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One-Coin vs. Five-Coin Play
Video Poker for Fun and Profit
by Dan Paymar

It has been repeatedly stated that you should always play the maximum number of coins or credits (usually five) on any video poker machine. Playing fewer coins reduces the total long-term payback by about 1.5% because you donít qualify for the jackpot payoff on a royal flush. The problem is that this has been repeated as dogma by gaming col-umnists who are not very knowledgeable about video poker. The advice is often simplified to say that playing five coins is always better than playing one coin on a similar higher denomination machine. For example, if you donít want to bet $1.25 per play, then donít play a quarter machine. Instead, find a nickel machine of the same type and always play five coins. But is this always good advice?

Letís assume that youíre going to play Jacks-or-Better, but you donít want to wager $1.25 every play. Sure, there are many nickel machines around, but instead of the full-pay 9/6 pay-off schedule (9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush) most of them have the 8/5 short pay schedule. This is the same type, but itís not the same game. True, you would avoid giving up 1.5% of the payback by playing five coins to qualify for the royal, but thatís in the long term. More importantly the reduced payoffs on the flush and full house cost 2.23%, so you not only lose a net 0.73%, but you also have much larger bankroll fluctuations due to this loss being in the short term! The figures are different on other games, but the advice is almost always the same. To state it as simply as possible:

1. For the maximum payback, you should always play enough coins to qualify for the full royal flush jack-pot.
2. If youíre not comfortable betting that much, you should look for a lower denomination machine with the same payoff schedule, or some other lower game that offers good payback.
3. If you canít find a lower denomination machine with a good payoff schedule, youíre usually better off playing only one quarter instead of five nickels, but with the understanding that youíre forfeiting up to 1.5% of the payback.
4. This seldom applies to higher denominations. Itís rare that a casino has full pay dollar machines but no full pay quarter machines.
5. There is never any good reason to play two, three or four coins in a five-machine. This is simply risking more money at the reduced payback.

In Las Vegas itís easy to find full-pay quarter machines of almost any kind you like, especially if you leave the ďstripĒ in favor of the outlying ďlocalsĒ casinos. But donít get the idea that this discussion applies only where full-pay games are available. Suppose you are in a casino where the Jacks-or-Better choice is between an 8/5 quarter machine and a 6/5 nickel machine. If you play five nickels instead of one quarter, the reduction by two on the full house costs 2.30% for a net additional cost of 0.80%. However, if the nickel machine has a 7/5 schedule, the loss is only 1.15%, so you are better off by playing five nickels instead of one quarter on the 8/5 game (although you would have slightly larger bankroll fluctuations). Unfortunately, there are very few full-pay nickel games anywhere other than in a few Las Vegas ďlocalsĒ casinos, so you are frequently better off playing one quarter than five nickels. If you do play short coins, there are a few strategy changes that would cut the loss a bit, primarily foregoing those two-card royal draws.

This story was first published in the October - November 2002 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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