Q. When I win a bet at a table game, I get my bet back in addition to the money I won. When I win a bet on a slot machine or a video poker game, I don’t get my bet back, I only get the winnings.
Why is that? If I won, I shouldn’t have to lose my original bet.
A. There is precedent at table games that don’t give your bet back after a win. That comes at craps tables that pay propositions at odds-for-1 instead of odds-to-1.
If you’re at a table that pays 30-to-1 on the one-roll bet on 12, then if you win, you get 30 units in winnings and keep your 1-unit wager. However, if the table pays 30-for-1, then if you win, you get 30 units in winnings and the house keeps your wager. As a practical matter, 30-for-1 is the same as 29-to-1.
Slot machines, video poker, video keno and most machine games pay in odds-for-1.
If they paid in odds-to-1, pay tables would have to be altered to make the percentages come out right.
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For an easy example, let’s look at the payoff on a high pair in 9-6 Jacks or Better. Pairs of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces pay 1-for-1, so that if you bet $5, your return is $5.
Essentially, you get your money back and no more. It’s still an important return, accounting for 21.5 percent of the return on the game. We don’t make money on those hands, but they help keep us in the game while we wait for bigger wins.
What if the game paid in odds-to-1, and paybacks were 1-to-1 instead of 1-for-1? Then on a pair of Jacks or Better, you’d keep a $5 bet and get $5 in winnings.
With no other changes on the pay table, that would raise the return with expert play from 99.5 percent to 121.5 percent.
There is no way a game with a 21 percent player edge could survive in a casino, so other changes would have to be made. The easiest would be to start payoffs at a pair of Kings instead of Jacks. That would leave a much more volatile game with fewer paying hands.
Situations would be similar on slot machines and video keno. Video slots present a special challenge in that many payoffs are smaller than your bets. You know that situation — a 10-credit pay after you’ve bet 30 credits on a 30-line slot, for example. If you eliminate those and require all payoffs to give back your original bet plus winnings, and hit frequencies would have to be reduced so radically that the resulting games would barely resemble today’s favorites.
Q. Other players write in to tell of their big jackpots, but what about you? What’s the biggest jackpot you’ve ever won?
A. I’m not a high-roller by any means. Most of my play is of the $10 blackjack and quarter video poker variety, with some dollar video poker mixed in.
Those aren’t big jackpot games. My biggest came on a day I was doing really well and I decided to reinvest some winnings in $2 8-5 Bonus Poker at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. I drew a royal flush in spades for an $8,000 win.
It was memorable, to say the least. While I was waiting to be paid, a woman and her daughter who had been playing down the row slipped out to the gift shop and bought me a spade royal flush lapel pin. Twenty years later, I still wear it when I give seminars.