Putting Bills Into a Machine

I’ve borrowed the late Merle Haggard’s 1981 song title to describe a conversation video poker players have heard hundreds of times. It’s often expressed as an argument where the premises go something like the following:

  1. Video poker pay schedules aren’t nearly as good as they used to be.
  2. Casinos have slashed their slot club benefits.
  3. Casinos do not offer promotions as lucrative as they used to.

From those premises, the conclusion usually becomes: Might as well hang it up. Video poker is simply not worth playing anymore.

It’s hard to argue with those premises. On average they are quite true. Occasionally a casino will add a looser-than-normal game for a while, (sometimes by mistake!), but the usual situation goes the other direction.

The thing is, I’ve been hearing this same argument for almost 30 years. And every time, players have been longing for the “Good Old Days.” But a number of video poker players continue to prosper. My entire video poker career has occurred after I first heard that the game isn’t very good anymore.

The argument is especially valid if they want to go to the same casinos they always have gone to, play the same game, and receive the same benefits. If they’ve been playing for more than a little while, that situation is basically impossible. 

Sportsbook players say that if you only have one out (i.e., one place to bet), you can’t win. The lines have enough built-in cushion, and the bookmakers are good enough, that a player won’t have the edge. To win in that game, you have to have a variety of outs where there are different odds at different places. The same is true in video poker. 

If you only know one game, and can’t or won’t learn another, you run out of options fast. If you know a variety of games, and are willing to play in a number of places, you can still find opportunities.

You might want to consider some or all of the following:

  1. Visit other casinos than you’re used to. Out of town or out of state, if necessary. (For me, I play more coin-in outside of greater Las Vegas, where I live, than I do close to home.) 
  1. Learn other gambling games. (For me, this has been advantage slots. Your mileage may vary.)
  1. Increase and utilize your network of other successful gamblers. Nobody knows everything. If you have information that is useful to me, I might well have information that is useful to you. I’m not interested in a one-way sort of communication unless I’m getting paid well for it.
  1. Consider changing stakes. Sometimes better games exist for higher or lower stakes than you normally play. Playing for lower stakes than you’re used to isn’t as exciting, but it can make sense. 
  1. Consider non-gambling activities. I certainly am not doing all of the same things as I was ten years ago. Are you? There are myriads of things you could be doing. 

Finally, if it’s time to quit…quit. Not because somebody else thinks you should, but because you think you should. (Well, spouses can have a pretty big vote in these things.) At different times, I fancied myself as a backgammon player and as a blackjack player. I quit both of those because I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be a financial success at either game. I’ve dabbled at sports betting and live poker and am convinced that they are not the games for me either. I’ve also quit various organizations through the years when I felt I had outgrown them, or they had outgrown me.

A quitting strategy actually makes sense. Decide what would have to happen for you to no longer be a profitable video poker player — and if and when those conditions arise, quit. Go do something else with your life.


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