Wheel Poker

Wheel Poker

Wheel Poker is a variation of video poker designed to capitalize on America's obsession with Wheel of Fortune slots. As with many video poker variations, Wheel Poker is a regular VP game with a bonus game layered on top of it. You activate the bonus game by wagering a sixth coin.

In the case of Wheel Poker, the sixth coin activates a chance at spinning a prize wheel on top of the machine. Unlike many VP variations, Wheel Poker isn't available in a single play version-it's only available as a three play or five play video poker game.

This page offers a complete guide to playing Wheel Poker. It includes information about the basics of playing, how the pay tables and payback percentages work, where to find the game, and what strategies can increase your odds of winning.


The Basics of Playing Wheel Poker

Wheel Poker is a video poker game, so gameplay has much in common with all other video poker games. For novices, we include coverage of video poker basics here.

Slot machines and video poker machines are similar games, but they have significant differences, too. Both games feature symbols along pay lines. When you get combinations of symbols, you win money, based on the game's pay table.

On a slot machine game, the symbols are arbitrarily chosen. Usually they fit the game's theme, but often they include generic slot machine symbols like fruit and bars.

Video poker, on the other hand, uses playing cards as symbols. This is a more significant difference than you might immediately assume. Not only are the playing cards used as symbols, but the probabilities of getting the playing cards mimic those of a real deck of cards.

When you're playing a slot machine, you have no way of knowing what the probability of getting a cherry in a specific position is. It might be 1/5, 1/10, 1/20, or any other number less than 1. As a result, you can't calculate the payback percentage for the game. (To do that, you'd need both the payouts AND the probabilities of getting the combinations.)

But with video poker games, the probabilities AND the payouts are known. It's too complicated to work out with a pencil and a piece of paper, but it's still relatively easy to calculate the payback percentage for the game. Dozens of sites have already done the work, so researching the payback percentage on a game with a specific pay table only requires a quick search of Google or Bing.

We're big fans of transparency in casino games. You can calculate the house edge for any table game in the casino, but you have no way of knowing the house edge for a slot machine.

But with video poker, you can make an educated decision about which game to play based on the payback percentage.

We offer one final observation about video poker in general as it compares to slot machines. The payback percentage for video poker games are almost always far superior to the payback percentage for a slot machine. We'll cover that in more detail in the next section.

The mechanics of playing any video poker game, including Wheel Poker, are simple enough. You insert money into the machine, and it converts that cash into credits. Each game is pre-programmed for a specific denomination. Common denominations for VP games include quarter machines, dollar machines, and $5 machines. Thus, if you insert $100 into a quarter video poker machine, the game will convert that into 400 credits.

You then choose how many coins you want to wager on a hand. Most players choose to wager 5 coins-which is the correct decision, by the way. The jackpot on a video poker game like Wheel Poker is for a royal flush. If you wager 1, 2, 3, or 4 coins, the payoff for that hand is 200 for 1 or 250 for 1 (depending on the machine).

But if you wager 5 coins, the jackpot pays off at 800 for 1. In the case of a 5-coin bet, that means a 4000 coin jackpot.

The difference to your bottom line is huge. You should always bet 5 coins, and if you can't afford to, you should step down in stakes to a lower denomination machine.

Many video poker games now offer the option of playing multiple hands at once. These are called multi-play or multi-line games. All Wheel Poker games are multi-line games, available in a 3-play or 5-play version. This means you're wagering 5 coins for each hand, so you're looking at 15 coins or 25 coins per hand.

Wheel Poker is based on 5-card draw. You're dealt an initial hand of 5 cards, and you get to decide which cards to keep by pressing the "hold" button under each card. On newer machines, you can use the touchscreen technology to just touch the cards you want to keep.

When you press deal again, the computer replaces the cards you chose to discard.

In a multi-line game, the initial hand is duplicated on all 3 or all 5 hands. The replacement cards are dealt individually, though, so you'll wind up with 3 or 5 different hands at the end. Each of these hands pays off according to the pay table.

In Wheel Poker, you have the option of wagering a 6th coin to activate a bonus game where you spin a wheel. The result of that spin adds to the amount of your prize on your winning hands. Since you're wagering 6 coins per hand, you're looking at 18 coins or 30 coins per hand.

You get to spin the prize wheel any time you have a 4 of a kind. In games with wild cards, you only get to spin the prize wheel on a natural 4 of a kind-one that doesn't include wild cards. The bonuses on the prize wheel are available in the following amounts:

  • 100 coins
  • 150 coins
  • 200 coins
  • 250 coins
  • 300 coins
  • 400 coins
  • 500 coins
  • 600 coins
  • 800 coins
  • 1000 coins
  • 2000 coins

Wheel Poker Pay Tables, Payback Percentages, and the House Edge

We wrote a lot about the house edge, payback percentages, and the house edge earlier when we discussed the differences between VP games like Wheel Poker and slot machines.

But What do Those Terms Mean, and How are They Calculated?

These are mathematical predictions of how much money the house will win on average per bet, how much the house will lose on average per bet, and what the prizes are.

The house edge is a percentage of each bet that the casino expects to win, on average, over a huge number of trials.

The payback percentage is the flip side of this coin. It's how much the casino expects the player to win, on average, over a huge number of trials.

The house edge added to the payback percentage is always 100%.

These mathematical expectations don't matter much in the short term. If you only play 6 hands, or 600 hands, you probably won't see results that mirror these expectations.

That's called short term variance, and that's why some players walk away from the casino with winning sessions some of the time.

But as you start getting into the tens of thousands of hands, the actual results inevitably start to mirror the mathematical expectation.

How is That Expectation Calculated?

Each hand pays off at a certain amount. Each hand also has a probability of appearing. Multiply the probability of getting a hand by the payout amount, and you get the expected return for that hand. Add the expected return for all the hands, and you get the overall expected return for the game. That's the same thing as the payback percentage.

The most common video poker game is Jacks or Better. The lowest paying hand is a pair of jacks or higher. That hand pays off at even money, and the probability of winding up with that hand is about 21.5%. That's 21.5% in expected return.

The next hand is 2 pair. The probability of winding up with 2 pair is about 12.9%, and it pays off at 2 for 1. That's 25.8% in expected return.

The next hand is 3 of a kind, which pays off at 3 for 1. The probability of getting that hand is about 7.4%, so the expected return for that hand is 22.2%.

The pay table has payoffs for several more potential hands, each of which has a higher payoff and a lower probability of showing up. When you add all those returns together, you usually get a number between 95% and 99.5%.

This means the casino expects - in the long run - to pay you between $95 and $99.50 every time you put $100 through the machine.

A business where you trade $95 for $100 repeatedly is a good business. What you get in exchange for the money you're losing is entertainment.

The payback percentages that are calculated for each game also assume that you're playing the hands correctly. In other words, you get to decide which cards to keep. If you make the mathematically optimal decisions, you'll see the payback percentage listed in the tables. If you make mistakes, the casino wins even more than the mathematical expectation.

In Wheel Poker, the bonus game offers additional payouts when you get a 4 of a kind. But it also costs an extra coin to play.

What Does This do to Your Payback Percentage?

To calculate this, you must know the probability of getting each bonus. IGT, the designers of Wheel Poker, have made the probability of getting each bonus available to the world. The weighting is based on 154 possibilities. Here's how the bonuses are weighted:

  • 100 coins comes up 5 times out of 154, or 3.2% of the time.
  • 150 coins comes up 8 times out of 154, or 5.2% of the time.
  • 200 coins comes up 18 times out of 154, or 11.7% of the time.
  • 250 coins comes up 26 times out of 154, or 16.9% of the time.
  • 300 coins comes up 21 times out of 154, or 13.6% of the time.
  • 400 coins comes up 26 times out of 154, or 16.9% of the time.
  • 500 coins comes up 22 times out of 154, or 14.3% of the time.
  • 600 coins comes up 7 times out of 154, or 4.5% of the time.
  • 800 coins comes up 9 times out of 154, or 5.8% of the time.
  • 1000 coins also comes up 9 times out of 154, or 5.8% of the time.
  • 2000 coins comes up 3 times out of 154, or 1.9% of the time.

A quick read-through makes it clear that the 250, 300, and 400 coin bonuses are going to come up a little more than half the time.

The math behind calculating the returns must account for the possible bonuses. It also must account for the additional coin being wagered.

Once all this math is calculated, the return for the game is usually slightly higher if you place the 6th coin bet. The only exception is for some Deuces Wild games.

The Wheel Poker option is added on top of existing game types, and the pay tables duplicate the pay tables for those games.

Some of these games include:

  • Bonus Poker
  • Bonus Poker Deluxe
  • Double Bonus Poker
  • Double Double Bonus Poker
  • Triple Double Bonus
  • Deuces Wild
  • Bonus Deuces Wild

Where to Find Wheel Poker Online for Real Money or for Free

You can play free version of Wheel Poker online at VideoPoker.com, but you can't win or lose real money playing that version. Most online casinos don't offer Wheel Poker, as it's a trademark of IGT. It' also not as common as most other video poker games.

Wheel Poker Strategy

The main strategic decision in Wheel Poker is whether to place that 6th coin bet. As we mentioned already, except for some Deuces Wild variations, placing the 6th coin bet is the correct decision mathematically.

Keep in mind, though, that the additional bet increases the volatility of the game. Volatility is a fancy, mathematical way of talking about how often you'll see big winning or losing streaks compared to the expected return of the game.

Since you're placing a 6th coin bet, it's not unusual to have long losing streaks on this game before making up for it with big wins on your 4 of a kind hands.

The other strategic consideration is to be more aggressive about drawing to 4 of a kind than you usually would. Besides that, you should stick close to the correct strategy chart for whatever variation you're playing. We have strategy charts available for all the major variations that Wheel Poker sits atop.

Conclusion

Wheel Poker appeals to fans of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine game, which is the most popular slot machine game in the world. Surprisingly enough, this additional feature improves the payback percentage for most variations of video poker-except for some Deuces Wild pay tables.

The drawback to Wheel Poker is the increased volatility, although some players might see that as a benefit. Most VP players I know prefer low volatility games, but jackpot hunter personalities enjoy the chance at a big win.

We only wish you could play Wheel Poker for real money at online casinos, too-but that's not yet available.

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