What’s More Important than EV?

Not long ago, I mentioned in a blogpost that if the only difference between an IGT game and a Scientific Gaming game was that straight flushes paid 250 in the former and 275 in the latter, I’d choose IGT because I like the feel and touch of IGT games better. I received some pushback for that comment. Some players said going for higher EV is ALWAYS the correct play, while some more thoughtful posters said, “Why don’t you explain, Bob, when you’re willing to give up EV for other things?” Today’s post is intended to partially address that.

The most important starting point for many players should be bankroll. Compare 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54% and a variance of 19.5) with 9/7 Triple Double Bonus (99.58% and a variance of 98.3). Last time I played at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe (pre-pandemic), both games were available on the same 25 cent Hundred Play machine. (Possibly they were only Fifty Play. It was a while ago). The EV is pretty close to the same, but the swings are much higher on the TDB game. Dealt quads on the JoB game earn you $3,125. Dealt quads on TDB range between $6,250 and $100,000. There were promotions in effect that made these games playable to me

I chose the JoB game, which had a lesser EV. Some reasons for choosing that game are unique to me. Some apply to others as well:

a. I know JoB strategy cold. I’ve taught TDB and have an advanced strategy figured out, but I haven’t reviewed it recently. Yes, I could go up to my hotel room and get up to speed on the game relatively quickly, but I had other things planned that day. Spending an extra 30 minutes to earn a very small increase in EV wasn’t worth it to me.

b. I file as a professional gambler so W-2Gs aren’t a concern, but non-professionals should consider W-2Gs. They have real costs which far outweigh the 0.04% difference in EV.

c. On a related subject, every W-2G is time consuming. Playing TDB at $125 a hand will generate a LOT more W-2Gs than playing JoB, which means considerably more time must be spent earning the same number of tier credits. Since every W2-G must be recorded on my daily log, the bookkeeping afterwards is affected as well. Time is money.

d. Depending on the casino, large wins can definitely affect your current and future welcome. On TDB, you sometimes have huge wins (and sometimes huge losses). Playing that game puts you at risk of getting lesser benefits down the road.

e. My trip was for more than a week and I was planning on playing every day. I had applied for and received a line of credit of a certain size. Playing JoB, there was no chance I could lose more than my line of credit could stand. Playing TDB, going over was very possible. Yes, I had other funds and it wouldn’t have been a disaster, but I didn’t want to go through that.

f. I’m restricted at many casinos, and at the casinos I play, at I frequently play dollar single-line games. Whatever result I had in Lake Tahoe that week could easily financially swamp my gambling scores in the other 51 weeks of the year. I far preferred to have a close to break-even score at Lake Tahoe and still have meaningful play during the entire year. I have a much better chance of that happening at JoB than at TDB.

Okay, let’s look at some other circumstances where I might choose a lesser EV opportunity:

g. When I’m staying at casino-hotels for a play, especially if I’m accompanied by Bonnie, things like the quietness of hotel rooms, safety, eating establishments, and overall ambience of the place is valuable. When I was just starting out, I put up with hotel rooms where you could hear toilets on both sides of you two doors down. No more. Bonnie and I are both senior citizens and we don’t want that — so sometimes that means I have to play a slightly lesser game.

h. More about casinos: What kind of music do they play, and do they have a dance floor? Is there a free shuttle from the airport? Are there interesting non-gambling things to do in the vicinity? (Harrah’s Lake Tahoe excels at this! All sorts of outdoor activities with a ski lift next door, a cute, touristy village close by, a huge lake less than a mile away, and all sorts of hiking opportunities.) I prefer to stay at a place where there’s at least a fitness center — preferably a spa. Are there “Diamond Lounges” (or whatever they are called) with nice amenities for big players? Are the restaurants places I would voluntarily eat at?

i. Does the casino have a tiered player card system, where moving up to higher tiers has value? In the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe example above, getting to Seven Stars status was worth something to me. (Seven Stars is worth less today — another discussion for another day.) My expected loss for that week plus at Tahoe had an EV of minus $2,000 or so, the value of reaching Seven Stars was worth more than that to me. 

j. The smokiness and cleanliness of casinos is a factor. No matter how good the games are, I just won’t go into really smoky places. An extra $20 an hour is not worth having a shorter life expectancy. 

k. Machine maintenance is crucial. Some places service their machines regularly. Some don’t. If I’m constantly fighting sticky buttons, which cuts my speed way down but still results in mis-holds on occasion no matter how hard I try, it’s simply not worth it to play there. You can ask to have a machine serviced, and they might do it if they are not too busy, but that can easily take 15 or 30 minutes to get done and will draw unwanted attention to me. 

l. Chasing every nickel in EV is no longer a driving force in my life. When I moved to Vegas in 1993 and had a very small bankroll, I chased nickels far more than I do today. I’m in a much more comfortable position financially today and I have a life expectancy which is almost 30 years shorter than I had then. Things look a lot different today.

m. There will always be a fraction of my readers who are dealing with a very small bankroll. They will have to make different choices than I do. I certainly did what I had to do when I was in that position. When you have no money, everything is about getting some just so you can survive. When you have some money, life is about a lot more than just getting a bit more of it. 

In no way does this cover every situation where I accept some lesser EV opportunities than I otherwise could. But it gives the reader food for thought.