Some gambling machines are just better than others. And even though video poker games in casinos look just like slot machines (for the most part), they’re anything but. As you grow in experience as a gambler, you’ll naturally gravitate more toward video poker games in casinos versus slot machines.
In fact, if you visit a locals’ casino, you’ll sometimes find more video poker games than reel slots. The reason video poker is so popular among casino destination locals is because the game rewards knowledge and skill.
And, if you choose the right video poker games, know how to play them correctly, and have a large enough bankroll, you can win at video poker in the long run. (This is impossible with slot machines.)
Sometimes you’ll need to account for casino comps to show this profit, but even then, most professional gamblers aren’t going to fool with video poker games. They can be profitable, but they’re usually not profitable ENOUGH.
This blog is aimed more at the savvy recreational gambler, though.
And I have no problem recommending video poker games to such gamblers.
In this post, I explain most of what you should know to gamble with an edge at video poker casinos.
Is Video Poker the Best Game in the Casino?
You could make a strong argument that video poker IS the best game in the casino. It’s relatively easy to find video poker games where the house edge is only 0.5%, making it comparable to blackjack and craps in terms of having a low house edge.
But video poker offers advantages that aren’t available at the blackjack and craps tables. For one thing, you can play VP games at your own pace. At the blackjack and craps tables, you need to play at the pace of the table.
Some gamblers are nervous about playing table games because they think they’re too hard. I don’t want such gamblers to think slot machines are the only option.
In fact, slot machines are a far worse option than video poker games. When you’re playing slots, all you can do is put your money in the machine and hope.
Video poker, on the other hand, is a game of skill.
The Importance of Your Decisions in Video Poker
VP games have been around since 1979, but they didn’t start exploding in popularity until the mid-80s. They’ve grown in popularity ever since.
Your decisions in video poker, like your decisions in blackjack, have a direct effect on your outcomes.
And it’s easy to make bad decisions.
You can choose the wrong machine with the wrong pay table, for example.
Or you might make the wrong decision about which cards to keep and which cards to throw awa.
But that’s the great thing about video poker:
You have meaningful choices to make. If you choose the best machines and play your hands correctly, you can enjoy a mathematical edge over the casino. This is unusual.
Picking the right machine and playing your hands correctly aren’t all you need to be a video poker winner, though. You also need a big enough bankroll to weather the storms of random chance.
Recreational gamblers often don’t realize that you can have multiple losing sessions in a row while doing everything right. They live in the short term, when the positive mathematical expectation in solid video poker is a long-term proposition.
On any given weekend, you might go home a loser from video poker even if you play perfectly.
But over the course of your entire life of gambling weekends, you should show a net profit at video poker if you learn how to play right.
Video Poker Is a Long-Term Journey for the Right Gambler
This is the first in a series of several long-ish blog posts about video poker games in casinos. The details I present in these posts might seem like a lot.
But don’t get discouraged.
Try to think of video poker as a long-term journey that you’re just starting on.
The first steps in this journey involve learning to identify the better games with the best paytables. Soon after that, you’re going to focus on learning how to play your hands correctly.
If you look at any comprehensive gambling sites, you’ll notice that the sections covering blackjack and video poker are always bigger than the other sections of such sites.
That’s because blackjack and video poker are games with subtleties that other games lack.
There’s just not much you can say about craps, roulette, or slot machines.
How to Play Video Poker Games in Casinos
You’ll find an almost endless variety of video poker games in the casino, but almost all of them are video game variations of 5-card draw – the poker game you learned first as a kid.
The game deals you a random 5-card hand from a standard 52 or 53 card deck. (You’ll see 53-card decks in games that use a joker.)
You then get to try to improve your hand by discarding cards and drawing new ones to replace them. You can decide to discard anywhere from 0 to 5 cards from your initial hand.
The replacement cards are also dealt at random.
But video poker and real poker are almost entirely different animals. The surface stuff, like the 5-card hands, the 52-card decks, and the poker hand rankings, is all derived from real poker.
The gameplay and strategy for video poker is entirely different from the gameplay and strategy for any real poker variation.
In fact, some aspects of real poker knowledge might even hurt you in video poker games.
The main difference is that your decisions in a real poker game are all relative to what the other players are doing. You’ll lose more money with the 2nd-best hand in a real poker game than with any other hand.
In video poker games, though, your outcomes are only relative to the paytable for the game. In future posts, I’ll offer some specific strategy guidelines for how to best play your hands.
How the Paybacks Work in Video Poker Games
On a slot machine, the payback percentage is programmed into the random number generator.
On a video poker machine, the payback percentage is a factor of the odds inherent in a deck of cards and the payouts for the various hands.
You should also know that it doesn’t matter what denomination you’re playing. The payback percentage is the same from one paytable to the next, regardless of whether you’re playing a quarter machine or a dollar machine.
This doesn’t mean the denomination is irrelevant.
After all, if you’re playing a dollar machine instead of a quarter machine, you’re putting 4 times the amount of money into action on every hand.
How to Find Video Poker Games in a Casino
Finding video poker games is easy enough. Sure, the casino floor is an endless array of gambling machines, but a major percentage of those machines will be video poker games.
The video poker games look much like the slot machine games. They’re colorful, they’re made of metal, and they look somewhat like arcade games. They each have a video monitor where you get to see your cards and the payouts.
You can find video poker games in multiple denominations, from a quarter up to $25.
The most popular denominations for video poker are the 25-cent machines and the dollar machines.
Playing is simple, too.
Start by inserting your players’ club card. This is more important for video poker players than it is for slots players because VP players are trying to get the most value for their money.
Then insert your money. The machine will give you credits based on its denomination.
For example, if you put $100 into a quarter machine, you’ll have 400 credits. Put that same $100 into a dollar machine, and you’ll have 100 credits.
The payouts on a video poker machine are always a multiple of the credits you’ve played.
You should always play the maximum number of coins, which is almost always 5 coins, because that triggers a higher jackpot than you’d see if you were betting 1 to 4 coins.
Once you hit the DEAL button, the game gives you a 5-card hand. If it’s already a paying hand, the game will usually indicate this. The machine might even automatically “hold” those cards, although you can always overrule the machine.
In some cases, you will discard a winning hand to try to get a much better hand. I’ll cover that in a future post about video poker strategy.
The next step is to choose which cards you’ll keep. You can do this by pressing a button labeled “HOLD” that corresponds with each card. Most modern video poker machines have touchscreen technology, too, so you can just touch the card on the screen if you prefer.
These settings toggle, so you can change your mind before drawing any time by just touching the button or the card a 2nd or 3rd time.
When you’ve finished making your decisions, you’ll hit the DEAL button again, and the computer will randomly replace the cards you didn’t hold. It will then pay out on whatever final hand you wind up with based on the pay table.
It’s important to be mindful about which cards you’re holding. It’s even more important when you have a big hand.
On some machines, if you’re dealt a royal flush – the jackpot hand – the machine will just pay out automatically and immediately.
But you should still be in the habit of double-checking and not getting into too big a hurry.
Video poker games are arguably the best games for most gamblers, but they require effort and skill. That’s one of the attractive qualities about such games, though.
In future posts, I’ll cover how to play video poker like a smart gambler, which means understanding how the machines work and what the implications of that are.