Video poker players who opt for a little low-cost fun at nickel machines usually encounter pay tables that are a couple of notches below those on games that require bigger bets.
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There are exceptions, mostly at casinos that cater to Las Vegas locals. A quick peek at VPFree2.com tells me you can still find full-pay Deuces Wild on nickel games at the Aliante casino and 10-6 Double Double Bonus at Boulder Station.
More often, nickel games are more like the Joker’s Wild, Kings or Better game an Illinois reader asked me to evaluate. He said a common nickel game required a 10-coin maximum bet to qualify for a progressive royal flush jackpot.
Per coin wagered, payoffs were 1-for-1 on a pair of Kings or Better or two pairs, rising to 2 on three of a kind, 3 on a straight, 4 on a flush, 5 on a full house, 20 on four of a kind, 100 on a royal flush with a joker, 200 for five of a kind and 500 on the natural royal unless you qualify for the progressive.
It’s not an overly generous pay table. The return with expert play is 94.8 percent with a 500-for-1 royal.
That raises the question of how high the progressive meter would have to rise before this becomes a break-even game.
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Natural royals at the base payoff contribute 1.05 percent of our overall return on this version of Joker’s Wild. With a 10-coin maximum bet and a base royal payoff of 2,500 coins, we’d expect the payback percentage to rise a shade more than 1 percent for every 2,500 coins added to the top jackpot.
Let’s check the returns with expert play as we add increments of 2,500 nickels to the jackpot:
5,000 coins ($250 in nickels): Return with expert play is 95.95 percent
7,500 coins ($375): Return with expert play is 97.27 percent
10,000 coins ($500): Return with expert play is 98.60 percent
12,500 coins ($625): Return with expert play is 99.94 percent
From that, we know the break-even point at which the game returns 100 percent with expert play has to be a little more than 12,500 coins. With a little tinkering on WinPoker software, I found that break-even point to be 12,617 coins — or $635.85 on a nickel machine.
The reader who brought the game to my attention sent a photo of the game screen showing a jackpot of $433.75, the equivalent of 8,675 nickels. With that jackpot, the reader was playing a game that paid 97.9 percent with expert play.
A few notes:
The higher payback percentages are increasingly reliant on royals. Remember that 1.05 percent figure as the basic contribution of royals toward overall payback? With the jackpot at the break-even level of 12,617 coins, royals make up 6.79 percent of the overall return.
Increasing jackpots on royal flushes does not increase your chance of drawing a royal. In any session that does not include a royal, this Joker game remains a low-payer.
At 12,500 coins and a bit less, this game is on an even footing with 9-6 Jacks or Better (99.5 percent return), No So Ugly Deuces (99.7), 8-5 Bonus Poker and other high pairs.
At 7.500 coins, which you’ll see a lot more often, its return is in the same ballpark as 8-5 Jacks or Better (97.3), 7-5 Bonus Poker (98.0), 9-6-5 Double Double Bonus (97.9) and other middling-payers.
However, because so much of the return comes from royals, this Joker game is much more volatile than those other games. The ups can be very high, but the downs can be very frequent.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).