, and Illinois would not relicense the game without pay table adjustments. Improved testing software had shown full-pay DB paid more than the state allowed.
On the table game side, owners of new games must submit a mathematical workup of their games as part of the licensing procedure, and that’s all vetted by state gaming commissions before the games are made available. It’s always possible that table game developers and testers can miss a nuance that would give players an edge, but I know of none in the field today.
There remain opportunities for advantage players such as blackjack card counters, hole card players and comps wizards who use multiple-points days and promotions to raise their bottom lines. But quirks in rules and payoffs that give profit opportunity to players are getting rarer.
Q. I read the article with the craps player with 60 years of experience. He used to get single odds and occasional double odds. It occurs to me that the casino has given craps players more and more odds over the years — making the game better. But the opposite has occurred with blackjack, where the games have gotten worse and worse over the years.
A: Yes, that’s true. Well into the 1970s it was common for Las Vegas Strip casinos to offer single-deck games where dealers stood on all 17s. Thereafter, most single- and double-deck games had dealers hit soft 17, but most six-deckers were stand-on-all-17s games into the early 2000s.
Today, it’s difficult — almost impossible for low-limit players — to find a game where dealers don’t hit soft 17. The reduced 6-5 payoffs on blackjacks that now are common on the Strip and making inroads elsewhere didn’t exist 20 years ago. So yes, blackjack games are tougher than they used to be.