This morning, I decided to try my luck in getting into the new Rivers casino in Schenectady. I was able to drive right in, find a good parking spot in the garage, and get on a long line to get my player’s club card loaded with $20 free play for pre-registering on line. The line moved relatively quickly, and after getting my card I took a quick walking tour of the casino floor.
As the photos I had seen suggested, the clean modern design was well-executed, and reminded me a lot of the M Resort in southern Las Vegas, a nice property. The gaming floor was very small, and there were very few video poker machines. Even at that off hour, all the lower denomination machines were occupied, so it was difficult to ascertain the pay tables. It was a pleasure not having to deal with smokers, and the ambient noise level – often a sore point with me – was reasonable.
I did see several dollar machines that were not occupied; the jacks or better games on those were of the short pay, 8/5 variety, which is not competitive with the offerings of the Connecticut casinos (9/6) or Turning Stone (8/6 or 9/5). If you think shorting you one dollar on a flush and a full house doesn’t make much of a difference, you are wrong:
Properly played (using optimum strategy and playing at full coin), traditional “full pay” 9/6 video poker pays back an average of 99.5% of all moneys wagered. This overall return takes a long time to achieve, since part of it is based on hitting a royal flush, which on average occurs only once in some 40,000 hands, but it’s a useful measure nonetheless, and the best one we have. The overall return of the “short pay” 8/5 machine (again, based on optimum play at full coin, over a long period of time) is 97.3%, or some 2.2% less than full pay.
While 2.2% doesn’t sound like much, it can add up fast. Let’s assume play on a dollar machine. At max coin, that’s $5.00 a spin. While experienced video poker players can achieve speeds of up to 1,000 hands per hour, and average 600-800 hands per hour, let’s assume a leisurely pace (which I recommend) of 400 hands per hour. That means the player is pushing $2,000 an hour through the machine, which amount is exposed to a house edge of 2.7%. On average, the house therefore will retain $54 of that amount. On a full pay machine, with a 0.5% house edge, the house will retain, on average only $10 — more than four times less. The average hourly cost of playing a $1.00 short pay jacks or better video poker machine is $44 more than a full pay machine. As we used to say in Brooklyn, “that ain’t nuttin'”.
The blackjack tables I saw on the main floor had $25 minimums, and appeared to use either 8-deck shoes or, on one table, a continuous shuffling machine. Blackjack payouts were 3 to 2 at those tables. None was occupied, so further information on playing conditions and rules was not available. I did not see any of the 6 to 5 double and single deck tables mentioned on the web site, which is just as well. Unfortunately, I did not have time to look at the other table games to see what the minimums were. In any event, minimum usually change based on how busy the casino is. A weekday morning is likely to see lower minimums than a weekend or evening.
In sum, Rivers turned out to offer the mid-level video poker player about what I expected. If it offers the same 8/5 games to quarter players, it is more competitive at that level. Its main advantage is convenience; unless it extends really good offers and comps to its players, its games are not as good as one can find elsewhere. And that convenience may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that one arriving at a busier time may not be able to find an available video poker machine or other desired game. I also have read that, although the casino has a capacity of some 7,000, there are indoor and outdoor spaces for less than 2,000 cars, so parking also may be problem. When I left a little before noon, the valet already was full, and people were circling the garage looking for spaces.