Who Are the Patrons?

On our February 4 Gambling with an Edge podcast, Anthony Curtis brought up something that I had experienced, but not understood why it was happening. With some notable exceptions, numerous Las Vegas casinos have really tightened up. Slot clubs are less generous. Promotions are smaller. Games aren’t as loose as they were.

In my opinion, this is not the smart way for these casinos to be acting. Their customers are hurting. Their customers have less money. At least some of the customers are wary about venturing into casinos at all until the percentage of our population vaccinated is much higher than it is now.

Anthony said, (paraphrasing) that when the casinos reopened again, the number of patrons was much smaller, but the win-per-patron was much higher. Why? Because the players who were coming back were the degenerates who are going to gamble no matter what. As a group, they aren’t sensitive to pay schedules. They aren’t sensitive to promotions. They just want to go to the casino and gamble.

So, if this is the type of customers who are flocking to the casinos now, it makes some sense for the casinos to tighten up. A significant proportion of the players who are sensitive to good values aren’t in the casinos right now! They are sitting things out until the pandemic eases.

Are these tight conditions sustainable as the pandemic eases? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. The old adage that you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin it once has merit to it. Sometimes, though, things don’t always go back to the way they were. In blackjack, for example, switching from paying 3/2 for naturals to 6/5, which hurt the players considerably, started out as an experiment and gained momentum. Since enough players were willing to put up with these conditions, the move has become permanent at many casinos.

The same thing is happening in video poker. Under the guise of recovering from a pandemic, casinos are experimenting with what players will put up with. Each one of us is voting with our dollars. It’s not so much what any specific one of us will do. It’s what we all do. You can call the casinos greedy if you like, but name-calling won’t change their minds. What matters is how much money they make at the end of the day.

If casinos lose the value seekers who only played their loosest games anyway, they might well consider it no big loss. I am someone who hopes it doesn’t come to this. or I’ll have to find something else to do when I grow up!

How Long Will It Take?

I regularly get questions about how long it would it take for a particular person to learn to play video poker profitably.

Setting aside the first part of this blog that said that video poker opportunities are getting worse, the answer is always, “It depends.” The obvious follow-up question is, “It depends on what?”

1. Are you good at games? In my case I had been playing, and winning, at various games for 35 years before I ever played video poker. Someone who thinks strategically has learned hundreds or thousands of little tricks concerning playing well. A person like this will grasp concepts much, much faster than someone without this background.

2. How smart are you? Winning at video poker doesn’t take genius IQ, but it helps. Many different game strategies, many slot clubs, many promotions, and many personalities of players and employees have to be balanced. It is usually not the case that you can learn one game, play it over and over again, and become rich.

3. How good is your memory? This is related to your intelligence, but it’s not the same. If you have a strategy memorized, you’ll be able to play at 1000 hands per hour or more, once you are practiced. If you have to look up every hand, you’ll play much, much more slowly. And the strategy for every game is different. If your memory is not what it used to be (I’ll have to admit to that myself), you’ll need to practice much more than if your memory was better.

4. Are you willing to study? A number of authors have created various how-to-win guides about the game. These guides vary in accuracy and usefulness. No one author has said everything (although Lord knows I’ve tried!) and so reading more than one author is useful. And different students learn better from different authors.

5. Are you willing to use a computer? There are computer programs that correct you when you’re wrong. This is important. On a hand like A♠ K♥ Q♦ 2♠ 3♠, the correct play in most games is A23. A high percentage of players with a strategy in front of them will miss that one the first time they see it. They don’t realize that A23 counts as a 3-card straight flush draw. It takes others a while to recognize that A♠ K♥ Q♦ 4♠ 5♠ is played the same way, and that A23 is worth no more and no less.

6. Are you willing to scout out opportunities? This one should probably come earlier on the list. You need to figure out which game you’ll be playing before you learn a strategy. Learning 9/6 Jacks or Better, the game I first learned and the standard game video poker authors write about, won’t do you any good if you can’t find places to play that game for the stakes you prefer. Even when you find and learn one game, casinos change games periodically and the game inventory of each casino is different. Without finding out what’s available to you, you’re flying blind.

7. Can you obtain and keep a bankroll? In video poker, as well as other gambling games, you’ll win sometimes and lose sometimes. Unless you have an appropriate cushion to deal with the swings, you won’t be able to survive these swings.

8. Can you deal with losing? Even winning players have a lot of losing sessions. Being able to deal with this is not trivial. A related subject is whether your spouse can deal with this. Someone who thinks in terms of a regular paycheck for making money and a guaranteed income to plan things out can have a difficult time adjusting to the swings of gambling.

This list is not comprehensive, but it will give you an idea. And just to be clear, I’ve been playing for almost 30 years and I still study and practice.

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