Skilled or lucky, blackjack players are frequently barred from playing. This happens less often at video poker, even when players consistently win, although it does happen more today than it did several years ago. Why?
I think the reason is that the general public thinks that card counting at blackjack is a form of cheating, so a counter being barred is just what he deserves. The general public does not, I believe, differentiate between slot machines and video poker, and they believe that winning is largely a matter of luck, not skill. A casino barring people who are lucky is not considered sporting.
The Griffin Detective Agency used to publish records of blackjack players who count or cheat — which are not at all the same thing. The Oregon Surveillance Network has its own version of this. Once a player is “in the book”, rightly or wrongly, his playing days are limited at many, many casinos. Although these organizations do publish a list of various kinds of slot cheats, it doesn’t list video poker players merely because they win. Therefore, successful players often play unimpeded for years.
The danger of being barred at blackjack is very real. To avoid being barred, many players resort to a variety of disguises and other special moves in order to increase their longevity. So in addition to being good at the mechanics of the game, successful blackjack players need to be competent actors as well. Video poker players, for the most part, do not have to consider these factors.
You can use strategy cards at video poker. The best ones of these accurately tell you how to play every possible hand — including the special cases. If you want to study your sheet for ten minutes before you play a particular hand, nobody will come around and tell you to speed things up. At blackjack, you can get “basic strategy” cards, which tell you how to play every hand, but not taking card counting into consideration. At most casinos you may use these cards if you do so quickly. But if you take more than a second or two to consult the card, the pit boss will come by and tell you to put it away because you are slowing down the game and annoying the other players.
In both games, the conditions vary widely from casino to casino.
And many casinos frequently change blackjack rules or video poker machines. They sometimes do this because they are not making enough or they need to compete with the casino next door. In both games, the closer the casino is to other casinos, the more competitive the games are. That is, do not expect good conditions for either game on a cruise ship, which effectively has no competition while the cruise is taking place.
In blackjack, most games in a given casino are identical to most other games. You may have some 2-deckers and some 6-deckers, but the variation within a casino is limited. With video poker, you typically find several dozens of different types of games within the same casino. You may find different schedules side by side. Often you’ll find dozens of variations of video poker on the same physical machine.
In blackjack, the amount you win or lose on each hand is similar. The bonus for naturals only goes one way and insurance has odds associated with it, but for all other bets you can only win the same amount as you can lose. In video poker, this is not true at all. For a $1.25 bet (at quarters), you can win up to $1,000 or more. This gives video poker much bigger swings.
Assume a blackjack player and a video poker player each won $1,000 over five sessions. The scores for the blackjack player might be +230, +400, +120, +300, -50. In video poker, a more likely stream of scores would be: -70, -140, -60, +1230, +40. Notice that for these two equally successful players, the blackjack player usually wins, and the video poker player usually loses.
Being rated while playing blackjack is analogous to using a slot club card. In both cases, players receive various forms of casino complimentaries for playing. Slot clubs frequently pay cash back to the players, so most players use them. You need to show ID to collect the cash back, and you need to show ID when you hit a jackpot of $1,200 or more, at least in the United States which is where video poker is the most prevalent, so most video poker players use their real name. In blackjack, strong players use a variety of names, if they give their name at all.
Surveillance is more automated in video poker. The machine itself accurately registers the amount of the bet, whether or not a payoff is earned, and the amount of the payoff. Floor-people are there primarily to service the machine — i.e. fill the machines when needed, fix the machine for various malfunctions, and hand-pay larger jackpots. In blackjack, most of the game monitoring is done manually. Dealers determine who wins a hand and the amount of the payoff. Floor-people (and the eye-in-the-sky) keep a watch on the dealers, and further watch the players to determine if the player is “too good to let continue playing”. Compared to yesteryear, more serious “counter-catcher” electronic equipment is becoming widely used.
Blackjack games are very similar from place to place. Game variations (number of decks, double after splitting, stand or hit on soft seventeen, surrender, and some others) are relatively unimportant to the play of a given hand, although perfect strategy varies with each of these rule variations. Although good players certainly make adjustments to their game depending on exactly which rules are in effect, usually the play of a particular hand is identical no matter what the rules are. A game returning 100% is considered excellent. A game returning “only” 98% is considered terrible.
In video poker, the games vary widely. Frequently, in the same casinos you’ll see Deuces Wild games returning close to 100% and some Double Double Bonus games returning less than 96%, or vice versa. The strategy rules for Deuces Wild are totally different from those at Jacks or Better, or Double Bonus, or Joker Wild, or . . . . Nobody is an expert at all video poker games. There are hundreds and hundreds of different variations. Even the most knowledgeable players only know relatively few of these.
There are advanced techniques at blackjack, such as hole card reading. This is when a player seeks out a sloppy dealer because the dealer is showing both his cards rather than just the top one. Some places consider this cheating. Other places don’t. But whether it is officially cheating or not, players who find such a dealer have a big advantage. There are no analogous situations in video poker.
Similarly, sometimes good players can track shuffles. That is, if a player knows that a clump of cards has a whole lot of cards that are positive to the player (usually aces and ten-cards) and the player can successfully keep track of where that clump is during the shuffling process, the player can cut those cards to the top of shoe and fire away with big bets off the top. This looks very different from card counting where players don’t usually increase their bet until later in the shoe. Again, there are no analogous situations in video poker.
There are “team play” opportunities in blackjack. One player can be betting the minimum and doing all the calculations while the big player is drinking and carrying on, obviously not paying attention to the order of the cards. But when the first player signals to the other, the big player can make big bets and playing decisions that he had no chance to calculate himself.
In video poker, most teams come into play with respect to “saving seats.” That is, if a game is particularly lucrative, when John is ready to leave at 10 a.m., Mary is there to take over. If somebody else is also waiting for John’s seat, John and Mary wait until that person is distracted (or perhaps goes to the restroom), and then they quickly make the switch.
In both video poker and blackjack, it can be advantageous for teammates to take over an entire table or bank of machines.
Be sure to check out some of our other articles on casino loyalty programs & casino gaming :
Casino Loyalty Cards are Similar to Those of Airlines and Hotels — But Not the Same – Part I
Casino Loyalty Cards are Similar to Those of Airlines and Hotels — But Not the Same – Part II
Casino Loyalty Cards are Similar to Those of Airlines and Hotels — But Not the Same – Part III
Video Poker vs. Regular Poker
Why I Prefer Video Poker To Slots
Bob Dancer is the premier video poker writer and teacher in the world. He has created a number of how-to-win products available at bobdancer.com. He co-hosts a weekly radio show called Gambling with an Edge, which is also archived on his website. (The show is also available on iTunes.)
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