Quirks of video poker

The lure of big payoffs, thousands of dollars, brings bettors back again and again to the game of video poker. Actually winning such jackpots, however, is highly unlikely, says Todd D. Mateer, a recent graduate of Clemson (S.C.) University. Moreover, with unfavorable odds and limits imposed on how much a gambler may win per machine, even perfect play over a long time is a losing proposition.

In video poker, a player receives five cards. The player has the option of discarding and replacing any or all of these cards to try to achieve a winning poker hand. A built-in payoff table sets the amount a player gets for a given winning combination. Mateer’s investigation of video poker, which was the focus of his master’s thesis, showed that a player with a perfect strategy could over the long term actually make a profit on certain Las Vegas machines. But even using a flawless strategy and playing 40 hours per week for roughly 2 years, the player would earn no more than minimum wage. In South Carolina, however, state law mandated that the maximum payout per machine in a 24-hour period is $125. This limit made playing video poker in South Carolina a losing venture for gamblers, no matter how expert they may be.

Video poker was banned in South Carolina, starting July 2000.

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