Have you ever heard the expression “loose” used to describe a slot machine or video poker game?
The opposite is “tight.”
A loose gambling machine is one that pays out a lot compared to other gambling machines. A tight gambling machine is one that pays out poorly compared to other gambling machines.
Since we can determine the payback percentage for video poker games based on their pay tables, we can determine how loose or tight those games are within a hundredth of a percent.
You can’t do that with a slot machine unless you get your hands on a PARs sheet.
In this post, I explain which casinos have the loosest video poker in Las Vegas based on my research.
Please note that I used the expressions “payback percentage” and “expected return” interchangeably throughout the page.
Casinos don’t just buy a video poker machine with a pay table, put it on the floor, and forget about it. In fact, they’re adjusting machines and pay tables all the time.
In fact, in most modern video poker machines, they can change the pay table “under the hood” whenever they want to while you’re not playing.
Here’s why I bring this up:
You might visit a casino looking for a game with a specific pay table based on what I listed here. That casino might have removed those games or changed the pay tables on them.
You need to be ready for that.
When you talk about loose video poker games in Las Vegas, you’re usually talking about one or more of the following games:
The basic video poker game is Jacks or Better, which features no wild cards, and you get paid off on any hand that consists of a pair of jacks or higher.
Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus are much like Jacks or Better, but they both offer bonus payouts on a four of a kind. The size of the bonus depends on the rank of the cards comprising the four of a kind.
Deuces Wild is one of the original video poker games featuring wild cards. As the name suggests, twos are wild. This, of course, has a dramatic effect on your playing strategy. Loose Deuces, of course, is a variation of Deuces Wild.
Joker Wild is a sort of a middle-of-the-road game in between Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild. Instead of having four wild cards in the deck, Joker Wild—or Joker Poker—has only one wild card, the joker.
Finally, Pick’em Poker is a simplified variation of video poker with fewer decisions to make than a standard video poker game. Surprisingly, Pick’em Poker has a high payback percentage.
Deuces Wild is one of the rare video poker variations where you can get an edge over the casino. With a full pay game, the return to player for Deuces Wild is 100.76%. You won’t find many of these games around, but Sam’s Town in Las Vegas has some low stakes games (25 cents or less) near the buffet.
You might also find some low stakes, full pay Deuces Wild games at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur or Arizona Charlie’s Boulder Highway. These are limited to quarter machines.
Even though you’ll have an edge over the casino, you won’t make much of a living playing Deuces Wild. Your edge is only 0.76%, and the most action you’ll probably get per hour is $750. Your expected win on that much action per hour is only $5.70. You’d make more money as a waiter or waitress.
You can also find a good number of what’s called “Not So Ugly” Deuces Wild. That pay table has a 99.73% expected return with perfect play. Try Gold Coast and/or Jerry’s Nugget if you’re looking for this pay table.
Your best option when looking for Jacks or Better game is to look for a full pay game. This game pays out 9 for 1 on a full house and 6 for 1 on a flush. The expected return is 99.54% if you play perfectly.
You’ll lose money at this game, but you’ll lose it more slowly than at almost any other game in the casino.
Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is a small casino with a tiny handful of full pay Jacks or Better games.
Aliante Casino Hotel and Spa also has some full pay JoB games. The Bellagio has some high stakes games available in the $5 and $10 denominations. Caesars Palace also has high stakes Jacks or Better with a full pay schedule, and they go all the way up to $100 denominations.
Other than that, you won’t find many good Jacks or Better games in Las Vegas unless you look for progressive jackpot Jacks or Better games.
When I was researching this post, I found a survey from 2017 that rated Las Vegas casinos and gave them grades based on how loose their video poker games were. The surveyors randomly chose quarter games at the larger casino hotels.
Only two casinos got an A for their video poker games: South Point and Arizona Charlie’s Decatur.
South Point Casino offers Not So Ugly Deuces Wild and full pay Jacks or Better for as little as a quarter or as much as $2. Besides those games, they have a whole list of variations and pay tables that pay out at 99%+ if you play with perfect strategy, although the strategies for some of these games will be unfamiliar to the average video poker player.
These games include Super Double Bonus, Bonus Deluxe, Triple Double Bonus, and A-C-E-S Bonus.
Arizona Charlie’s Decatur also has a number of pay tables, some of which offer a positive expectation. I already mentioned the full pay Deuces Wild games there, but they also have a Joker Wild game with a 100.65% expected return. They also have 100.17% Double Bonus and 100.07% Double Double Bonus.
And that’s just for starters. They have several games where the pay table offers 99%+ payback when you play with perfect strategy.
The only catch is that almost all their really good video poker games are for really low stakes. You can forget about finding a positive expectation game for more than a quarter at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur.
The list of Las Vegas casinos that got a B grade was significantly longer, but it didn’t include a lot of big-name casinos. The average payback percentage for these games is in the 97% to 98% range, which isn’t bad, but you can do better if you’re diligent.
Many of these hotels and casinos offering the better video poker games are either in Downtown Vegas or on the Boulder Strip. You won’t find much good video poker at the Strip hotels in Las Vegas. They figure they’re getting enough action just because of their location.
So, you’re looking at casinos like El Cortez, the Plaza, and the Downtown Grand in Downtown.
Or you’re looking at casinos like Arizona Charlie’s Boulder or Boulder Station on the Boulder Strip.
Even if you play badly, you’ll see a higher expected return at video poker than you will playing slot machines.
But you can’t expect to see that 99% payback percentages if you don’t know how to play well.
All the expected returns that you see for the various pay tables assume that you’re playing every hand in the mathematically optimal way.
If you’re a little off, you might only be giving up 0.5%, but if you’re really new to video poker, you might be giving up as much as 4%.
Even then, if you’re playing games with a good pay table, you’ll be doing better than you would playing on a slot machine. Las Vegas slot machines are notoriously loose compared to other cities’ slots, but they’re always tighter than video poker games.
What’s more, you won’t even know what the payback percentage is for a slot machine game. You can view the pay table and see what the various prizes are, but you have no way to estimate the probability of getting each of those combinations. Without that information, you can’t calculate the expected return for the game.
So, who has the loosest video poker in Las Vegas?
That answer probably changes from time to time, but your best bet is to try the casinos on the Boulder Strip and, failing that, try the casinos in Downtown Las Vegas.
You won’t find much loose video poker on the Strip in Las Vegas.
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