October 27th, 2017

Can you make money playing video poker?

I thought this subject had been fully aired, but it came up again on a thread yesterday, so I thought I’d address it again very briefly.

The question is whether Paddock could have made money playing video poker. The answer is “yes, if he started with a huge stake and was an obsessive numbers guy, and particularly if he started quite a few years ago when the machines had better odds for the patient and focused video poker obsessives among us.”

The odds are actually not too bad to at least break even if and only if you know what you’re doing and have a lot of patience. Paddock apparently knew what he was doing and had a lot of patience (read: obsessiveness). Here’s the scoop:

For years, Paddock and other professionals had figured out how to make the machines pay, tipping their advantage by a few hundredths of a percentage point by identifying the right games and maximizing points while playing…

“The video poker machines that Paddock played often attract locals who are not seeking the excitement and rowdiness of live poker games,” said Scott Roeben who runs the Vital Vegas blog. “It is not glamorous, it’s not exciting. It’s a game of just slogging away. It’s methodical and solitary.”

For Paddock, who was also a multimillion-dollar real estate investor, it was at least a steady income over a period of years…

But those familiar with the world of video poker say winning has become much harder as casinos, mostly on the Las Vegas Strip, have added machines that hold a better house advantage.

Sometime a little more than a decade ago, the odds changed. And not in Paddock’s favor…

The elimination of most machines that don’t have a broad, built-in house edge has narrowed the field of those who are ready to drop millions, said Jean Scott, who has written several books about video poker and has played at a professional level for decades. “The advantage plays have gone away in recent years. It is getting hard to win,” Scott said. “The casino bean counters are getting tougher.”

Anthony Curtis, a professional gambler who runs one of the authoritative guides to the Las Vegas casinos, the Las Vegas Advisor, said Paddock was what is known as a “comp hustler” — someone who plays well enough to get significant compensation in the form of suites, limos and food.

“These kind of players play for the complimentary services … this guy was not social, but he liked to see himself, his girlfriend and anyone else he brought along be treated well,” Curtis said. “He was a relatively knowledgeable video poker player and definitely knew what he was doing. A player like him does not really lose money — they play within their means to an actual plan.”

That fits everything we know about Paddock, and all the reports I’ve seen of his personality and habits are consistent with it. He didn’t actually make five million dollars playing poker, but he started out with millions and apparently kept those millions fairly intact while living what he considered the high life.

9 Responses to “Can you make money playing video poker?”

  1. F Says:

    As it happens, I am sitting right now in a hotel room on the 19th floor of a huge hotel/casino on the Las Vegas strip (here for a short conference). Looking out of my window I an see more than a dozen similar establishments.

    This level of infrastructure is not the product of an industry that gives clients an even chance to win. They win — they HAVE to win — so they can stay in business. And they stay in business because they do win.

    It is true they only need to take a small percentage of the very large amount of money that passes through their hands in any given day, but they have that advantage at all times.

    Paddock might have “broken even,” and he might have got a lot of “comps” because he played a lot. But the house still needs to retain some of every dollar that they handle or they cannot keep up this large infrastructure.

  2. neo-neocon Says:


    There is no question that the casinos make sure they turn a profit.

    But it is also possible that a person with the math skills and the obsessive patience could (particularly a few years ago) come out somewhat ahead. The vast vast majority of people were never going to do that, so the casinos were always safe.

  3. F Says:


    No argument to the idea that some people come out ahead, but after living in NV for a dozen years now I consider gambling losses a sort of “stupid tax”. Fortunately, it is largely paid by out of staters. I, surrounded by gambling machines even in the supermarkets where I buy my daily sustenance, have never given so much as a dime to what the state calls the “gaming industry”.

  4. The Other Chuck Says:

    The odds are actually not too bad to at least break even if and only if you know what you’re doing and have a lot of patience.

    Uh huh, sure they are. Neo, please for your own sake stay away from casinos.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    The Other Chuck:

    Did you even read the article? It explains how it works.

    About one person in a billion would have the requisite characteristics and motivation. Maybe fewer.But they certainly exist. There are so few of them, however, that the casinos have no reason to worry.

    I didn’t make this up.

  6. The Other Chuck Says:

    I read the LA Times article and understood it but disagree with the premise because of the same doubts that F voiced above. He may have had a hobby that he funded by his real estate income and investments. But if he actually made money gambling over a 20 year period, it was because the casinos let him. Which I find highly improbable.

  7. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Is the $5 million gross or net?
    Suppose he gambled that amount and won that amount, coming out even, more or less. Could that be called, “winning” as if he had five mill more than when he started?

  8. Ymar Sakar Says:

    First they need to figure out if it is money laundering, before anyone can say what he won or lost.

    the fact that the “lone shooter” is doing business with ISIL and giving them weapons or buying enough weapons to outfit a death squad from Islamic jihad… too many connections that are unexplained.

  9. Ymar Sakar Says:

    The feds also change their stories about as often as they did for Waco 1 and Waco 2. Another cover up.

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