Most gambling writers repeat the advice that you should always play for max coin in real money video poker ad nauseam. Experienced gamblers might shake their heads in dismay if you play fewer than 5 coins in the casino, too.
But are they right?
Is it always correct to play max coin in video poker?
I’ve decided that this, like most other gambling advice, is situational at best.
The Argument for Betting Max Coin in Video Poker
All video poker games offer you the option to play for 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 coins. The payouts for all the hands in all video poker games are the same relative to the amount you risk – except for one.
The royal flush pays off at 200 for 1 odds if you bet 4 or fewer coins, but if you bet 5 coins, you get an 800 for 1 payoff. This is the only change in the pay table, and the odds of getting that hand don’t change based on the number of coins you play.
When you see someone say that full pay Jacks or Better pays off at 99.54% when played with perfect strategy, they’re assuming you’re playing for 5 coins.
If you take the lower payout for the royal flush by playing for fewer coins, you’re looking at the payback percentage dropping from 99.54% to 98.37%.
That’s a difference of 1.17%.
Instead of facing a house edge of 0.46%, you’re facing a house edge of 1.63%.
Either way, that Jacks or Better game is offering better odds than the slot machines. In fact, a 1.63% house edge is far better than the house edge in roulette, and it’s close to the house edge for the best craps bets.
Gambling Is About More Than Just Percentages, Too
The thing about casino gambling is that there’s more to it than just comparing percentages. If your goal were just to play the game with the lowest house edge, you’d only ever play the game with the lowest house edge.
But that’s not how most gamblers work.
From one perspective, the best measure of gambling is how many hours of entertainment you get in return for your money.
That’s a number that’s easy to estimate, although it will fluctuate in the short run based on random chance.
Estimating the Hourly Cost of Casino Gambling Entertainment
You’ve probably seen the formula for estimating what it costs in the long run to play a casino game. You multiply the house edge by the amount you’re wagering. Then you multiply that by how many bets you’re making per hour.
If you’re not entirely sure what the house edge is, we have a great informational page fully explaining everything you need to know about the casino house edge.
With full pay Jacks or Better, the house edge is 0.46%. If you’re playing a quarter machine for 5 coins per hand, you’re betting $1.25 per hand. Your expected loss per hand is 0.46% of $1.25, or $0.00575.
The average video poker player gets in 500 or 600 hands per hour, so the average hourly loss amounts to between $2.88 and $3.45.
What happens, though, if you only wager a quarter per hand and accept the higher house edge?
Now the house edge is 1.63%. You’re only risking $0.25 per hand, so your loss per hand on average drops to $0.004075. If you’re still playing 500 to 600 hands per hour, you’re looking at average hourly loss amounts of between $2.04 and $2.45.
So, it’s actually cheaper to play for a quarter per hand even though the house edge is almost 3 times as much.
The math behind that isn’t hard to figure if you think about it.
You’ve tripled the house edge, yes, but you’ve reduced the amount you’re wagering per hour by a factor of 5.
Deciding What to Do Based on Money vs Time
Not everyone measures their gambling by the amount of time they’re playing. Some people measure it by the amount they want to wager.
For example, if you decide you want to get in $1000 worth of action and want to know how much of it you’ll have left afterward, playing for max coin is the obvious correct solution.
If you put $1000 into action at a house edge of 0.46%, you’ll lose on average $4.60.
Put that same amount of money into action with a house edge of 1.63%, and you’ll lose an average of $16.30.
It will just take you longer to get your $1000 worth of action. At $1.25 per hand, you’ll need 800 hands to get $1000 worth of action.
At a quarter per hand, you’ll need to play 4000 hands to get $1000 worth of action.
At 500 hands per hour, you’re looking at less than 2 hours for the former example and about 8 hours for the latter example.
I don’t know a lot of people who measure the net amount of money they put into action, but you can see why it would make sense to someone with that mindset to always play max coin.
Some of This Is Moot Anyway
All these numbers so far assume that you’re playing the game with no errors. Most of my readers aren’t skilled enough at video poker to do that. Heck, I’m not that skilled, either. I get close enough.
Here’s my line of thinking, though:
I could spend a lot of time perfecting an intricate playing strategy for Jacks or Better video poker if I wanted to, but at the end of the day, I’d still be spending a lot of time playing a game that’s a losing proposition in the long run.
The people it really matters to are the ones who are advantage players. If you play well enough and get on board with the slots club at the casino, you can gamble at video poker with a positive expectation.
But it’s not easy. Here’s what it takes.
How to Get a Positive Expectation at Video Poker
The first step in getting an edge at video poker is to play games with close to 100% payback. Jacks or Better with the best possible pay table qualifies.
This is called a full pay game, or a 9/6 game. In Jacks or Better, the best pay table pays off at 9 for 1 for a full house and 6 for 1 for a flush.
You won’t find this version of the game easily. Most casinos prefer a higher house edge, and you’ll see them offering 8/5 Jacks or Better more often. They pay off at 8 for 1 for a full house and 5 for 1 for a flush.
These aren’t the worst games in the world, but you can’t get an edge at them. The house edge is too high to overcome at 2.70%.
The second step is to always bet max coin and play with perfect strategy. You don’t need to read much to learn how to bet max coin, but learning to play with perfect strategy requires some effort. I suggest buying a copy of Bob Dancer’s Winners Guide on Jacks or Better.
Finally, you have to join the slots club and get the maximum rebates possible. The slots club normally pays out rewards at about 0.2% of your hourly action. You can argue that this should be subtracted from the house edge because you get that back – even if it’s not in the form of cash.
That still doesn’t get the payback over 100%, though.
This gives you an edge over the house of 0.06%.
How much money can you earn with an edge like that?
Not much, as it turns out.
If you’re playing quarter games at max coin, you’re looking at earning 0.06% X $1.25 per hand, or $0.00075 per hand. At 600 hands per hour, that’s an hourly wage of 45 cents.
How could you increase your hourly earnings?
You could play for higher stakes. The dollar machines allow you to bet $5 per hand, which increases your average earnings per hand and per hour.
Now you’re looking at earning $0.003 per hand and $1.80 per hour.
It’s hard to make a living as a professional Jacks or Better video poker player.
Here’s the Verdict
Should you really always play max coin in video poker?
Nah. Don’t worry about it.
If you’re a video poker beginner playing for low stakes, you’ll actually save money by playing for just a single coin per hand. The increased payout for the max bet doesn’t make up for the extra money you’re putting into action per hour.
If you want to play real money video poker professionally, well, I’m not sure how you’re going to live on $1.80 per hour.