Oct 26, 2020
This will be the final article related to Pennsylvania Skill Games and consists mainly of a few observations that are not long enough to justify their own articles. There’s not much more to say than that, so let’s get started:
Bizarre Video Poker
Perhaps the most unusual skill game that I’ve discovered so far is a video poker game that exists on some of the smaller bar machines that look like a television console. This video poker game is essentially a variant of Double Jokers Wild, but that doesn’t really matter as the paytable is essentially meaningless. On these, the hands do not correspond to the actual probabilities and the return could be anything.
What makes this so bizarre?
In my opinion, it’s bizarre because ACTUAL Video Poker is closer to being a skill game than this selection. With video poker, a player’s long-term expected return can be negatively impacted by the decisions the player makes with, “Optimal Strategy,” representing the maximum possible return-to-player by making the correct holding decision 100% of the time.
In other words, the long-term expected return effectively changes based upon the actions of the player.
The Pennsylvania Skill Game Video Poker is...not that.
The only skill component on this game is that it comes with a, “Prize Viewer,” feature by which the player can know whether or not the next hand will have more than a $0.00 return. The actual holds that a player makes or does not make do not matter at all.
The way it works is that if a player makes the, “Wrong,” hold, then a treasure chest will appear at the top of the screen and either award the player the amount that the player was, “Supposed,” to win (by taking the auto-hold) or will award the player the difference between what the player received and what the player was supposed to get.
Of course, the game does everything in its power to appear as a random Video Poker game, although that's still not a terribly good job. For one thing, as far as I can tell, the auto-holds would generally be the best possible decision if the game actually had randomly drawn cards--which it doesn’t. At least, I didn’t see a situation in which the auto-hold would obviously not have been the best mathematical play.
Another thing that the game does is that it will usually not present the player with a situation in which the player cannot make a winning hand, “Naturally,” on the draw. In most cases, no matter how ridiculous the hold you make, the game will default to trying to present the hand that corresponds with what the player is supposed to be paid. One example is being dealt a Full House (which is also supposed to be the final hand) and imagine it goes Ace-Ace-Joker-Deuce-Deuce...for this, if you just hold the aces and joker (which would be the wrong play if it actually mattered) then you’re guaranteed to get the other two deuces or a pair of something else.
Another thing that I noticed on this game is that the game will make you hold at least one card.
I played probably some fifty hands at $0.25/hand looking ahead to see what the prize would be just because I wanted to get the game in a situation where I couldn’t get the hand that I was, “Supposed,” to get. For that one, I was supposed to end up with a Full House and was dealt:
Everyone knows that the correct play is to hold an Ace, a Three and a Nine here...that’s just video poker basics. Anyway, I held those cards and was awarded with Two Pair---which is when the treasure chest appeared with a, “Bonus,” for me that totaled up to what I would have been paid had I held Joker-Three-Three like the game wanted, received another pair, and ended up with a Full House.
Honestly, it’s pretty ridiculous to even call this a, “Skill Game,” because there’s literally no way possible for the player to screw anything up---even if the player is actively trying to do so. The only, “Skill,” component to this game whatsoever is whether or not the player chooses to use the Prize Viewer feature.
Tickets Are a PAIN!!!!
If you choose to go around vulturing the games with, “Prize Viewer,” or, “Next Puzzle,” feature, then be prepared for the occasional pain in the ass when it comes to cashing your tickets:
1.) In the first article, I discussed how some places either believe, or pretend to believe, that these machines are associated with the lottery and will only cash tickets during lottery hours. That’s the first possible pain in the ass, so be prepared for the possibility of having to go back ahead of time if you’re playing outside of lottery hours--particularly at gas stations and convenience stores.
One exception is bars/restaurants and perhaps other locations that do not sell lottery tickets. In my experience with such locations, they’ll cash tickets pretty much anytime.
If you run into a place that seems shady, then I would recommend maybe not playing if it’s outside of lottery hours. One thing that I’ve noticed is verbiage on most, if not all, tickets that says, “Tickets can only be redeemed on the day they are printed.” It wouldn’t surprise me if a place were to refuse to pay out the next day citing that it had to be cashed the day before---particularly on a big win---and despite the fact that they were not even cashing tickets at the time you won.
2.) Another issue that you might encounter at the gas stations and convenience stores is that you’ll occasionally have an attendant who doesn’t even know how to cash the tickets to begin with. I’ve had this happen on a few occasions at one of my stops---usually if it’s someone new.
What will end up happening is that they’ll either call the manager and ask how they are supposed to cash out the tickets, or if they’re really busy, they’ll just ask you to come back at a different time that one of the other employees will be there.
On one occasion, I encountered an employee who said that, “Literally nobody has ever cashed out a ticket before,” which I took to mean with that specific employee. In any case, they were totally lost.
You would think that they could just pay out the amount of the ticket and deal with scanning it later, but that has never been the case in any of these instances.
3.) “High,” Ticket Amounts:
There’s nobody regulating these things, and as a result, there’s no requirement (as with most gambling establishments) that they have to keep a certain amount of cash on hand.
In fact, I’ve been asked to come back to cash a ticket as low as $80 simply because the employee said that it would totally screw his cash drawer and there’d be nothing he could do if someone came in with a big bill.
I mean, I get it. We’re talking about convenience stores in/near a large city, so I could totally understand why they wouldn’t be sitting there with a thousand dollars in the drawer, but eighty bucks!? Obviously, it would be ideal if they gave the employees a means to quickly access cash, but generally, they just have to call a manager who will go to the bank or get in the safe...and you will be given a time to return to cash your ticket.
This isn’t the case in all places, but be prepared for a wait if you do hit something really big. I saw a gentleman who had hit for over a thousand (he was just playing straight up) and it took him nearly an hour to wait for the cash because, while the employee was able to get it from the safe, the safe would only release $100 every five minutes as a built-in security feature.
The long story short is just not to be surprised or overly worried if you have to come back and cash your ticket a different time for one reason or another; it’s pretty normal. The only thing that I would recommend is demanding to have your ticket cashed THAT DAY if you have one for a large amount as I would not put it past business owners to refuse to cash it due to the verbiage on the ticket.
I detailed my experience with being backed off from two of these, “Skill Games,” establishments, despite my only transgression literally being to play as the signage suggests I should play.
Since then, I’ve been 86’ed from one other establishment. There’s really nothing particularly noteworthy about that one except for the fact that they ALSO ripped my ticket up! Could you imagine a casino deciding you’re an AP, that they don’t like that and then just ripping your ticket to shreds!?
(Well, I guess I’ve had tickets wrongly confiscated at a casino before---but they didn’t rip them up.)
The good news for me on that one is that I only put a five-spot in the machine for precisely that possibility. I’ll usually put the smallest bills I can to cover the play just in case something like that happens.
After getting tossed, I called the police to see what could be done about it, (the ticket was for over $100) but they told me that I had no claim as relates what was won on the machine. Essentially, they said I could come and fill out a report that the establishment effectively stole five dollars from me, but that there wasn’t anything they could do to recover monies that I had won as (in their opinion) the machines are unregulated and illegal anyway.
Aside from that, I haven’t been backed off again, though I did have an interesting conversation with a manager of one establishment with five Pace-O-Matic machines:
MANAGER: Hey, I know what you’re doing over here. I don’t really care, but no looking unless you put money in.
BRANDON: Um...I guess that’s fine, but do you really want to pointlessly cash tickets if I don’t end up playing any of the games? I just figure I’m saving you paper by not putting in any money if I’m not going to play.
MANAGER: I’m just going by what the owner told me to do. I guess I’m actually supposed to throw you out, but I think that’s stupid. Anyway, I don’t care if it’s just a dollar, just put something in so the owner can’t run his mouth if he comes in.
BRANDON: Good enough, man, thanks!
Ultimately, I would end up cashing a ticket for $3 in that I turned into $37 and four other $1 tickets.
I still think that’s a complete waste of printer paper, but I guess it beats getting thrown out.
I’m sure I mentioned this previously, but it’s worth reiterating that the regeneration rate of plays is dead slow pretty much everywhere. Honestly, there’s only one place that I even check multiple times per week (at this point) and everywhere else I go, at most, once per week. The place that I check more than once per week is right across the street from somewhere that I have to go multiple times per week anyway, and even then, I won’t check more than two or three times per week.
One thing that I have noticed is that regular players seem to figure out the, “Next Puzzle,” or, “Look-Ahead,” feature sooner or later and will utilize it if they are playing anyway. The reason I think this is because one place will have no plays whatsoever, (but indications that there WERE plays) whereas a place right down the street will have a few. If it was a vulture, then the vulture would likely have also checked the place down the street.
Basically, quite a few things have to happen for there to be a play:
- Someone actually has to play the thing.
- They either have to cash out, run out of money or switch games without using, “Next Puzzle,” or, “Prize Viewer,” or just not care that much.
- You have to get to it before someone else does.
So, you might ask: Are you sure other vultures aren’t just beating you to it?
The answer is no, at least not all the time, mainly because almost everywhere I go and regardless of what time I go there, nobody is playing any of the machines. No vultures. No regular players. Nobody.
For the most part, I tend to think the machines (at a given location) probably have anywhere from one to a handful of regular players and, every once in a while, a person curious about them will slide a few dollars in.
Honestly, the only real selling point for checking these things is the fact that you literally cannot lose. Again, maybe some areas are better than others, but very few people around here seem to care to play them.
Of course, it probably doesn’t help that those who do win have a 50/50 chance of dealing with one pain in the ass or another when it comes to getting the ticket cashed.
Telltale Sign of Other Vultures
For the purposes of this section, I’m not making a distinction between actual, “Vultures,” and regular players who just happen to check the machines if they are playing them anyway.
Anyway, there’s a pretty easy way to tell whether or not another person has checked the machines. Basically, the Pace-O-Matic machines will show the final state of the last puzzle played as well as the amount won. It doesn’t change this based on the bet amounts, but unless it was a Bonus Game, you can easily determine the bet amount based on the result and how much was won.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never seen a player in a casino make a $2 bet, win $6, and then decide THAT is the time to quit. It’s definitely up to you whether or not you’d still want to go through and check all of the games anyway, (hey, they could have missed something) but you’re generally not going to find anything other than a few of the other games being someone quitting after a small win.
One nice thing about these win amounts/puzzles is that, if you can basically remember them, then you’ll know if YOU were the last one to play that game. Of course, that really only applies at the place that I check multiple times per week. You could also make note of the progressive amounts, if you choose, and that will also tell you if anyone has played since your last visit.
The (any) machines that are NOT Pace-O-Matics will usually display the most recent amount won for a particular game somewhere on the screen. The same concept basically applies. It’s highly doubtful that someone won $5.00 on an eighty cent bet and decided that is, “Walkaway money.”
One thing that I would do though is, “Spin Off,” any big(gish) wins in order to have them not be showing. The reason that I recommend that is that I have noticed players look at the different games to see if there have been any, “Big Hits,” recently...and then choose not to play if there have been. The funny thing is, with the way the Pace-O-Matics work---they’re not exactly wrong, they’re just not right for the reason that they think and it likely doesn’t matter as much as they think it does.
You might also consider, “Covering your tracks,” if you’re vulturing the machines, but I don’t recommend that. I’d leave those small amounts showing because I’d WANT other vultures to know that someone else is checking the machines--maybe they’ll get discouraged and stop.
That brings us to progressives on the Pace-O-Matic machines.
First of all, I don’t have any insight on, “Good numbers,” to play for Pace-O-Matic progressives and have no intention of figuring it out even if it can be figured out.
For one thing, one would have to assume that it’s possible for the progressives to even be hit in the first place...which should be a safe assumption, but it’s not a guarantee. I couldn’t imagine displaying a line pay result that’s not actually possible, so tend to assume there is at least one such result for every bet level--but it’s important to remember that these machines are totally unregulated. Because of that, there’s a remote (in my opinion) possibility that there are no results corresponding to the top level progressive in the pool of results.
This section is mainly dedicated to something that I observed at multiple locations that have added new games to their Pace-O-Matic machines. In one case, four new games were added to the machine, but six games were removed. The four new games all started with the regular seed base pays for the progressive results, but the progressives for the games that were removed did not have the player contributions added to any other games on the units.
In other words, all of the player funded money (which is part of the overall return of the game) is completely gone for those games.
That’s another thing about them being unregulated. In Nevada, as well as other states, there are rules that say that player-funded progressive funds MUST be moved to a different machine(s) by which the probability of hitting the progressive is either as likely or more likely. Granted, I have personally witnessed many progressives just get killed completely (even on games that did not leave the floor) particularly when one specific casino was shut down for COVID. When they opened back up, all of the must-hit progressives had been reset to base.
However, that should at least theoretically NOT happen with casinos in most jurisdictions. Conversely, with the Pace-O-Matics (and others) they can do whatever the hell they want. For the record, I have not observed progressives that have been removed from any other types of units.
I also don’t know what the arrangement is vis-a-vis buying the spin pools when the games are eliminated from the machine and replaced with new ones. I probably won’t make much of an effort to find out, but if I do happen to find out, I’ll mention it in the comments.
In any event, my opinion is that you should not make any effort to determine the, “Play points,” for Pace-O-Matic progressives because it’s apparently nothing to walk in and just have the game be completely gone without the progressive contribution being moved to a different game on the unit.
I don’t know how I managed to miss this a few times, but the little machines that can be found in bars and are about the size of a small TV (they usually just sit on a table) are really easy to check extremely quickly. These ones have the button that says, “Prize Viewer,” for the Keno Games or, “Preview Spin,” for the slot games...but if you look on the bottom left of the screen it’ll simply tell you what the result is going to be without taking the time to hit the look ahead function.
The verbiage on it is something like, “Play 80 to Win 400,” or whatever the bet amount is. For the Keno games, you can just change the bet amount with ten picks on the screen, then breeze through all the different bet amounts looking at the results. After that, change your number of selections to nine picks and do the same thing...and so on.
With the slot games, all you need do is change the bet amounts.
That’s really convenient for these machines because the Keno games (on the nickel betting amounts) can have as many as 360 possible game states.
Picks 2-10 (9 Game States) * 40 Possible Bet Amounts = 360
One of the slot games allows for bets in increments of eight cents all the way up to a $4.00 bet, on some devices. In other words, fifty possible game states on those games.
In total, these machines have over 500 total possible game states, but with the method of quickly switching bets as you stare at the bottom left verbiage, you can fully check a machine in fewer than five minutes.
Ultimately, my conclusion that this is basically a novelty play (unless you live in an area with a high concentration of machines that get lots of action) is unchanged. Even then, to the extent that it’s a novelty play, don’t be surprised to run into the various hassles mentioned above--particularly when it comes to getting your tickets cashed.
You should also not be surprised to get 86’ed from one of these places if you do choose to check the machines for winning plays. Whether or not you want to employ, “Cover play,” is completely up to you, but it’s generally not worth it in my opinion. The only time I would maybe, “Slow play,” for a few extra minutes is if I win more than $50 at a place.
Even with the cover play, it’s pretty obvious what you’re doing...and there’s really no way to make it not obvious unless you want to be there half of forever. The only places I’ve been tossed out of have been bars and a place that only seems to exist for the Games of Skill...it seems that convenience store/gas station type places are either unconcerned with what you’re doing or just don’t have the time to worry about you.
Even after all of this time, I’m still on the fence about whether or not this is lucrative enough to build a permanent weekly route, but I’m leaning towards no. The main problem is that the places to throw me out were a few of the best locations---which is probably true because they’re throwing people out for playing the, “Skill Games,” in a skillful manner. In other words, I had no competition at those places, (and they also seem to generate more action than most) but the state of affairs didn’t last very long.
Those aside, I’ve only found two other places where I get what I would consider a substantial enough amount of opportunities to really make it worth it. As I said above, it really doesn’t seem to take too long for the, “Regulars,” to figure it out and start checking the machines themselves.