I’ve explained in other posts how fond I am of blackjack and craps, but I should go on the record about this:
Video poker was my first love (when it comes to casino games).
Since you get to make decisions that matter to your odds, video poker is superior to its cousin the slot machine.
And it really does offer better odds.
But what if you’re starting off completely ignorant about video poker?
Start by getting the answers to the most important beginner video poker questions.
How Do You Play Video Poker?
Real money video poker games look a lot like slot machines, and it some respects, they act like one, too. To play, you start by inserting money into the machine. This money gets converted into credits based on the denomination of the machine.
For example, if you’re playing on a quarter machine, $100 nets you 400 credits. If it were a dollar machine, $100 would only result in 100 credits. When you cash out, the credits you have are converted back into dollars.
Once you’ve inserted your money, you choose how many coins to wager – always choose five coins, regardless of the game you’re playing. Wagering five coins triggers a bigger payout for the top hand (the royal flush).
Then press the “deal” button.
The machine gives you a five-card poker hand. You touch the screen to hold cards, or you can use the buttons that correspond to each card. Any cards you don’t keep get replaced after you hit the deal button again.
The hand then pays off based on its value as a poker hand as represented by the pay table for the video poker machine you’re playing on.
How Does Video Poker Pay Out?
When I learned to play, video poker paid out in coins in the hopper. Now, almost every video poker game in the world uses a ticket in/ticket out system. The paper ticket can be converted into cash by the machines throughout the casino.
How much the video poker machine pays out is based on its pay table. The pay table is just a list of hands along with how much that hand pays off at. The odds on video poker games are always stated as “x for y” rather than “x to y.”
That’s an important distinction, too.
Every video poker game I’ve ever seen reserved its top payout for a royal flush.
And every video poker game I’ve ever seen paid off a bigger jackpot for the royal flush if you were betting max coins (usually five).
An 800 for 1 payoff for a royal flush is standard when you’re betting five coins, but if you’re only betting 4 coins or fewer, the payoff is only 200 for 1.
A royal flush doesn’t come up often, but you want the extra payout when it does.
Otherwise, you’re just increasing the house edge for the machine by at least 2%.
Which Is Better? Slots or Video Poker?
Video poker is better than slots in every way I can think of. How do I love you, video poker? Let me count the ways:
Video Poker Offers Better Odds Than Slot Machines
The usual payback percentage for a video poker game is around 95% or higher. The games with the best pay tables pay off at 98.5% or better.
The highest paying slots, on the other hand, usually top out at 95%. I’ve never seen a slot machine with a 98% payback percentage.
Video Poker Requires You to Make Interesting Decisions
When you’re playing a slot machine, you have no meaningful decisions to make. You spin the reels and wait for the results.
In video poker, you have to choose from 32 different ways to play each hand. (You have two different decisions you can make for each card, and you have five different cards, so, when you combine all the possibilities, you have 32 possible decisions.)
And the decision you make affects the expected value of that hand.
Video Poker Is a Straightforward, Transparent Game
When you’re playing a slot machine, you have no idea what the probability of getting a specific combination is. This makes it impossible to determine the payback percentage for that game.
Slot machines, on the other hand, are – by their nature – opaque. You need both the probability of getting the combination AND the payoff for the combination to analyze the payback percentage for the game.
In fact, slot machines are the only games in the casino where the house edge is basically unknowable to the customer.
Are Video Poker Machines Rigged?
I have some weird friends. I have one buddy who’s a flat-earther. He’s absolutely convinced that EVERY game in the casino (except craps) is rigged.
I tried explaining to him that the casinos don’t have to cheat because the difference between the games’ payouts and their odds of winning enable the casinos to make countless dollars in profit.
He’s still not convinced.
Here’s how the casino makes money from video poker:
They have payouts for each of the possible hands you can make in a video poker game. Those payouts are all lower than the probability of getting that combination would warrant.
They don’t need to rig video poker machines to always win. The math does that for them to begin with.
In fact, if you DID have video poker games that always won, you’d get caught pretty fast. I’ve seen it happen with online video poker at least once – a player found a video poker game for real money online that didn’t pay out for literally hundreds of hands.
Since you have a 20% probability of getting a pair of jacks or higher at the least, going several hundred hands without a paying hand is extremely unlikely.
He reported it to a watchdog site, and that casino got blackballed in record time.
There’s a lot of profit in offering fair games, but rigged games will put a casino out of business fast.
How Can I Win at Video Poker?
Anyone can win at video poker occasionally just by sheer chance. If you have even a little bit of card sense and/or poker knowledge, you can improve your probability of winning.
And with some dedication, you can even get the house edge on some machines below 1%.
The problem is this:
Even with a house edge of 0.5%, the casino is going to win all your money in the long run.
Can you do anything about that?
The only strategy for winning long-term at video poker involves two things – maximizing your casino comp rate and playing the best machines with near optimal strategy.
This effectively lowers the house edge by that 0.2%.
But casinos also often run specials where you can earn double or triple points during specific time periods. That 0.2% turns into 0.4% and 0.6% during double and triple points promotions.
If you’re playing a game with a 0.5% house edge and getting 0.6% back in rebates and comps, you’re dealing with an advantage of 0.1%.
You won’t win a fortune with an edge that tiny, but you will win consistently in the long run.
How Can You Tell if a Video Poker Machine Is Going to Hit?
You’ll find no shortage of so-called gambling gurus offering techniques to tell you when slot machine games and video poker games are going to hit.
They usually suggest that the results showing on the screen from the previous game have something to do with the machine’s readiness to hit.
For example, a guru might tell you to look for a game where three or four of the cards are part of a royal flush. They claim that the game is getting ready to pay out.
But they couldn’t be more wrong.
You can’t tell if a video poker machine is going to hit. It’s impossible. Every hand is completely random and based on the probabilities of a deck of cards.
And that “deck” is reshuffled after every hand.
What Is a Full Pay Video Poker Machine?
A video poker machine of a specific type doesn’t have just one pay table. It has various pay tables, some of which are better than others. The best of the available pay tables is called a “full pay” video poker game.
Reduce the payouts for those two hands, and you have a game with a 97% payback percentage instead. Such a game might only offer an 8 for 1 payout for a full house and a 5 for 1 payout for a flush.
Guess which pay table is more common?
Part of being good video poker strategy player is learning what the full pay versions’ pay tables look like and then learning how to find those games.
Video poker is one of the best games in the casino to learn to play, especially if you’re an introvert who’s intimidated by table games. It’s far superior to slot machines, and if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can even play video poker with a small edge versus the casino.
Video poker games aren’t rigged, and you can’t tell when they’re going to pay out. The only people who make claims like that are people who don’t really understand how video poker works.