The Do's and Don'ts of Video Poker Every Player Should Know

Video Poker Dos and Donts

Once you discover the great game of video poker, it's hard not to be hooked.

We don't mean addicted or anything like that, as the feeling is more related to fascination than anything else. Somehow the casinos have committed the cardinal sin, allowing players like yourself to apply skill and strategy in an attempt to excel and gain an edge on the game.

How can this be possible?

At first glance, it doesn't appear possible at all.

For all of its well deserved popularity as a "sharp" player's game, blackjack offers an average expected return of 99.50 percent - which pales in comparison to many of the full pay tables used in video poker. Even better, the automation of a video poker machine allows players to press those closer edges over and over again, without having to wait for fellow players or the dealer.

Simply put, the video poker parlor is the perfect place for skill oriented gamblers who appreciate beatable games.

But discovering video poker is only the beginning, and once you've crossed that first step off the list, it's time to explore everything the game has to offer. That involves inquiry and investigation, and over time your study and hard work will materialize into well deserved knowledge.

To help put you on the right path, this page has been put together to provide a basic list of advice built specifically for video poker beginners. The following list of Do's and Don'ts should help get you started one step ahead of the average player.


DON'T Bet Anything Less Than the Max

One of the cardinal sins for rookie video poker converts stems from the flexibility that video poker machines provide.

The standard Game King model is outfitted to provide players with five levels of play based on the total coins wagered. On a basic quarter stakes machine, you can play for one $0.25 coin, or bump the action to $0.50, $0.75, $1.00, and $1.25.

That $1.25 wager constitutes the max bet for a quarter machine, and the same five tiered increments are used for all other games. Thus, a $1 machine can be played for $1 / $2 / $3 / $4 / $5, while a $5 machine runs through the $5 / $10 / $15 / $20 / $25 range.

For each of these tiers, you'll be faced with a different pay table - and at first glance the payouts within seem to increase incrementally just like the coin denominations do.

Take a look at the 9 / 6 full pay table used in the common game of Jacks or Better:

Jacks or Better 9 / 6 (Full Pay) Table
Full Pay 9 / 6 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four 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
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5
Expected Return 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 99.54 percent

If you examine the columns for betting one, two, three, or four coins, all of the payouts underneath follow the same incremental pattern.

One pair pays one credit when betting one coin, for example, but doubles to two credits when betting two coins, and jumps to three credits on three coins.

That incremental uptick is maintained throughout the entire pay table, until you reach the payout for the game's best hand the royal flush. Single coin bettors can win 250 credits for landing the elusive royal flush, and that increases in kind to 500 credits on two coins, 750 credits on three coins, and 1,000 credits on four coins.

But for those of us betting the maximum of five coins, landing the same exact hand - which requires beating the exact same 40,390 to 1 odds - produces a much larger payout of 4,000 credits. That's more than three times higher than the 1,250 credit payout one would expect to see when applying the usual pattern.

This arrangement of payouts provides the basis for video poker's cornerstone advice: ALWAYS bet the maximum.

Obviously, if that particular maximum is too rich for your proverbial blood, just move down in stakes until you feel comfortable. But you should NEVER be playing a video poker machine for 1 4 coins when the 5 coin max bet offers such better odds.

Notice we said "odds" and not "payout" there. The payout is higher of course, but if you take a look at the bottom row of the 9 / 6 full pay table above, you'll see the expected return rate offered under each coin denomination.

Predictably, the first four columns result in the same expected return, which stands at 98.37 percent in this case. But when you up the ante and max bet, that expected return jumps all the way to 99.54 percent.

That's a full 1.17 percentage points higher in terms of overall equity, a massive increase statistically speaking. In other words, you'll lose $1.17 more per $100 wagered over the infinite long run, all by betting 1 4 coins rather than the max.

This structure holds true for all video poker variants too, so whether you enjoy Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, or Double Double Bonus - your objective should be max betting on every single hand.

And trust us, the first time you land that rare royal flush and the sirens start ringing, you'll definitely notice the difference between 4,000 credits ($5,000 at the quarter stakes), and 1,000 credits ($1,250).

DON'T Be a Stingy Tipper

Considering the theme of these first two entries, it may seem like we're telling you to develop an overspending habit, but that's not the case at all.

In fact, video poker players get off easier than anybody else on the casino floor when it comes to tipping. If you're a blackjack grinder, the presence of a human dealer helping to oversee the game necessitates the occasional gratuity. After all, you'd have no place to double down if the dealer wasn't on hand to make it happen.

The human element holds true for most casino games too, including baccarat, craps, roulette, hybrid table games, and poker. Players must engage and interact with chip runners, dealers, floor staff, pit bosses during the course of a session - and all of those professionals freely accept tips.

In fact, aside from the pit bosses, all of those casino employees depend on tips to make ends meet. This is why you'll see even the most grizzled of gamblers toss a toke the dealer's way after taking down a big win.

players are practically immune. We walk onto the floor, saunter over to the video poker parlor, and take a seat at our favorite machines. No dealers delivering the cards, or chip runners cashing in our ducats - which means many opportunities for tipping naturally pass us by.

For this reason, we advise all video poker beginners to think carefully about the times they can tip - and to embrace the moment when it arrives.

Cocktail servers are clearly the employees most frequently encountered by video poker players. They stroll by hawking their libations, which just happen to come free of charge when you're actively playing, and you gladly partake.

That martini arrives, prepared just like you asked, and the waitress offers a sincere smile.

But maybe you just missed a big royal draw, or found four aces but not the valuable kicker, and you're feeling tight at the moment. You just dropped $10 on a single hand, and the temptation builds to just grab the drink and say thanks, without tossing a single chip their way.

This temptation has grabbed ahold of every video poker player from time to time, but we implore you to resist it. Rank and file casino employees, especially cocktail servers, depend on tips to bridge the gap between their low salaries and a living wage.

Suffering through a losing streak, when the credit counters seemed tilted in the casino's favor, is no excuse to stiff these hardworking ladies and gentlemen. Your choice to play video poker has already protected you from a constant stream of dealer tokes anyhow, so it all balances out in the end.

With that in mind, always come prepared with a $20 bill, and break it down into ones and fives the first chance you get. From there, if somebody takes the time to serve you a drink, do the right thing and toss them a token of your appreciation.

The same holds true for the attendants who rush over and deliver your hand pays after a jackpot. These people work long hours, and while their questions about ID and tax forms may seem nosy at first, they're just doing their jobs - and protecting you in the process. You'll be in hot water with the IRS if you don't report video poker winnings of $1,200 or more, and these attendants make sure your paperwork is good to go before you head home.

So be sure to take care of them too, using the standard video poker jackpot tip of 1 percent. That comes out to $40 on a $4,000 jackpot, which is a perfectly reasonable amount to part ways with following the thrill of a lifetime.

How Does 2nd Chance Royal Video Poker Affect Payback Percentage?

This tip is more of a style thing than anything else, but we advise new players to keep their wits about them when learning the ropes.

Video poker is hard enough to master as it is, and drinking or drugs won't do you any favors. Every incorrect decision you make eats away at your expected return, which is why clearheaded and sober play is always optimal.

We're no teetotalers though, so we're not saying to avoid any drinking at all. By all means, nurse a beer or two, or sip on a cocktail as the night progresses - just don't take things overboard to the point where you're no longer playing well.

But leaving aside performance for a moment, the real reason to keep your composure at the video poker parlor is pride. We've all seen "that player" at our local casino, the perpetual loser who walks in drunk and doesn't stop drinking, growing louder and more annoying by the minute.

These players make the night a tough slog for everyone else, as you'll come to learn, which is why it's best to steer clear of that approach right from the start. There's always time to have fun, let loose, and down some drinks - especially in Las Vegas.

Separate your playing time from your play time, and you'll always have a few extra bucks on hand when the game ends to splash around with at the bar.

DO Compare Variants and Pay Tables for the Highest Return

Even though casinos and machine designers do their best to convince us otherwise, not all video poker games offer the same level of playability.

Obviously, different games like Jacks or Better versus Deuces Wild include different hands, payouts, and odds - so the expected return rate (or payback percentage) varies between variants.

What's not so obvious is how two seemingly identical Jacks or Better machines - using the same rules and designed by the same manufacturer - can be separated by more than four percentages points worth of equity. But that's the situation plaguing video poker players who don't know any better.

By tweaking the pay tables just slightly, usually adjusting just a single figure downward by one coin, the powers that be can turn a player friendly game with a high expected return into a pure money trap. And unless you know which pay tables to look for, and which to avoid like the plague, your video poker sessions won't be nearly as efficient or effective as they should be.

Let's take a look at the standard Jacks or Better game to see how this process works.

The following pay table was once used on most Jacks or Better machines, and today video poker veterans know it best as the "9 / 6" or "full pay" version:

JACKS OR BETTER 9 / 6 (FULL PAY) TABLE
Full Pay 9 / 6 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four 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
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5
Expected Return 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 98.37 percent 99.54 percent

The 9 / 6 name originates from the respective payouts for a full house and a flush, which are the key hands to look for when assessing Jacks or Better pay tables.

When you're lucky enough to find a 9 / 6 full pay machine these days, snap that seat up and don't leave until you've landed a hand pay or two. This version of Jacks or Better offers a 99.54 percent expected return, which is the highest you can find for the game's most popular variant.

But when the casino decides to tinker with the pay table above, even slightly, that expected return rate goes down in kind.

Let's say you find a Jacks or Better machine which pays five coins for a flush, instead of six, while leaving all other payouts the same. Surely this modest adjustment can't affect your bottom line in any significant fashion, can it?

Well, that downgraded 9 / 5 pay table actually offers an expected return of 98.45 percent - a full 1.09 percent lower than the 9 / 6 full pay version. A percentage point may not seem like much, but from a mathematical perspective, shaving that much off your equity in a gambling game is akin to bankroll suicide.

Nowadays, the 9 / 5 pay table might be the best one you can readily locate, so don't take the bankroll suicide bit literally. The game is still well within the comfort zone in terms of expected return.

With that said, you'll see a wide variety of competing pay tables as your casino journey continues, and that's just for Jacks or Better. Take a look at the table below to compare the widely used pay tables by their associated expected return rates:

Video Poker Jacks or Better
Pay Table Expected Return
*9 / 6 Jacks or Better 99.54%
9 / 5 Jacks or Better 98.45%
8 / 6 Jacks or Better 98.39%
8 / 5 Jacks or Better 97.30%
7 / 5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
6 / 5 Jacks or Better 95.00%

*Full pay

As you can see, each time the pay table is downgraded, your expected return plummets as a result. In fact, when an unsuspecting casino rookie sits down to play Jacks or Better using the inferior 6 / 5 pay table, they'll be faced with an expected return of 95.00 percent.

When you consider that American style roulette using the double zero wheel - a pure game of chance mind you - offers an expected return of 94.74 percent, video poker players have no business stooping to these stakes.

But they do, each and every day, by the thousands.

Tourists and conventioneers, bored spouses and first time gamblers, these are the "marks" that casinos seek out when they craft downgraded pay tables.

This phenomenon holds true across every variant of video poker, so no matter which machines you fancy, the objective should always be locating a full pay game. That won't always be possible depending on the casino or jurisdiction, but comparing pay tables and expected return rates will ensure that your betting dollars are always backing the best possible odds.

You can use the following tables as a guide to finding the best possible pay table for the widely played popular video poker variants:

Video Poker Aces and Eights
Pay Table Expected Return
*25 (Four of a Kind) / 8 (Full House) 99.78%
20 / 7 97.72%

*Full pay

Video Poker Bonus Deuces Wild
Pay Table Expected Return
*10 (Straight Flush) / 4 (Four of a Kind) 99.86%
9 / 4 99.45%
8 / 4 99.06%
13 / 4 / 3 98.80%
7 / 4 98.69%
12 / 4 / 3 98.28%

*Full pay

Video Poker Bonus Poker
Pay Table Expected Return
*8 (Full House) / 5 (Flush) 99.17%
7 / 5 98.01%
6 / 5 96.87%
Video Poker Deuces & Joker Wild
Pay Table Expected Return
*9 (Five of a Kind) / 6 (Straight Flush) 99.07%
8 / 6 98.52%
9 / 5 98.35%
7 / 6 97.97%
9 / 9 / 1 96.06%

*Full pay

Video Poker Deuces Wild
Pay Table Expected Return
*25 / 15 / 9 / 5 100.76%
25 / 16 / 10 / 4 99.73%
25 / 15 / 9 / 4 98.91%
20 / 4 / 4 97.97%
20 / 12 / 10 / 4 97.58%
16 / 13 / 4 96.77%
12 / 4 / 4 96.01%
20 / 10 / 8 / 4 / 4 95.96%

*Full pay

Video Poker Double Bonus Poker
Pay Table Expected Return
*10 (Full House) / 7 (Flush) 100.17%
9 / 7 Double Bonus 99.11%
9 / 6 Double Bonus 97.81%
9 / 4 Double Bonus 97.74%
9 / 6 / 4 Double Bonus 96.38%
8 / 6 Double Bonus 96.23%
9 / 5 / 4 Double Bonus 95.27%

*Full pay

Video Poker Double Double Bonus
Pay Table Expected Return
*10 (Full House) / 6 (Flush) 100.07%
40 / 10 / 6 99.96%
9 / 6 98.98%
8 / 6 97.89%
9 / 5 97.87%
8 / 5 96.79%
7 / 5 96.38%
6 / 5 94.66%

*Full pay

Video Poker Joker Poker
Pay Table Expected Return
*20 / 7 / 5 100.76%
18 / 7 / 5 99.73%
16 / 8 / 5 98.91%
17 / 7 / 5 97.97%
20 / 6 / 5 97.58%

*Full pay

Video Poker Loose Deuces
Pay Table Expected Return
*15 (Five of a Kind) / 10 (Straight Flush) 100.97%
12 / 11 100.47%
12 / 10 100.02%
15 / 7 99.78%
15 / 6 99.42%

*Full pay

Video Poker Tens or Better
Pay Table Expected Return
*25 / 6 / 5 99.14%
20 / 6 / 5 97.96%

*Full pay

DO Take Full Advantage of Comps and Players Clubs

One of the best ways to supplement your income as a video poker player, or at the very least mitigate your losses, is to enroll in every casino's Players Club program.

By doing so, your play will be tracked on a constant basis, right down to the coin denomination, frequency, and final result. And over time, as you wager increasing amounts of real dollars, the casino will credit your Players Club account with "comp" points.

Casino Comps

Short for complimentary of course, experienced video poker players can enjoy quite a few amenities free of charge. We've splurged on spa treatments, steak dinners, and sightseeing tours throughout the years - all purchased with comp points alone.

If you're a Las Vegas visitor, the two top Players Clubs on tap are M Life Rewards (found within MGM Resorts owned properties) and Total Rewards (used by Caesars Entertainment owned properties).

Under both plans, you'll get one comp point for every $10 wagered on video poker. Pile up 100 comp points and you'll earn $1 in real money credits to your Players Club account. That may not seem like all that much, but you'd be surprised how often you're dumping $10 into the machine - even at the quarter stakes. When max betting at $1.25 per hand, you'll only need to play eight hands to collect one comp point.

And remember, it's all about the amount you wager, not what you lose. So as you ride the roller coaster and swing back and forth between the black and red, your credit counter may remain relatively level for an hour. But you've played 80 hands over that span, good for 10 comp points.

Our advice is to focus on your gameplay, and not the comp points, in the early going. That way, after you've been playing for a few months and decide to check your balance, you'll actually have a sizable sum saved up. Those comp points can be spent just like cash at coffee shops, clothing stores, restaurants, attractions, and other amenities inside any affiliated casino - making them as good as gold.

Shrewd video poker players who play often, and always use their Players Club card to track wagering activity, can easily subsidize an entire trip to Las Vegas in this fashion. Your minor expenses will be paid for through points, freeing up your actual bankroll for the task at hand.

And these Players Club promotions offer additional benefits as well.

Once you've been tabbed as a regular video poker player, the venue will try to keep you loyal to their property by sending you discounted room rates, and even fully comped rooms. Other offers to expect involve free play arrangements, wherein the casino provides you with a set amount of play at zero cost.

Taken as a whole, participation in Players Club programs can easily bring back thousands of dollars in rebates over the course of year.

And in a game like video poker, where success and failure is defined by profit, cutting costs and earning comps can be the difference between a losing year and a winner.

DO Keep Diligent Records

One of the dirty secrets of the video poker world is how tedious things can get once tax time draws near.

Without delving too deep into the details (possibly link to the Taxes page here), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) keeps a close eye on gambling winnings. They maintain different thresholds for reporting income based on the game being played, but here's what you need to know as a video poker rookie:

Any time you trigger a payout of $1,200 or more, the casino is obligated to provide you with a tax form known as the W-2G, or the Statement for Certain Gambling Winnings. The attendant who delivers your hand pay will first ask for government issued identification, along with your social security number.

The ID is mandatory if you want to claim the cash. And if you don't happen to have it on you, don't worry, as the casino will usually hold the winnings and allow you to retrieve it - provided you're of age.

The social security number is optional, but in the event you withhold it, the casino will be forced to deduct between 28 percent and 31 percent of the payout for tax purposes. That deduction occurs on the spot, which is why most video poker players prefer to fork over the nine digit number and take their full hand pay home.

But before you can get your hands on the hand pay, you'll need to fill out that W-2G form with the usual pertinent details. From there, the casino attendant will make a copy of the W-2G, keeping one for their own records, and leaving the original with you.

Only then will you pocket the large jackpot pays of $1,200 or more that all video poker players pursue.

The thrill of winning a jackpot can be overwhelming, for beginners and veterans alike, and it can be easy for that thin piece of paper to get lost in the proverbial shuffle.

Always be sure to keep a close eye on your W-2G form, and tuck it safely somewhere so it/they can be brought back home. You'll need to keep these vital documents throughout the year, because when it comes time to file your Form 1040, you'll need to input any winnings detailed by a W-2G.

Remember, the casino keeps copies of every W-2G it generates, and all of those copies are gladly handed over to the IRS. The taxman knows exactly how many qualifying payouts of $1,200 or higher you received throughout the year, so there's no sense in trying to get one over on the IRS by neglecting to report your winnings.

And while those winnings are taxable at a rate of 25 percent, a figure which seems a bit high at first glance, the government's cut can easily be offset by deducting losses.

Fortunately, the IRS allows video poker players to deduct any documented losses, up to the reported winning amount, so long as the losses can be documented. And because casinos don't issue W-2Gs, or any forms for that matter, when they take your money - you'll be responsible for that documentation.

The casinos will send you a detailed Win / Loss report every year, which does cover losing sessions, but that's only if you've activated your Players Club card for every session played. That can leave gaps in the record that chip away at your bottom line when the time comes to pay the piper.

Even worse, the IRS readily admits that casino generated Win / Loss reports don't constitute viable documentation for deduction purposes. In other words, unless you maintain the gambler's "diary" that the federal tax code requires, you'll have trouble trying to offset that 25 percent tax on winnings.

Keeping a diary may not sound like acceptable casino conduct, but experienced players consider it an essential step toward sustained success. By tracking the results of your daily sessions - down to thecoin denomination, betting level, session length, location, and variant played - this diary will serve as a lasting, and legal, testament to your yearly video poker losses.

By keeping well maintained and accurate records, you can easily turn a potential tax hit in the tens of thousands to nothing at all, simply by showing that you really did "win some, lose some."

DO Have Fun

Throughout this page we've talked about video poker like a job, but that's just how we see things after three decades of grinding.

But if you remember the very first line we wrote, we called video poker a great game - with an emphasis on game.

Video poker should always be a source of entertainment above anything else. When you play with fun as the prime objective, rather than profit, the second half of that equation will take care of itself.

It's easier said than done, but when you can learn to take your lumps in stride, learning the intricacies of the game becomes a breeze. Instead of fixating on the missed draws of prolonged droughts, you'll simply assess the situation with smile and think it through. And next time it crops up, which it inevitably will, that preparation will leave you better prepared to make the optimal play.

There we go reverting back to sharp talk again; old habits are too hard to break.

Having completed this page, we hope you're able to develop positive habits that serve you well down the road. Video poker really is a great game, so have fun with every session let the cards fall where they may.

Conclusion

Follow these do's and don'ts of video poker to win more money and have more fun while playing. Every VP player should keep this list handy to make sure they follow all of the tips

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