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I’ve previously written about the Video Gaming Machines that exist in New York – in fact it was one of the earliest pieces on my site. They look like slots, but unlike slots their outcome is determined from outside the machine.
In the case of New York Lottery run casinos, the games function more like scratch-off tickets. When you place a wager, it’s like buying a ticket, and the outcome of it is shown most often on slot reels “for entertainment purposes only.” This effectively got around the approval of “slots”, even though for all intents and purposes they’re marketed as slots.
I have people who absolutely claim I’m wrong about this, and argue with me on forums, and it was one of those instances recently that reminded me that I have never written about the biggest caveat around all this.
You see, when it comes to slots, it’s not really a big deal that the outcome comes from this scratch-off model – the games more or less look and work similarly. In fact, with minimum payout requirements above 90%, if you’re a penny player you might actually find yourself doing a bit better there over time than other casinos, who are prone to have penny slots below 90%. Of course, there’s weird quirks, like repeated bonus outcomes, but the games will still feel similar.
But where a big difference exists is around Video Poker. Video Poker is traditionally a game where skill is involved, because you’re able to make decisions that allow you one chance each round to improve your hand. You’re dealt five cards, you decide which cards to keep, and you’re dealt replacement cards.
Because the game has a finite number of outcomes, and there’s only 52 cards in a standard deck (perhaps a couple more if you’re playing Joker Poker games), there is concrete strategies to follow.
But in New York, the scratch-off model doesn’t allow for that sort of game of skill. So how do they handle it? You’ll find Game King machines and the like with what appears to be full pay video poker. But you’re playing a scratch-off, just like any other game in the casino, with the same payback levels involved. So the hand’s outcome is known before the first card is even dealt.
Let’s say you get a pair and throw it away. The game will deal out five more cards that will usually yield the correct outcome that you’re supposed to end up with, regardless of what you do.
If you throw out cards that are required to make a scenario happen, or sometimes just because it wants to differentiate it, the game will pay you a “bonus” through a feature like a “Match Card” that will make up the credits you should have been paid.
It is guaranteed to pay you what it is supposed to pay you, regardless of your decisions, so it’s not longer a game of skill – it’s a slot with playing cards.
The American Casino Guide book‘s Steve Bourie recently put out a YouTube video explaining it and showing the game off in more detail:
When these machines first came out, there was some arguments made that they were deceptive. This write-up from about 15 years ago gives a fantastic summary of what’s expected when you play Video Poker, but what you actually get when you play at New York Lottery-approved facilities. The biggest reason is it shows very good to excellent pay tables in many cases, but the machine doesn’t payout at that expected level.
Remember that we know the math of the finite number of outcomes for a given game because there’s only so many ways cards can be dealt, and only 52 cards. If you see a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, the expected payout over time is around 99.54% – but in the New York Lottery facilities the payouts will be much more in line with most terminals with a lower overall payout.
It’s important to underscore that this is specifically the case at casinos where you’re playing in a facility licensed by the New York Lottery. New York has an amalgam of different options, including standard, licensed casinos, as well as tribal casinos, which have different rules they run under than the Lottery-approved facilities.
Lottery facilities tend to have a plaque on each machine with the lottery logo, or at least they did my last visit to Empire City Casino. Lottery-sanctioned facilities in New York also allow for people 18+ to play, as opposed to the more traditional 21+ in commercial or tribal casinos.
So if you’re a Video Poker player, particularly in markets like New York, be sure to know that what you’re playing is the real deal – it’s easy to tell given where this scenario exists.