A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:
Q. I think you’ve said the ante-play bet in Three Card Poker is better than Pair Plus. I was looking for articles online and found one that said the house edge is 3.37 percent on ante-play and only 2.14 percent on Pair Plus. How does that square?
A. There are a couple of things at work here. The 3.37 percent edge on ante-play applies to the ante alone and not to the additional bet you must make to stay in the hand after you’ve seen your cards. Taking the play bet into account, the house edge on total action — also called the element of risk — is 2.01 percent.
Second, the 2.14 percent house edge on Pair Plus applies to the original pay table, but I don’t know of anyone who offers it anymore. I don’t know what’s in the pits in every casino in the country, so maybe some still have that Pair Plus version. I don’t doubt that someone online has that pay table.
But the Pair Plus game I see at casinos today has a pay table that gives the house a 7.28 percent edge.
The difference is easy to spot. The original version paid 40-1 for a straight flush, 30-1 for three of a kind, 6-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes and 1-1 on pairs. That pay table carries the 2.14-percent house edge you found.
The most common modern pay table makes only one change. Flush paybacks are reduced to 3-1.
Flushes occur on 4.9 percent of hands in three-card games, so that one little change makes a big impact. It more than triples the house edge to 7.28 percent.
There are other available Pair Plus pay tables, but none in common use are anywhere near as favorable to players as the original.
Under the original pay table, I used to bet both ante-play and Pair Plus when I took time for a little Three Card Poker. The chance at wins up to 40-1 certainly spices the game. Today, I skip Pair Plus. I won’t make 7-percent edge bets at any game, and certainly not at a table were a much better bet is available.
Q. In my area, casinos have been varying between shutdowns and operating at 25- and 50-percent capacity. When I’ve been able to play, it seems to me like there weren’t as many big jackpots on the slots. I never saw anybody win anything big.
A couple of the casinos make announcements on the PA when someone has a big win. Not names or anything, just advertising that there are big winners. Those announcements see fewer and farther between than normal.
Do you think there’s something weird going on, or is that just chance?
A. I suspect it’s just a matter of numbers. When there are fewer players, fewer games being played and fewer spins, there will be fewer jackpots awarded.
I’ve seen nothing unusual in casino revenue reports that would suggest paybacks have been abnormally low.
But think about the implications of attendance numbers. Imagine you’re in a casino that in normal times awards a jackpot big enough to announce an average of twice an hour. If you were there for a couple of hours, you might hear four announcements.
Now think about the same place at 25-percent capacity. If jackpots are awarded with the same frequency per number of plays, there’s only one per two hours. In a two-hour session, you’d hear an average of one announcement, and it wouldn’t be unusual to hear none at all.
Individual chances of winning remain the same, but total jackpots decrease with less play.