A Comprehensive Guide to Video Poker

Guide to Video Poker

Welcome to the video poker section of our site. It's our goal to provide the most complete guide to video poker on the Internet. We're including sections related to the following topics:

  • Finding video poker games and casinos
  • Mobile video poker apps
  • Learning video poker (for beginners)
  • Understanding video poker pay tables
  • Strategy tips (for winning more often)

Since this is the main page for the section, we've included a detailed overview of the game in general and its history, too.

What Is Video Poker and How Does It Work?

Video poker games are gambling machines, but they're not SLOT machines. In fact, there are some big differences between video poker machines and slot machines. But there are also some major similarities.

Both slots and video poker are found in the slot machine section of the casino. They both require you to input cash to buy credits on the machine. You then use these credits to buy chances at hitting various winning combinations of symbols on paylines.

On a slot machine, you have random symbols. Often these are based on tradition, like bars and fruit. Some slot machines even use a limited number of playing card symbols.

Each of these symbols has a probability of coming up on a payline. On older, mechanical slot machines, each symbol had a roughly equal chance of appearing. On newer, computerized slot machines, these symbols can have wildly varying chances of appearing.

The payoffs for these combinations are based on the probability of getting that combination.

Here's an example of how that works on an old-time slot machine:

The game has 3 reels. Each reel has 10 symbols on it, and there's an equal chance of getting any symbol. The probability of getting 3 of the same symbols in a row is the product of the probability of getting that symbol on each reel.

The probability is 1/10 X 1/10 X 1/10 = 1/1000 on any combination.

If one of those combinations pays off at 900 for 1, it's easy to see how the casino stands to make a profit on that wager. You have a 999 to 1 chance of winning, but you only win 899 units.

All the combinations on a slot machine are set up so that the amount you win isn't commensurate with the odds of winning. That's how the casino makes a profit. In fact, all casino games work this way - they all pay off at less than the odds of winning.

The difference between the odds of winning and the payoff odds is the house edge. On gambling machines, the difference between the house edge and 100% is the payback percentage. If a slot machine has a 10% edge over the player, the payback percentage is 90%.

Here's the tricky thing about modern slot machines though:

You have no way of knowing the probability of getting any of the symbols. Since the games are computerized, you could have any conceivable probability of getting any single symbol. Some symbols might be programmed to turn up 1/5 of the time, while others might be programmed to come up only 1/25 of the time.

This advance in slot machine technology has enabled casinos to offer huge jackpots on slot machine games. The trade-off is that you're playing a game where you have no idea what the house edge is.

We call this "opacity".

Other casino games (including video poker), have "transparent" odds. In a game of blackjack, for example, you know how many cards are in the deck. You know the probability of getting an ace of spades. You can use this knowledge to calculate the house edge for the game.

In fact, you can calculate the house edge for every casino game on the floor besides slot machines.

But why are video poker games also transparent when slot machine games are not?

Here's How a video poker game works:

You input your money. You wager between 1 and 5 coins. You press the "deal" button.

The game "deals" you 5 playing cards. You get to choose to keep or discard each of those cards.

The game deals your replacement cards for the cards you discarded. The value of your final poker hand determines your payoff.

But the computer that generates the results on a video poker game bases the probabilities on actual playing card probabilities, which are all known.

For example, you know that there's a 1 in 4 chance of getting a card of a suit. There's a 1 in 13 chance of getting a card of a ranking.

If you know the odds of winning and the payoff amount, you can calculate the house edge for the game.

In our view, this fact alone makes video poker far superior to slot machines.

But the transparency of the odds behind the game is not the only difference. Another major difference between slot and video poker is what we call "agency".

On a slot machine game, you have no decisions to make besides how much you wager and how many paylines you activate. You can also choose which game to play, but since the odds are opaque, this choice doesn't amount to much.

On the other hand, on a video poker game, you get to decide which cards to keep and which cards to throw away. This means that you're making decisions that matter to your odds of winning.

It's like having the choice of hitting or standing in a blackjack game, or of betting, raising, or folding in a real multiplayer poker game. Making correct decisions gives you a better chance of winning, and making poor decisions gives you a worse chance of winning.

The payback percentages that are posted on various websites and in books on video poker assume that you're making the correct decisions all the time. Most players don't play at this level, so they can assume that their payback percentage is at least 1% lower than what's published on these sites and in these books.

We're big fans of playing games where we have agency. We like having decisions to make that matter when we gamble. Some players prefer games where they have no agency. They don't want to make decisions.

You should decide for yourself whether you want to make decisions when you gamble. Everyone has different goals and preferences. Part of being an educated gambler is knowing what your goals and preferences are and getting the most fun out of the experience that you can.

Here's an example:

You know you're a social gambler. You want to interact with other people.

You also know that you're not interested in making decisions.

You're really laid back and don't need much excitement.

Since slot machines and video poker games are mostly solitary activities, they're probably not the appropriate games for you.

Since blackjack requires copious amounts of decision making, that's probably one to avoid, too.

Craps is so lively and adrenaline-soaked that it just makes you anxious.

Roulette, on the other hand, is leisurely, requires no decision, and usually has plenty of company at the table.

The appropriate player for video poker games is one who enjoys playing alone and making decisions that matter.

We'd also like to point out one more thing about video poker versus slot machines:

Even if you're not an especially skilled player, the payback percentage is almost certainly higher on a video poker game than on a slot machine game. The best slot machines in the casino might pay off at 95%. Most video poker games start there, and the better games have a payback percentage of 99% or higher.

In fact, the combination of the rewards from the slots club and the low house edge on video poker means that you might even be able to play with an edge against the casino.

What Does "House Edge" and "Payback Percentage" Mean in the Context of Video Poker, Though?

The house edge is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to keep over many trials. If a game has a house edge of 5%, the casino expects to win $5 out of every $100 you wager. A gambling machine with a 5% house edge has a payback percentage of 95%. That's how much money you expect to win back for every $100 you wager.

Here's How You Figure Out the House Edge in Roulette

A roulette wheel has 38 numbers on it, so if you place a bet on a single number, your odds of winning are 37 to 1. In other words, you have 37 ways to lose and 1 way to win.

A single number bet at a roulette table pays off at 35 to 1.

If you bet $100 on the same number 38 times in a row and saw the mathematically expected results from those trials, you'll have wagered a total of $3800. You'll lose $100 37 times or a total of $3700. You'll win $3500 1 time.

If you lose $3700 and win $3500, your net loss is $200.

If you divide $200 by the total number of bets you placed (38), you get an average loss of $5.26 per bet.

Since you're betting $100 at a time, $5.26 represents a house edge of 5.26%.

All games in the casino, including video poker, pay off at less than the odds of winning. That's where they get their edge.

Casinos use this information to gauge how profitable a game is over a period of time. The formula is easy, in fact:

You multiply the average bet by the number of bets per hour to get the actual hourly action. You multiply that by the house edge to determine the projected winnings for the game.

Let's say you're managing a casino with a single blackjack table, and the average player faces a 1.5% house edge. (It might be higher or lower than that based on the average skill level of your casino's players).

You have an average of 3 players at the table, which runs 24 hours a day. Each player bets an average of $10 per hands. The dealers keep the game moving and deal 50 hands per hour per player.

3 players X 24 hours X $10 per hand X 50 hands per hour X 1.5% house edge = $540 in projected winnings per day.

They use that same calculation to determine how profitable a video poker game or slot machine is, too. But the numbers can be dramatically different:

An average video poker player sees 600 hands per hour. (The game moves fast.) On a quarter machine, this theoretically average player is wager $1.25 per hand-5 coins. That's $750 per hour in action. If you assume that this theoretical has a payback percentage of 97%, the casino expects to win $22.50 per hour from this machine.

You can use this information, too. Just keep in mind one thing, though:

House edge numbers, payback percentages, and projected hourly loss rates are all based on theoretically perfect results. In the short run, your results will be anything but perfect. These are long-term expected results.

Over 10 hands of video poker, you might be way up or way down. Over 100 hands of video poker, you are likely to have lost a small amount of money or won a small amount of money. Until you get into the 10,000 hands range, you might see results wildly different from the expected results.

When you think about it, this explains a lot about how casinos stay in business. Most players are dealing with short-term results. If players didn't come home winners some of the time, no one would continue to play.

Over a weekend, a video poker player might get in 1200 or 1800 hands. A super aggressive player might even get in 4000 or 5000 hands. But even with that many hands, standard deviation ensures that some players walk away a winner.

But for the casino, the law of large numbers adds up quickly. When you're dealing with dozens or even hundreds of machines, with players on them almost round the clock, 365 days a year, you're going to results that come amazingly close to the expected results.

Video Poker Online as Compared to Video Poker in Brick and Mortar Casinos

Online casinos generally offer the same games as their brick and mortar predecessors. The odds and probabilities for the games mirror those of the same games at the casino. For example, if you're playing craps, the odds of rolling a 7 are the same when you're playing on a computer as they are when you're rolling actual, physical dice in a casino.

Since video poker online relies on a random number generator program, the differences are minimal. You will find some video poker variations available online that aren't available in brick and mortar casinos, too, and vice versa.

One advantage you'll find at most online casinos is the best possible pay tables for most games. We're going to talk about specific pay table differences for video poker variations later in this article, but suffice it to say that just because a game is of a certain variety doesn't mean it has the same odds as another game of that variety.

In other words, some Jacks or Better games offer a 99.54% payback percentage, while others offer much lower percentages like 98.45%, 98.39%, all the way down to 93.20%.

But for the most part, the differences are minimal.

When Video Poker Isn't Video Poker

In some land-based casinos, usually in states which only offer gambling at tribal casinos, the video poker games aren't really video poker games at all. In these states, the law requires that all gambling be based on bingo algorithms. The cards on the screen are just for show.

In these states, when you're playing a video poker game, you're really participating in a lottery of sorts. The odds aren't based on any kind of playing card algorithm. Your decisions don't matter. The payback percentage is just an arbitrary number determined by the casino's algorithm.

These kinds of video poker games might as well be slot machines. Their official name is "pull tab machines". We recommend avoiding such games because they're deceptive by their very nature. If a game looks like video poker, it ought to play like video poker.

You'll sometimes find video poker games online that aren't really video poker games, too. One notorious example was from Slotland Casino. They no longer off it, but they used to have multiple video poker games and even a blackjack game which tied into their linked progressive jackpot. Since the game was just a slot machine game that looked like a video poker game, it was deceptive.

It seems as if Slotland has changed their strategy, as they now offer video poker games which are not tied into the same progressive jackpot that all their other slot machine games tie into.

We've also read reports of some casinos using crooked software. Amigotech software is the most notorious example. According to Michael Shackleford' site, Wizard of Odds, a player got in touch who had played 922 consecutive hands of video poker without seeing a single winner.

The odds of that happening in a fair game are astronomically small. The odds of getting a pair of jacks or better on a standard Jacks or Better game are about 1 in 5, and that's the lowest paying hand. To have no wins at all in 922 consecutive hands is inconceivable.

But most online casinos are reputable operations using reputable software packages to power their games. Examples include Microgaming, Net Entertainment, Playtech, Realtime Gaming, and Rival Gaming. Almost any casino powered by one of these software packages is almost certain to be dealing a fair game.

What's more significant to worry about at any online casino is the quality of the customer service there. It's a lot easier for an online casino to offer fair games and make it hard for players to cash out than anything else.

Our recommendation is to only play at casinos you've spent some time doing some due diligence on. Read forum reports from other players about their experiences at a casino. But also keep in mind that some players aren't entirely honest, either.

Our policy is to only list online casinos which offer fair games and excellent customer service. We're confident you'll have no trouble getting paid your winnings at any of the properties we recommend on our site. Getting recommendations from a trustworthy online casino information portal is a good practice for anyone signing up for a new account at a real money casino, regardless of how much experience they already have with online gambling.

Where to Find Your Favorite Video Poker Games

We have an entire section of the site devoted to finding specific video poker games. That section also includes sections related to finding video poker in the United States by geographic region.

We've done our best to make this section of the site as comprehensive as possible. For example, we include listings for the following common variations of video poker:

  • Jacks or Better

    This is the traditional game of video poker. The lowest paying hand is a pair of jacks or better. The game is dealt from a 52 card deck, and the top jackpot is paid off if you hit a royal flush.

  • Deuces Wild

    This is possibly the 2nd most popular video poker variation. In a game with wild cards, some cards can substitute for a card that's needed to make a stronger hand. If all the 2s are wild, you'll see stronger hands constantly.

  • Joker Poker

    This variation is played with a 53 card deck. The extra card is a joker, which acts as a wild card.

  • Bonus Poker

    This plays just like Jacks or Better, but you get different payoffs on certain 4 of a kind hands. Multiple variations of Bonus Poker exist.

  • Pickem Poker

    This is one of the simplest versions of video poker you can imagine. You have far fewer decisions to make in this one, and the payout percentage is generally as high (or higher) than any of the other games on this list.

Over 100 other variations are listed in the "find video poker" section, too. Many of these variations involve adding extra elements of chance to the game to increase the jackpots available.

The geographic listings are organized largely by state, but also, in some cases, by city. Some of the more popular destinations in the USA for video poker players include:

  • Las Vegas (obviously)
  • Atlantic City
  • Reno
  • Connecticut

Dozens of states now offer video poker variations, and we include details for all of them in this section.

Video Poker Pay Tables

The most important thing to understand about this game is how the pay tables work. We have an entire section devoted to this topic, but we're also going to cover it in detail here.

A pay table shows how much your bet pays off when you hit a certain combination on a gambling machine. This is true of slots games and video poker games.

You can imagine a video poker pay table as a grid. There's a column on the far left with a list of hands from best possible hand to worst. There's a row across the top with how any coins you've bet (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5).

When you cross reference those columns and rows, you can see what the payoff is for a certain hand with a certain amount bet on it.

This is an important point:

You should always bet 5 coins when playing video poker.
On almost all variations, the royal flush is the top paying hand. It pays off at 250 for 1 if you bet 1, 2, 3, or 4 coins.

But if you bet 5 coins, it pays off at 800 for 1.

That's a huge difference, and it makes up a big part of the payback percentage for the game. In fact, if you can't afford to place a 5-coin bet, you should really go down in stakes so that you can. Otherwise, you're just giving your money to the casino way faster than they deserve.

All the other hands pay off the same regardless of how many coins you've bet.

Here's an example of a common Jacks or Better pay table:

  • Royal flush

    250, 500, 750, 1000, 4000

  • Straight flush

    50, 100, 150, 200, 250

  • 4 of a kind

    25, 50, 75, 100, 125

  • Full house

    9, 19, 27, 36, 45

  • Flush

    6, 12, 18, 24, 30

  • Straight

    4, 8, 12, 16, 20

  • 3 of a kind

    3, 6, 9, 12, 15

  • 2 pair

    2, 4, 6, 8, 10

  • Jacks or better

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5

  • Nothing

    0

We've listed the payoffs for 1-5 coins next to the name of each hand. As you can see, the big winner is the royal flush.

But this entire table has certain implications, too. Smarter mathematicians than we are have calculated the probability of getting each of these hands. If you multiply the probability of getting a hand by its payoff, get the expected value for your bet. Add all those up, and you have the payback percentage for the entire game.

Let's look at the expected value of a hand that doesn't qualify and pays off at 0. The probability of winding up with such a hand is 54.5%. Multiply that by 0, and you get 0.

Now we can perform the same calculation for a pair of jacks or better. The probability of winding up with that hand is 21.5%, which means you'll see this hand a little more often than once in every 5 hands on average. Since this one pays off at 1 for 1, the expected value of this result is 0.215.

Two pairs comes up less often, but the payoff is so much better that it has a bigger effect on your bottom line. You'll see two pair about 12.9% of the time. Multiply that by 2, and you 0.258.

You can see already that a big part of the game's expected value comes from these 2 hands. After all, the overall expected value of a bet on this Jacks or Better pay table is .9954, and you have more than half of that coming from these two hands.

You can keep going, but you get the idea. The probability of getting each hand gets smaller, and the payoff for each hand gets bigger.

The biggest hand is the royal flush, which only shows up once every 40,000 hands or so. The payoff for this hand is so great that it can't be ignored. Many of the decisions you'll wind up having to make are going to be based on whether you should break up a pat hand to chase the royal flush.

Different variations have different payoffs for hands. Since the average hand is so much better in Deuces Wild, payoffs start with a low hand of 3 of a kind. Pairs and 2 pairs don't even count.

Bonus Poker games are interesting, too, because they expand the payoffs into subsets. The ranking of the cards in the 4 of a kind determine the payout. You get a bonus for certain hands.

For the most part, the better the poker hand, the more it pays off. But this isn't like table poker in one respect:

In some variations, a hand that might not be as good as another one might pay off better.

For Example

In Bonus Poker, a 4 of a kind made up of aces pays off at 80 for 1. A 4 of a kind made up of 2s, 3s, or 4s pays off at 40 for 1. Every other 4 of a kind pays off at 25 for 1.

But a 4 of a kind made up of 5s or 6s would beat a 4 of a kind made up of 2s or 3s in a traditional poker game.

In fact, it's important to remember that video poker and traditional poker are 2 completely different games. You'll never need a kicker in video poker, for example, but keeping a kicker in a traditional poker game is often a good idea.

You'll find pay tables for every conceivable version of the game in our section on that topic, along with explanations of those pay tables' effect on your strategic decisions.

Learning Video Poker for Beginners

There's a lot to video poker - if you want to get good at it, that is. Our learning video poker for beginners section includes excruciatingly detailed pages on topics that you need to understand if you want to master video poker.

This section includes information about the following topics:

  • Video Poker Basics

    We've covered some of the basics here, but we go into greater deal on this page. If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of the actual gameplay, you'll be able to do so after reading this page.

  • Video Poker versus Slot Machines

    We covered some of that here, too, as slots and video poker are inextricably linked. But we go into still greater detail on the subject on this page.

  • Free Video Poker

    You don't have to risk money to play video poker, but if you want to win money, you do have to gamble. But if you're just wanting free entertainment, this page lists the options available.

  • Video Poker Skills

    What skills do you need to develop before you can call yourself an expert? This section offers ideas for how to develop those skills

  • Video Poker Tournaments, Contests, and Challenges

    Playing video poker in a tournament setting is an entirely different ball game. Learn the ins and outs of those competitions here.

  • Video Poker Training, Education, and Tutorials

    We offer opinions on and reviews of some of the video poker training materials available for free and for a price.

  • vpFREE

    As comprehensive as we've tried to make our video poker section, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the great contribution to the hobby that this site has made.

  • Video Poker Glossary

    Definitions of the most commonly used video poker terms are necessary for beginners to become something other than beginners. Our glossary is the most comprehensive on the web.

  • The Most Common Video Mistakes and Errors

    One of the best ways to become an expert in something is to learn what not to do. You can do that by studying our page on the most common mistakes and errors players tend to make.

Mobile Video Poker Apps

It's the early 21st century. Most people, including gamblers, spend more time surfing the internet from their mobile devices than from laptops or desktop computers. Compatibility issues abound, so we include sections about Android, iPad, and iPhone versions.

If you want to play video poker online, you're almost certainly going to want to play on your mobile device.

Mobile Video Poker Apps

Video Poker Tips

We offer an entire section of pages that consist of nothing but tips and strategy advice. If you want to get the best payback percentage, you must be able to play correctly. Most of the pages in this section provide advice and strategies for the various hands.

Kenny Rogers once sang that you've got to know when to hold'em and know when to fold'em.

But in video poker, it's more important to know which cards to keep and which ones to throw away. This section is meant to help you figure that out.

Conclusion

Video poker offers some of the best odds in the casino, but it's not for everyone. If you don't like the pressure of making decisions which affect your outcome, you might want to stay away from video poker. If you enjoy socializing with other players, you might want to stay away from all the gambling machines.

We think video poker games are far superior to slot machines for various reasons. The most important of these reasons is the better odds that are offered. The best slot machine in a casino probably only has a 94% or a 95% payback percentage. Most video poker games start with that kind of payback percentage, and a huge percentage of these games offer better payouts than that.

We're also big fans of transparency when it comes to gambling. We don't understand why anyone would want to play a slot machine when they have no way of knowing what the odds are. The casino is full of games (including video poker) where the odds are clear to see and easy to calculate.

We also enjoy the sense of control over destiny that we get from playing video poker. We enjoy pitting our wits against the casino. We think most of our readers will, too.

Finally, we're big fans of online versions of the game played for real money. You can find realistic emulations of casino video poker games all over the place online for any device imaginable. Most of the time, these online versions of the games offer better pay tables than you'll find at most online casinos.

But if you decide to play online, spend some time investigating casino reputations. Stick with casinos recommended by trustworthy casino portals like this one. It won't take a lot of reading on the web before you realize that not all information sites are created equally. We think the quality of our content and its thoroughness is better than any other sites online.

We hope you agree.

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