Is This a Good Idea?

Is This a Good Idea?

This incident happened in 1999 or 2000. I don’t think I’ve written about it before.

The video poker world in Las Vegas was much different then. Casinos had been giving away money right and left to knowledgeable video poker players for at least five years, and many of us were becoming financially very well off. Oh, for the good old days!

One example is the game 10/7 Double Bonus (100.17%), which was found in numerous local casinos. The Fiesta (the original one, now called Fiesta Rancho which hasn’t reopened since the pandemic started), had quarter and dollar versions of this game, with progressives, and they had some $2 Ten Play machines in their High Limit room. The slot club there was “points only,” meaning the points could not be redeemed for cash or free play, but they had a variety of things you could buy with your points. 

I didn’t have a lot of points there because I didn’t play there very often. Although the casino arguably had the best low-to-moderate-stakes video poker in town, it was geographically undesirable for me. I lived near Flamingo and Eastern, and the casino was approximately 10 miles away, with only half of that being on freeways. It took 20 or 30 minutes to get there, depending on traffic. If this was the only game in town, ten miles and a half hour wouldn’t have been a big deal. But it wasn’t. Orleans had the same game for quarters and dollars and even $5 Triple Play, along with a 0.25% slot club with double points every holiday. Plus, all along the Strip, they had 9/6 Jacks or Better for $5 and higher (99.54% with a 0.67% slot club with wonderful comps and promotions), and these games were much more attractive to me than 10/7 with a points-only slot club.

Still, I had a relationship with the Fiesta because I taught classes there and had done so since 1997. I “invented” a new version of 10/7 Double Bonus that I thought would be popular and give the Fiesta a competitive edge. Although I thought the world of the former slot director there, Jeff Payne, he was no longer around, and the new guy (I’ll call him “Al”) wasn’t very impressive to me. He was an okay assistant slot director, but he wasn’t smart enough or knowledgeable enough, in my opinion, to successfully run a loose video poker floor. When you run the loosest slot floor in town, a serious mistake could wipe out your entire profits. Al was aware of this and seemingly afraid of his shadow, lest he make a mistake that cost him his job.

My “new game,” was a three-coin $5 10/7 version (requiring $15 per max-coin pull) which paid 395 coins rather than 400 for quad 2s through 4s. This meant a jackpot of $1,185 for these hands rather than $1,200. This reduced the return on the game to 100.12%, but eliminated W-2Gs for these once-every-1,908 hands. In addition, quad 5s through Ks (every 622 hands), along with the straight flush (every 8,840 hands), now paid $750 instead of $1,250, which would reduce W-2Gs even more.

No player likes W-2Gs, but the ones that irritate players the most are those when the jackpot is exactly $1,200. Innumerable players have argued that that hand shouldn’t even count as a W-2G because you didn’t really win $1,200 after you subtracted however much money it took to play the hand. These players can’t deny that $1,250 is legitimately more than $1,200, but they still don’t like them. If they’re going to get a W-2G, they want it for a lot more than the minimum.

So, I set up a meeting with various Fiesta executives including the owner, George Maloof, the general manager Ed, and Al. There were some others in the room from marketing and other departments.

I explained how the game returned less to the players and reduced the number of W-2Gs. Given they already had the $2 Ten Play game for $50 per hand, a $15 per hand game that paid less shouldn’t scare them that much. I added that the game was very difficult to play well, which is why they made money on a game that returned more than 100%. Many players couldn’t afford a $15 per hand game, of course, but surely there was a market for it. 

I passed out printouts from WinPoker of the return on regular 10/7 and this new game. Part of my presentation was to go over these printouts and how to read them. 

When I finished my presentation, George and Ed looked to Al for a response. Al said he’d have to check the numbers. I responded that if he ran WinPoker (the only real option in those days), he’d come up with the exact same numbers that were on the handout. He said he’d have to check anyway. He told me he didn’t know how to run a three-coin pay schedule because WinPoker only dealt with five coins at a time. I told him that the number of coins wasn’t a factor. It was the total amount bet. If he wanted, I could show him after the meeting. 

Ed asked me if the pros would be hammering these machines. I told him that most of the top pros could afford larger games and the ones who liked this game were already playing the $2 Ten Play games or the $5 Triple Play games at the Orleans which required $100 or $75 per play respectively. If you were playing games that large, you were already used to W-2Gs and a few more weren’t anything to worry about. It would be the up-and-coming pros who didn’t have a large bankroll yet who would be attracted to the game. These would largely be wannabe pros who weren’t quite as good as the top pros. At least that was my best guess.

Al then started asking me questions about NSU Deuces Wild. To me these were softball questions, as I both played and taught the game regularly. He wanted to know why this game, which returned 4-for-1 for the full house and 3-for-one for the flush, didn’t return more than Full Pay Deuces Wild, which only returned 3-for-1 and 2-for-1 for these same hands. I explained that while the full house and flush returns were the chief hands you looked at to compare versions of games without wild cards, for deuces variations you had to look at a lot more numbers than that. He could put any of these games on WinPoker and that would tell him how much the game was worth. He continued with his questions, which had the effect of proving to his bosses that he wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have the job he was in.

He was terminated shortly after that meeting, and the Fiesta never did put in the game I recommended. I didn’t go into that meeting trying to get Al fired, but that’s how it turned out. I was never impolite to Al (he might have been Ed’s favorite nephew for all I knew and going after somebody that well connected could easily have backfired on me.) Knowing I was inadvertently responsible for somebody losing his job didn’t feel good, but the truth was he wasn’t well-qualified.

Al ended up okay. He became a slot floorperson at the Mirage, a position for which he was well qualified and there was a lot less pressure. With tips it may have been worth as much or more than he was making previously.