A Comprehensive Guide to Video Poker

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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:

Since this is the main page for the section, we’ve included a detailed
overview of Video Poker 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.

Traditional Slot Machine Example:

Slot Machine Logo

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.

If you’re interested in books on Video Poker, we recommend these listed below:

The Video Poker Edge: How to Play Smart and Bet Right
The Video Poker Edge: How to Play Smart and Bet Right
Author: Linda Boyd
Frugal Video Poker
Frugal Video Poker
Author: Jean Scott
Video Poker Optimum Play: The Strategies and Tactics of Advantage Play
Video Poker Optimum Play: The Strategies & Tactics of Advantage Play
Author: Dan Paymar
Million Dollar Video Poker
Million Dollar Video Poker
Author: Bob Dancer

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.

Is Video Poker for You?

  • 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?

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.

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:

Percent Sign on Top of Money

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

Video poker 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.

Video Poker Machine and Video Poker Laptop

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.

Slotsland Logo

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.

Amigotech Logo

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.

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.

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.

Double Double Bonus Poker

This game is one of the many Bonus Poker variations. In this variant, payouts for all four of a kind hands are increased.

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:

Coins/Hands 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
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 18 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 Pairs 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5

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.

Royal Flush of Hearts

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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Video Poker for Beginners

    This page is packed with everything you need to start playing Video Poker. From how to bet to what games to play, this page has it all!

Mobile Video Poker Apps

It’s the early 21st century. Most people, including gamblers, spend more time
surfing the internet or online gambling 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.

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.

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.