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Which Denomination Should I Play?

Harrah's sold its Tunica, Mississippi casino a few years ago, but in the spring of 2008 re-opened, under the Harrah's name, a remodeled version what used to be called the Grand. To get players, theyBob DancerBob Dancer is one of the world's foremost video poker experts.  He is a regular columnist for Casino Player, Strictly Slots, and the Las Vegas Review-Journa land has written an autobiography and a novel about gambling.   He provides advice for tens of thousands of casino enthusiasts looking to play video poker.  Bob's website is  sent out offers to Harrah's VIP customers from some sort of a national database --- including me.

I've not played at Harrah's Tunica before, but they sent me an offer I couldn't refuse. So I didn't --- especially since I could make a stop at Harrah's New Orleans on the same trip. Although the casinos are about 400 miles apart, I live 2000 miles away in Las Vegas, so New Orleans and Tunica feel like next-door neighbors to me.

Walking through the casino on the night before I planned to play, I located 9/6 Jacks or Better for $1, $2, $5, $10, and $25. These are the games I'm going to have to choose among. I'm doing the deciding in my hotel room rather than on the floor. I do this because have my laptop with both "Video Poker for Winners" on it, as well as a calculator. I'm going to need both to make the decision. Here are the factors I'm considering:

1. I decided to play about $60,000 coin-in, which amounts to 6,000 points in the Harrah's system. This number wasn't chosen very scientifically, but neither was it a total guess. I want to receive more offers from Tunica and elsewhere. I may not take accept the offers, but at least I want them to be on the table. This amount of play should at least keep me "in the game."

2. I want to do the play in one day. Harrah's works on an "Average Daily Theoretical" system. Playing the same amount over two days will cut my ADT in half.

3. Mississippi has a tax system unlike that of any other state. For every W2G you get ($1,200 or more), they withhold a non-refundable 3% fee of the taxable amount. This is in addition to whatever Federal taxes you normally have to pay.

On $1 and $2 Jacks or Better machines, this kicks in on royal flushes only, reducing the return from 99.544% in Las Vegas to 99.486% in Mississippi, which makes the expected loss for $60,000 coin-in about $310.

On $5 Jacks or Better machines, the 3% tax takes affect on royal flushes and straight flushes, which return $1,250 at this denomination. Multiplying 97% of the standard 250 coins gives us 231.25. Since "Video Poker for Winners" only does the calculations for whole numbers divisible by five, I multiply all of the numbers by ten. That means I pretend I get 50 for a high pair, 100 for two pair, 150 for 3-of-a-kind, etc. The return on this game comes out to be 994.44%. I can divide by 10 in my head and come up with 99.444%. This means my expected loss will be $334. This is more than under a $1 or $2 game, but not a lot more. (Note that games where Two Pair returns 5 coins rather than 10, quads return at least 250 coins, or $1,250, on a $5 game. For these games, which return less than 9/6 Jacks or Better to begin with, the difference becomes even greater.)

On $10 and $25 machines, we also get the 3% tax on quads, which come around MUCH more frequently than straight flushes and royal flushes do. This reduces the normal 125-coin return to 121.25 coins. Using the same technique to determine the worth of the game, the figure comes out to be 99.267%), or an expected loss of $440. This is an increase of 25% over the expected loss from playing $5 or less. Unless time becomes a big factor, I'm not going to play these stakes.

4. You may have seen me write somewhere that I only play when I have the advantage and here I am talking about having an expected loss of more than $300. This may appear to be inconsistent. However, the offer I couldn't refuse included money to play with that was more than this. Therefore my trip has an expected profit even though the game I'll be playing includes an expected loss.

5. I want to play for at least four hours. Some Harrah's properties use a time factor in addition to ADT to determine your offers. Is Tunica one of these properties? I don't know. I don't know any way to find out for sure, given that this is my first trip at this property and I don't know a lot of players with experience here. So better be safe than sorry.

6. I don't want to play more than six or eight hours actual hours if I can help it. I CAN play more should I find a super duper offer, but this isn't one of them. Playing ten or more hours in a day would turn this into a tedious job, not a pleasant hobby.

7. Watching other players play, the machines appear to be fast, meaning I should be able to play about 800 hands per hour without too much strain. For a $1 machine, this means $4,000 per hour, or fifteen hours of play. (This is way too long for me). For a $2 machine, this comes out to 7.5 hours of play. (This is doable, but at the high end). For a $5 machine this comes out to three hours of play. (This will work, but these machines are a little more expensive tax-wise than $2 machines and I'll have to either "slow play" or play more than I intended.) Since I want to play at least four hours, it's clear I don't have to play the $10 or $25 machines to get there --- but there are some promotions where I might have to. The numbers in this paragraph narrow the decision to "at least $2 machines and at most $5 machines."

8. For me there are no bankroll considerations to the choices. Both $2 and $5 games are in my "comfort zone" and I can't possibly lose enough at either to affect my lifestyle. But this will not be true for everybody. If these were high stakes for me (as they would have been not so many years ago), I'd use the bankroll calculator on "Video Poker for Winners" to give me data on how bad could it get with 6000 hands for $2 stakes or 2,400 hands for $5 stakes.

9. The $2 and the $5 games are not on the same machines. The $2 games are "bar top" machines in the center of the casino, while the $5 games are "slant top" machines in the High Limit room. Machines at a bar include MUCH more human interaction (with both bartenders and other players), much smokier (a definite negative from my point of view), but also much faster drink service (which isn't a factor for me). I prefer to play quietly without distraction, but bar tops aren't out of the question. Bar top machines also tend to have stickier buttons on average because drinks get spilled on them a lot more often than they do in on slant tops. These factors make me lean toward the $5 slant tops.

10. The Harrah's system offers base credits along with bonus credits. In Las Vegas, you get no bonus credits for play on 9/6 Jacks or Better machines. In Tunica I'll have to find out. I'll play 500 points on the $2 machine and see how many bonus credits I get and then I'll play 500 points on the $5 machine. They may or may not get the same amount of bonus reward credits. If there's a large difference between them, I'll play at the game that gives the most bonus credits. I won't know this until I go down and play tomorrow, and even though I'll have the information before this article is published, I'll leave it to you to check for yourself. This article is about providing you a methodology to decide, and not about force-feeding you with all the answers.

The exact number of hours I decided to spend on the $2 machine and the $5 machine aren't particularly important to this discussion, because my situation is likely different than yours. But the way I made my decision is probably something you should consider to see if it could work for you.

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