Are video poker games more beneficial than playing slot machines? You may have heard this statement and wondered if you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Well we are here to clear that up!
In this post, we review all the ins and outs of why slot machines are not as profitable to you in the long run as playing video poker games. We have put a lot of thought behind this theory and will try our best to explain it so it’s as easily understood as possible.
Casinos Make Their Money From Slots and Video Poker in the Same Way
No, slot machines and video poker games aren’t rigged, at least, not how you might think.
All gambling machines are programmed so that the odds of winning and the payout odds for the bets have a difference, and that difference is the house edge. It’s reasonably easy to calculate; you just subtract the total return for the game from 100%.
The return on a gambling machine is the amount of the prize multiplied by the probability of winning that prize. Add all those returns together, and you get the total return for the game.
Here’s an example pay table for a slot machine:
- 3 cherries = 1000 for 1
- 3 bars = 200 for 1
- 3 double bars = 40 for 1
- 3 triple bars = 10 for 1
- 3 oranges = 5 for 1
Now, let’s say that the probability of getting each of those totals looks like the following:
- 3 cherries = 0.05%
- 3 bars = 0.015%
- 3 double bars = 0.6%
- 3 triple bars = 3%
- 3 oranges = 6%
If you add all those probabilities together, you’ll get the hit frequency for the game; that’s how often you’re going to see a winning spin. In this case, that number is 9.62%, which means that on 9 out of 10 spins, you won’t see a winning result.
You can also multiply the probability by the size of the prize to get the return for each possible winning result. For example, the return for 3 cherries is 0.05% X 1000, or 5%.
This means that the slot machine game with those probabilities and those payouts has a house edge of (100% – 92%), or 8%.
Statistically speaking, that’s the amount of each bet that the casino expects to win from you.
Video poker games work the same way. Every hand has a statistical probability of turning up, and you know what the payouts are for each hand. So, you can calculate the expected return for the game and the house edge.
Video Poker vs. Slot Machines – Major Differences
The biggest difference between video poker games and slot machines are that you can calculate the probabilities for the various outcomes on the video poker game. With a slot machine game, you have no way of calculating probabilities. You don’t know how likely it is that a specific symbol will or won’t turn up on a reel other than observation.
This means that, with a little work, you can calculate the expected return for a specific video poker pay table. And most video poker games have standard pay tables, although there are a lot of them to choose from.
Also, to achieve the best possible return on a video poker game, you must play your hands optimally. This is relatively easy for most Jacks or Better video poker hands, but it can get more complicated in other variations.
Still, almost all video poker pay tables have an expected return of less than 100%, which means the house has an edge. But some video poker games have a smaller house edge than others. And in some cases, the house edge is lower than 1%.
In those situations, you can get an edge by taking advantage of the casino’s players club.
How to Use the Players’ Club to Get an Advantage at Video Poker
The first step, of course, is to find a video poker game with a low house edge. You can find examples of video poker variations and pay tables with a lower than 1% edge elsewhere on this site. Full pay Jacks or Better is relatively common, and so is “not so ugly” Deuces Wild.
You used to be able to find video poker games with pay tables that would give you a small edge over the house, less than 1%, but it was still an edge. As far as I know, casinos got wise to the advantage players out there and removed such games from their floors.
Let’s say that you find a Jacks or Better game where the house edge is 0.46%. The next step is to join the players’ club. Most players’ clubs provide either 0.2% or 0.3% of your action back in rebates and comps.
This effectively reduces the house edge to 0.16%, which is tiny, but it’s still not profitable for the player in the long run.
Most casinos have time periods each week where they offer double or triple rewards. If you’re a member of the players’ club that pays out 0.3% of your action and offers double or triple points, you can play with an edge during those periods.
Double points means that the 0.3% becomes 0.6%, which covers your 0.46% and then some—leaving you with an edge of 0.14% over the casino.
Go during triple points and that 0.3% becomes 0.9%, which means you now have an edge of about 0.44%. You won’t get rich with such numbers, but in the long run, you’ll be winning money from the house – albeit some of it will be in the form of comps and rebates.
The Other Way to Get an Edge at Video Poker
The other way to get an edge at video poker is to find video poker games with progressive jackpots and wait until their jackpots are big enough to make them into positive expectation games.
Every betting unit of payout increases the total return for the game by that unit multiplied by the probability of getting that payout. In video poker, the jackpot is always based on the royal flush.
We know that, depending on the game and the strategy you play with, the probability of winding up with a royal flush is roughly 1 in 40,000.
This means that if the jackpot for the game gets big enough, the game has a positive expectation rather than a negative expectation.
In fact, if the progressive jackpot for the royal flush is large enough, it might even make sense to chase the royal anytime you have two or three cards to a royal flush—even if it means deviating from the previously correct strategy.
By chasing the royal flush every time the opportunity presents itself, you can improve the odds of getting a royal flush to 1 in 35,000.
The most common progressive jackpot video poker game is Jacks or Better with an 8/5 pay table. That becomes a positive expectation bet when the payout for the royal flush rises to 8666 coins. Every coin above that increases the player’s edge.
Why Don’t These Strategies Work for Slot Machines Too?
These strategies could work for slot machines if two things weren’t true.
The first is that you don’t know what the odds of winning are on a slot machine, so you can’t tell the good games from the bad. If you could find a slot machine with a 99.5% total return, you COULD use the comps strategy to get to a positive expectation.
But a symbol on a slot machine could have literally ANY probability of coming up. Compare that to a video poker game, where we know that any specific card has a 1 in 52 probability of showing up.
Also, there’s no way that double or triple bonuses can knock out an edge of 7% or 8%, much less the 25% that some slot machines are programmed with.
You may or may not prefer video poker games over slot machines. I get it. Some people don’t want to get too into the details of strategizing when it comes to gambling. And that’s ok!
But it’s impossible to ignore the obvious facts why you should play video poker over slots. After all, who wouldn’t want a bigger jackpot!