I’m not big on gambling, but one game I enjoy is Video Poker. The nice thing about it is that, with proper play, the house advantage is very small; less than half a percent. And it’s exciting!

Well…the house advantage is small if you can find the traditional 9/6 JoB…which I never could, after checking every video poker machine at the Paris and many of the other machines in Vegas. (Another reason to go off the strip next time, I suppose!) JoB stands for Jacks or Better, in which you win if you have at least a pair of jacks. You get five cards, redraw between zero and five of them, and make your best poker hand. A pair of jacks gets you your bet back, and it goes up from there, with a Royal Flush on a 5-coin bet paying off 4,000 coins. The 9/6 refers to the payoff on boats and flushes; a boat (or full house) pays nine coins and a flush pays six.

Unfortunately, while the rules for JoB are the same for every machine, the payoffs aren’t. With the exception of a row of 8/6 machines I found in the Paris Champaign Slots, every machine I saw was 8/5 or worse. Most people will just start playing without bothering to check, which means they’re very likely to end up with a 7/5 machine…great for the casino, not so much for the players! In one casino that offered progressive JoB (where the prize for hitting a royal playing 5 coins grows over time), there were several rows of machines sitting across from each other; the only difference was that one row was paying just over 1000 coins and the other was paying just over 4000 coins. There were more people on the former row. Of course, it only matters on the rare occasion that you actually hit a royal..

Blackjack is almost as bad. With many people playing basic strategy (which reduces the house edge to about 2%), the casinos try various things to increase their edge. One is introducing additional bets (such as betting that your first two cards will be a pair) or otherwise changing the rules; Blackjack is perhaps the only game where the rules tend to differ from table to table. The other is, as in video poker, changing the payoffs. Many of the tables now pay 6:5 for a Blackjack rather than the standard 3:2; with a $10 bet (the smallest allowed at most casinos on the strip), that’s a $3 loss for the player every time you hit a blackjack!

Simple lesson: always check the rules before you start, and be ready to play in a less convenient location if you want to get fair odds. And try to find a dealer who’ll give you something better than a three when you double down on 11!