Dave versus HAL?

Dear Mark,
Does a video poker machine in any way think like an opposing player? I ask because sometimes the machine is sneering at my play. For example: giving me the card I needed on the last hand, as the first one dealt on the next. Dave D.

If you are you asking, Dave, whether or not your competition is a "2001 HAL-like" thinking antagonist, the answer is no. The video poker machine, although also a computer, is not programmed to think of mischievous ways of emptying your wallet. Poor play will accomplish that.

A video poker machine, Dave, is designed to do just one task: deal you cards and let you make the mistakes. Its internal programming simulates the shuffling of the deck, deals five random cards to the screen, then lets the player discard any of those cards, replacing those cards with random draws. Then a chip within examines the hand to determine if it is a winner. The machine then pays off according to the pay schedule on the front of the machine. When the one-eyed Jack you needed on the last hand comes winking out at you on the next, it's pure coincidence, though admittedly a frustrating one.

If you'd like to sneer at the machine, Dave, read on.

What I personally like best about this indifferent video adversary, is that you not only have the probability of a decent payoff, but you truly are in control of the game by virtue of your skillful decisions. A good basic strategy player who can identify decent paying machines, can virtually eliminate the house advantage, bringing it down to goose egg, and in some cases, giving the adroit player a slight edge. Those machines I'm speaking of are 9/6 Jacks or Better, full-pay Deuces Wild and 10/7 Double Bonus. By playing these three machines and using perfect strategy, and playing the maximum amount of coins, you can achieve the following payback percentages: 99.5% on 9/6 Jacks or Better, 100.7% on full-pay Deuces Wild and 100.1% on 10/7 Double Bonus.

Dear Mark,
Over the past year, I have been getting killed playing video keno, so much so that I can't ever remember my last winning session, let alone when I broke even. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Dale J.

Two suggestions, Dale. First, take a break from video keno for a month, then, quit playing video keno forever. Sure, Dale, I'm being smug, but the fact of the matter is that the choice between keno and video keno is the choice between losing or losing really fast. Neither would ever make my Top-'0 list of smart casino plays, and here's why.

The medium house advantage on all live keno games is approximately 28%. On a video keno game, it is 7.5%. Why so much lower? Video keno has better paytables. Take the 8-spot ticket: By hitting four of eight on a video keno machine, you double your money. You will never find that on a live keno game.

On paper, video keno is the better deal and a decent play, right? Not so fast, my friend. At $1 a whack, the most you could lose on a live keno game is about $'5 an hour, as that is the average number of games called every 60 minutes. A typical video keno player can burn through $'5 in quarters in less than five minutes. Even with a reduced house edge of only 7.5%, your money will still flow in the wrong direction. Moreover, the only recommended wagers you'll find in this column have less than a two percent house edge.

Besides my rest-and-quit proposition, I prescribe for victims of the keno urge, try video poker instead (see above).

Gambling thought of the week: "It sure gets lonely in casinos. No, that's not it. Casinos sure are a place for lonely people." -Jesse May (Shut Up And Deal)