What Is Bar Top Video Poker? (And How Does It Work?)

Royal Flush With a Video Poker Pay Table Background

Video poker is an alternative to slot machines that offers better odds and a strategic element that slots lack. It’s superior to slots in almost every way.

The big difference between slots and video poker is the payback percentage. This is the statistic that measures how favorable a casino game’s odds are to the casino.

The higher the payback percentage is, the better the game is for the player.

For example, a game with a 99.5% payback percentage pays back – statistically, in the long run, and on average — $99.50 for every $100 you bet.

The odds for video poker are based on the odds you’d see with a standard 52-card deck of cards, so you have some knowledge of a payback percentage for the game.

You have no way of estimating the payback percentage for a slot machine game other than clocking how often the symbols appear.

Most slot machine games have a payback percentage of less than 94%, and in a lousy location – like a bar, for example – the payback percentages are even lower.

But video poker games – especially bartop video poker games often offer a higher payback percentage.

What’s a bartop video poker game?

It’s just a version of video poker that’s embedded into the top of a bar instead of being in a free-standing machine that looks like a slot machine cabinet.

And sometimes bartop video poker games offer better odds than you’ll find in the rest of the casino.

Las Vegas Bartop Video Poker

Most of the bars in Las Vegas offer bartop video poker, but you’re almost certain to find bartop video poker in a bar that’s located in a Strip casino.

The pay tables vary wildly from casino to casino, though.

For example, I’ve seen reports that the bar top video poker games at the Mirage have some of the worst pay tables in the business. They’re also notoriously stingy with their free drinks for players – most casinos allow you to order almost anything you want, but the comped drinks at the Mirage come from a limited number of choices available to comped drinkers.

The Bellagio, on the other hand, has a great reputation for good pay tables on their bar top video poker games. The only drawback to these games is that they’re not as good for the low roller. The minimum bet on these games is usually $1, which means you’re probably going to need to bet $5 per hand.

You can also find good bar top video poker games at the Cosmopolitan and Harrahs.

The bars in the sports books in most of the Las Vegas casinos also often offer great video poker games with excellent comps rates.

How Does a Pay Table Work on a Bar Top Video Poker Game?

The pay tables are the most important things about bar top video poker games, and they work the same way for bartop games as they do the standalone video poker games in the casino.

The pay table is just a list of the possible final hands you can have along with how much each hand pays off. These are roughly in the same order as a standard poker hand would work.

The top prize for almost all video poker games, bartop or not, is reserved for the royal flush.

Depending on the game, the lowest paying hand might be a pair of jacks or higher. Since it pays off at even money, it’s more of a break-even outcome.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that payouts for table games bets express their odds as x to y, but gambling machines pay off at x FOR y odds.

Bar Top Video Poker Machine

That’s a huge difference.

When you play a table game and make a bet, you get your original bet back if you win.

When you play a gambling machine – like a bartop video poker game – you lose the original bet even if you win – it’s deducted from your winnings.

Here’s an example:

You bet $5 on a hand of blackjack and win. You get to keep your $5 and you win $5. This means you’ve made a profit of $5. The payout odds on this hand are 1 to 1.

But you’re playing Jacks or Better video poker on a bartop game somewhere in Vegas, and you bet $5 on a hand. You get a pair of jacks, but your original $5 was forfeit when you pressed the “deal” button. Since this hand pays off at 1 for 1, you get your $5 back, but that doesn’t represent a profit.

The Pay Table on a Bar Top Video Poker Determines the Payback Percentage

The payback percentage isn’t something just randomly arrived at. It’s a statistical prediction based on the probability of getting each hand and what the payoff is for that hand.

If some hands pay off more on one pay table than another, they affect the payback percentage.

The classic example, and a bartop classic, is Jacks or Better. The traditionally best pay table is called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. It’s also sometimes called a “full pay” Jacks or Better game.

This game has a payback percentage of 99.54%.

The 9 and the 6 refer to the payouts for the full house and the flush, respectively. A full house pays off at 9 for 1, and a flush pays off at 6 for 1.

A casino or saloon that wants a bigger edge over the player only adjusts the payout for those 2 hands. For example, a more common pay table on a Jacks or Better game is 8 for 1 for a full house and 5 for 1 for a flush.

This is called an 8/5 Jacks or Better game, and the payback percentage for this game is only 97.30%.

This doesn’t sound like a big difference, but let’s look at what it does to your hourly expected return rate.

The average video poker player might get in 500 hands per hour. If you’re playing a dollar machine, you’re probably betting $5 per hand, or $2500 per hour.

On a full pay, 9/6 Jacks or Better game, you’ll get an average of 99.54% of that $2500 back per hour, or $2488.50.

That’s an average loss of just $11.50.

Take the same action and apply it to the 97.3% payback percentage for the 8/5 game, and you’re looking at getting back $2432.50, which equates to a loss of $67.50 per hour.

Whenever possible, find the best pay tables for the bar top video poker games you’re trying to play.

And avoid the really bad pay tables.

Bar Top Video Poker Strategy

The payback percentages I’ve mentioned so far in this post assume that you’re making the mathematically optimal decisions for each hand. And each hand has 32 different ways you can play it, so video poker strategy might be more complicated than you expect.

Regardless of which video poker variation you’re trying, the correct strategy for it has almost certainly been created by someone. These strategies are usually presented in the form of a list of potential hands in order of desirability.

To use one of these strategy tables at a bar top video poker, compare the hand you’ve been dealt with the hands on the strategy table, starting at the top.

Bar Top Multigame Screen

When you come to a listing on the strategy table that matches what’s in your hand, stop and discard the other cards.

Using the appropriate video poker strategy won’t give you an edge over the casino – not even at bartop video poker games – but it will ensure that you’re seeing the best possible payback percentage for the game.

If you ignore the appropriate strategy, you’ll probably be giving an additional 2% to 4% back to the casino.

And, as we saw when we looked at the difference between 9/6 Jacks or Better and 8/5 Jacks or Better, a couple of percentage points can have a massive effect on your loss rate per hour over time.

Can You Play Bartop Video Poker Games Online?

Since bartop video poker games are the same games as the standalone video poker games in a casino, the video poker games played online are roughly equivalent to what you’d expect.

In other words, there are no bartop-specific versions of video poker that aren’t available online.

The games are all just video poker games.

The only difference is the presentation.

Conclusion

You can have a lot of fun playing bartop video poker, and it’s cheap entertainment. The trick is to find a casino and/or bar that has bar top video poker games with respectable pay tables.

Then it’s just a matter of using the appropriate strategy for that game with that paytable.