On the second night of our week in Vegas, Kathy and I were already exhausted from the amount of walking we were doing. We were at the end of The Strip, staying at the Mandalay Bay hotel, so there was a lot of distance between us and anywhere else, but that wasn’t that big of a deal, really. We had a car, there is plenty of transportation between the hotels, and The Strip itself is only a couple of miles long. But just to get out of the hotel meant walking great distances. Obviously, they want us to spend as much time in the casino areas, and everything connects to the casino in some way or another, and to catch a tram or go to the valet, we had to walk through the huge casino. Then, if we drove, The Strip is quite like driving in rush hour traffic on the LIE, as in we didn’t get anywhere fast, or slow. On average, it would take us about an hour to get from one end of The Strip to the other.
So we tended to walk most places.
Anyway, as I said, we were tired out the second night, and retired fairly early to our room, fairly early being about 11pm. Relaxing for a bit, I was anxious to go down back into the casino, since I had caught the video poker bug. Kathy had purchased the Fodor’s 2005 guide to Vegas, and it gave the impression that video poker machines gave basically the best odds of any game in Vegas. They were specific, in that we had to play the 9-6 machines, meaning that a full house paid back 9 to 1 and a flush paid back 6 to 1. These machines were relatively hard to find in Mandalay Bay, especially in quarter or nickle bets. Most machines were 8-5, and a few were 7-5. Do not play these machines. Finding a 9-6 machine, according to Fodor’s, pretty much guaranteed that we’d break even over the long run. In all, I think we did pretty much break even on video poker, not so much on table games, but that’s not the point here.
So, Kathy was ready to go to bed, but she didn’t mind me going down to the casino floor. I promised myself that I would only feed $40 into the machines, and I would avoid the dollar video poker. And, I had a mission. I was going to get a free drink while playing. The first day we were there, we made a costly mistake: We paid for 2 drinks at a bar. After we did, a nice older gentleman leaned over to Kathy and said, “If you put $10 into the video poker machine,” which were set into the bar face, “you’d get your drinks for free. My wife and I spend an hour or two here, and we don’t spend much that way.” Kathy and I looked at each other with disappointment and embarrasment, since we both knew that’s what we were supposed to do, we just weren’t thinking of it at the time. But from that moment, I swore that I would get as many comped drinks as I could get.
When I went down to the casino on the second night, therefore, I was determined to get my comped drink. This never happened. Mandalay Bay’s servers were few and far between in the slots and video poker areas. I kept moving from machine to machine, another mistake, and I would inevitably see the one server working the slot area ask people if they needed anything in the area that I just left.
It was also very, very slow that night. This was Monday night/Tuesday morning, and the casino was dead. No other night was as slow. So I sat in rows of empty machines no matter where I went. Occasionally, another player would sit within the same area, but they usually played for a couple of minutes and left thereafter.
I did only play quarter machines, but I went through my original $40 pretty quickly. I was still determined to get a “free” drink, but it was becoming more expensive by the moment. I moved to a progressive payout machine, called “Bonus Jacks or Better,” which paid the correct 9-6, but also only paid 1 to 1 on two pair. Normally, the machines paid 2 to 1 on the two pair, but the “bonus” aspect of this machine payed higher on specific 4 of a kinds. Four 2s or 3s or 4s, for instance, paid back a minimum of $100, where as normally they’d pay back 250 to 1, or $62.50 on the quarter machines. Getting 4 aces was even better, paying back over $250. The progressive nature of these machines meant that the more people played them, the more these bonus payouts would actually payout. But these are hands I’d never hit. I sat there because it looked like a good place to be seen playing, and therefore I’d get my damned drink.
Alas, that wasn’t to be. Instead, I blew through $10 pretty quickly, and only had $5 left in my pocket. Reluctantly, I put in the last bill. A few hands in, I had gotten 2 aces and 2 fives, when it occured to me that keeping the fives was useless. Like draw poker in real life, I could throw back cards after the first deal. Video poker let me throw back every card, too if I wanted to. But at the time, I realized that it’d be better to keep the 2 aces, which paid the same as the two pair, and throw back the fives in order to better my chances for 3 of a kind, more likely to hit than a full house. I didn’t get anything but 2 aces on that hand, so the strategy didn’t work, but I felt like I actually learned some strategy.
Then I hit 4 aces on my next hand.
I stared slackjawed as the machine made dinging noises as it counted my winnings. For the first time, I actually paid attention to the payout for the 4 of a kinds, and realized that I hit a hand that paid better than a straight flush on this particular machine. Then I thought, breifly, damn I wish I was playing the dollar machines. That washed away quickly, though, and I suddenly got the adrenaline surge of a winner. I made some sort of yahoo yelp, and looked to my left to share in my elation, but no one was there. I looked to my right, and no one was there either. I looked at the machine, and punched the button to get my payout and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Most of the casinos now print up a ticket with the amount left on the machine, rather than spill thousands of quarters or what have you. Some still payout in hard cash, but that’s the minority now. I grabbed my ticket, and debated breifly to cash it in or show Kathy, and showing Kathy won out. I ran to the elevators, ran to the room, tried to be quiet as I entered, but I was too excited, and woke Kathy up to show her. She was groggy at first but eventually shared my elation. It was the most money I had ever won.
Still, and all, as I said, we just about broke even on video poker over the week we were there. A couple of times, I was satified when we drank for free, or close to it, because we would only lose $2 or $3 while playing at a bar. At the MGM we broke even, at the Las Vegas Hilton, we won $40, and downtown at the 4 Queens, we lost $40. The best video poker machines were at the Excalibur, because they had the right 9-6 odds at nickle bets. We could play for hours there, if we didn’t get bored quicker than that. Excalibur servers weren’t impossible to find either.
So that’s the story on video poker in Las Vegas. I’ll be teaching a seminar about it at a vocational school annex. Look for it in the future.