Progressively Worse?

A guy walks into a bar and looks at the video poker schedules. Then he looks up, smiles, and digs for a 20. What just happened? Most likely he saw a progressive jackpot that he liked.

Progressive jackpots on bar video poker games aren’t what I’d call common, but they’re not rare, either. Typically, a bar that features progressives will have them on a couple of machines, and usually only on select schedules at the 25-cent level. They’re promoted with big digital readers positioned above the bar that display the current level of the progressive royal flush. Players are drawn to the games, because a $1,520 royal is better than one for $1,000, right? Well, probably not.

Players want the bigger jackpots, but going after them will usually be more expensive in the end than playing other options. The reason is that progressive jackpots are almost always attached to games with greatly inferior base schedules, meaning that the jackpot has to be significantly higher than $1,000 to justify playing.

Think about it. On a Double Double Bonus game, for example, how high does a royal flush meter have to be for you to choose it over one of the nonprogressive games? For most who have at least some intuitive sense, $1,200 or lower isn’t gonna get it. How about $1,300 or $1,400? Maybe you begin considering at that level, but probably not. A royal of $1,500 seems to be the point where the converts begin to emerge. But guess what? That’s not really close.

As unsexy as it sounds, the best game in about 75 percent of the bars in Vegas is Bonus Poker, where, with the common “6/5” schedule, the return for perfect play is 96.87 percent. On the typical Double Double progressive, the return at a $1,500 royal is only 95.76 percent. That’s more than 1 percent worse than playing the best of the other games.

So where does the royal have to be to make it the best choice in the bar? I encountered this scenario at the Rusty Spur Saloon at 8025 S. Dean Martin Drive, where the progressive was at $1,950. On its “standard” Double Double game, the return was 96.82 percent, just about even with 6/5 Bonus Poker. Close enough, but a good rule of thumb is that the meter should be at $2,000 on a quarter game before it’s the best choice available. (Note: This does not apply to all Deuces Wild, or games that require the play of more than five coins to be eligible for the progressive.)

As a point of interest, if you want the Double Double game to actually be a positive play, which means its theoretical return exceeds 100 percent, you’ll have to wait for the meter to reach $3,220.