Casinos don’t offer you many opportunities to beat them. Most of the opportunities that are available involve techniques like card counting or hole carding, which can get you kicked out of gambling venues. Video poker is an exception to the norm, because this is a beatable game that the casino readily offers. Using optimal strategy on the right variations can lead to long-term profits.

Some gamblers have actually managed to become professional video poker players. It’s worth noting, though, that pros were far more common two decades ago. The professional video poker scene today presents a much grimmer prospect due to the lack of quality opportunities. But is it possible to still make the same kind of profits that were available two decades ago?

I’m going to compare the modern and past video poker eras to determine whether it’s still possible to win as big as in the past. But first, I’m going to discuss the basics on how you make money through this game.

What Are the Basics to Beating Video Poker?

Video poker is one of the best casino games with regard to your chances of winning. Multiple variations offer return to player (RTP) worth over 99%. Jacks or Better is one common variation that gives you an excellent shot to win. The “full-pay” version delivers 99.54% RTP.

A full-pay video poker machine is the top pay table for a given variation. The 9/6 pay table is the best in Jacks or Better, with a full house delivering nine coins and a flush paying six. The only problem is that Jacks or Better and games with similar payback don’t give you a long-term advantage. This leaves you needing to find variations that feature over 100% RTP.

The three main variants that offer positive expected value (+EV) include Deuces Wild, Double Bonus, and Double Double Bonus.

Here’s the highest-possible payback for each of these games:

  • Full-pay Deuces Wild = 100.76% RTP
  • 10/7/5 Double Bonus = 100.17%
  • 10/6 Double Double Bonus = 100.07%

Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus barely give you a chance to earn +EV. Deuces Wild is your best bet among these games due to the fact that it can give you a 0.76% edge.

The next step is to actually find these machines. Your best tool for doing so is a website called, which allows you to look up various casino destinations to see what kinds of video poker games are available. Doing so reveals that Nevada is the only state with full-pay versions of Deuces Wild, Double Bonus, and Double Double Bonus. Getting more specific, the vast majority of these games are found in Las Vegas.

After finding +EV video poker machines, you need to practice for the specific variation that you’ll be playing. Training for Deuces Wild is the best option when considering that it has the top payback. The best tool for improving at Deuces Wild is a video poker trainer. These programs point out your correct and incorrect decisions as you play the game.

The only problem is that free online trainers don’t cover full-pay Deuces Wild. But you can purchase programs like Video Poker for Winners and WinPoker (on Amazon) to practice your skills. Once you have a strong grasp of strategy, you should start improving your play rate. Playing more hands in a shorter time frame maximizes your profits.

The Life of a Video Poker Pro Two Decades Ago

Video poker isn’t like blackjack card counting, where there are many tales of legendary feats. Instead, professional video poker is a lowkey affair. This means that there’s not much info on how video poker pros operated decades ago. One of the few resources is an interview that American Casino Guide’s Steve Bourie did with a pro back in 1998. The pro went by the alias “Johnny Chung” for the interview. This player revealed a number of interesting details about the life of a professional video poker player.

Here are some of the best takeaways from what it was like being a skilled player in the late 1990s.

Pros Could Win over $100,000

Pouring quarters into a machine may not seem like it would’ve offered impressive returns. But Chung made a very good salary from being a full-time video poker player. “The first year I made about $80,000 and the next two years about the same,” he told Bourie. “Last year was the best: about $135,000.”

Video poker is typically known as a volatile game. What’s interesting, though, is that Chung said he never had a losing month — let alone a losing year. Another good thing about Chung’s job is that he only had to put in a normal 40-hour schedule each week. He could also vary his hours as he saw fit.

Few Video Poker Pros Back Then

Being a video poker pro has never been easy, even when there were more-lucrative opportunities two decades ago. Chung estimated that there were only 25 people playing video poker full-time and “maybe another couple hundred” part-time players.

He also said that he’d never heard of anybody outside of Las Vegas being a full-time professional. When the subject of being a pro in Reno was brought up, he said that there probably weren’t “enough machines there to sustain them full time.”

Some Machines Offered Incredible Payback

High payback is the major reason why Chung and a few dozen other players made such good money with video poker. Select machines offered 103.2% RTP, plus cashback.

Chung could find these games in three Vegas casinos, which is where he spent the bulk of his time playing. He was able to make “$35 to $40 an hour” playing these games with quarter bets.

A Fast Play Rate Was Still Necessary

Earlier I mentioned how it’s important to play at a fast rate when you have an edge. Chung was especially adept at playing quickly, logging around 1,000 hands per hour on a single machine and 1,400 on two machines.

“You have to hit the keys immediately,” he told Bourie. “You can’t have any time to think about what you’re going to do. It has to be automatic.”

Quarter Games Were the Best for Bankroll Management

Vegas used to feature $1 and $5 machines that offered over 100% payback. These games seem like they would’ve been the best route for making profits. But Chung stuck with quarter machines for two reasons.

He said that $1 ($5 max bet) and $5 ($25 max bet) games feature too much volatility in terms of bankroll management. “Plus you won’t find nearly as many games offering the higher payback percentages,” he added. Chung also noted that earning a royal flush on a $1 or $5 machine subjects you to filling out more tax forms and reporting more to the IRS. “[A big payout] is something you get frequent tax forms on and you have to wait about a half-hour for each one,” he said.

Promotions Were Still Important

Double and triple point promotions are very helpful with regard to earning more video poker profits. After all, these promos help increase the amount of cashback you receive. Promotions are especially crucial today given that the payback is lower than when Chung played. But even back then, promos still helped a pro’s bottom line.

The only catch is that players couldn’t simply follow casino social media accounts to find out about the latest offers. They instead relied on each other. “We have a message beeper network where we leave messages for each other about what the best plays are and everything,” said Chung.

Traveling Was Sometimes Important

Chung hadn’t heard of any full-time video poker professionals in other states. But he himself made trips to other states when they offered better opportunities.

“Right now [1998] Bettendorf, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri are the only places that have enough to make it worth traveling to. […] You could probably make about $40 to $50 an hour, but you could do the same thing here, so there’s no reason to travel right now.” Chung found himself traveling outside of Vegas quite a bit in 1997 to take advantage of high-paying machines. However, he didn’t need to travel in 1998 when Sin City casinos got more games with high RTP.

Casinos Didn’t Do Much about Advantage Players

Earlier I mentioned how casinos kick out many advantage gamblers. But video poker has always been an exception due to how casinos don’t place limits on +EV games.

Chung said one reason why casinos are willing to offer games with over 100% payback is because the average player still loses. But he said that gambling establishments eventually catch on when pros start taking advantage of the high-paying dollar games.

The Reality of Being a Video Poker Pro Today

Video poker sounds like it was a lucrative activity back in the late 1990s. Johnny Chung professed to making between $80,000 and $135,000 per year through 40 hours per week.

But what’s the scene like today? Can you make anywhere near what was possible two decades ago? Truthfully, no, and you can read about the reasons why below.

The Top Video Poker Games Don’t Pay Enough Today

Chung’s favorite games were those that paid 103.2% RTP. This gives you a tremendous advantage over the house and can lead to serious profits, even when the coin denomination is only a quarter.

Here’s how much you’d stand to earn with this variation:

    Here’s how much you can expect to make with these games per hour:

  • RTP is 103.2%, giving you a 3.2% edge.
  • You’re making $1.25 max bets (five quarters).
  • You play 1,000 hands per hour.
  • 1,000 x 1.25 = $1,250 bet per hour
  • 1,250 x 0.032 = 40
  • You make $40 per hour.

The biggest problem with trying to be a video poker pro today is that you won’t find any games that offer 103% payback. Deuces Wild is the best available game according to vpFREE2.

Here’s how much you’d stand to earn with this variation:

  • RTP is 100.76%, giving you a 0.76% edge.
  • You’re making $1.25 max bets (five quarters).
  • You play 1,000 hands per hour.
  • 1,000 x 1.25 = $1,250 bet per hour
  • 1,250 x 0.0076 (edge) = 9.5
  • You make $9.50 per hour.

Your earnings are about four times less on Deuces Wild versus the games that Chung had access to. Even when factoring in cashback, which I’ll discuss later, full-pay Deuces Wild doesn’t give you a chance to earn a good living.

You’ll make the same at McDonald’s or Burger King than you would playing Deuces Wild full time. The only way that you can overcome the small wages is by playing well over 40 hours per week, which would be better invested in a regular job.

Not Enough High Paying Video Poker Machines

Even if you’re willing to try and make a living on Deuces Wild games, you also have to consider that there are fewer of these machines available. Many players who want to make video poker profits are fully aware of Deuces Wild and look for these games whenever possible.

Video poker strategy is more prevalent these days than it was two decades ago. This allows any amateur to practice Deuces Wild and jump on these games to earn profits. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to find empty full-pay Deuces Wild machines around Vegas. But doing so is more difficult than it was in the past.

Video Poker Comps Aren’t as Good

Casinos used to be more generous with their comps, even when it came to high-paying video poker machines. You could look forward to anywhere from a 0.1% to 0.3% comp rate through video poker.

Here’s a look at how many profits you could expect to earn back in Chung’s prime years when factoring in the cashback rate:

  • You make $40 per hour (covered in previous example).
  • You bet $1,250 per hour.
  • Comp rate is 0.2%.
  • 1,250 x 0.002 = $2.50 in comps
  • 40 + 2.5 = 42.5
  • You earn $42.50 total per hour.

The problem today is that casinos have slashed their comps across the board. They’re especially leery about giving out rewards to those who take advantage of +EV video poker. Casinos can use rewards cards to track when gamblers only play on certain machines that offer over 100% payback. They then reduce these players’ cashback rate to a point where they’re earning next to nothing in terms of rewards.

Even when this isn’t the case, the 0.1% cashback rate doesn’t do much to supplement your income. Here’s how many comps you could expect to earn per hour combined with Deuces Wild winnings:

  • You make $9.50 per hour (covered in previous example).
  • You’re betting $1,250 per hour.
  • Comp rate is 0.1%.
  • 1,250 x 0.001 = $1.25 in comps
  • 9.5 + 1.25 = 10.75
  • You earn $10.75 total per hour.

More Competition for Quality Machines During Promotions

Land-based casinos run promotions around the holidays to bring in more gamblers. These promos can consist of double or triple rewards points, which is perfect if you’re a serious player. But you also have to consider that you’re not the only one who’s looking to take advantage of these deals. Other serious players will be aware of how much they can earn on full-pay Deuces Wild machines with double and triple points.

Here’s an example:

  • You make $9.50 per hour.
  • You’re betting $1,250 per hour.
  • Normal comp rate is 0.1%.
  • Triple points increase the rate to 0.3%.
  • 1,250 x 0.003 = $3.75 in comps
  • 9.5 + 3.75 = 13.25
  • You earn $13.25 total per hour.

You can see that your hourly winnings only go up by a few dollars in this case. This will make you question if it’s worth showing up to the casino early to get a good game for slightly higher winnings.

Will Video Poker Ever Become Lucrative Again?

Video poker was once a good way for professional gamblers to make money. However, it’s obvious that this isn’t the case today. You only stand to earn $10.50 an hour with perfect conditions, including optimal strategy and a really fast play rate. But is there a chance that video poker can ever become lucrative again? No, the days when Chung made big profits are long gone and not coming back. Most Vegas casinos these days focus on using a variety of means to attract players. Fine dining, nightclubs, shopping, and shows are more important to casino resorts than ever before.

The shift occurred after the Great American Recession in 2008, when many casinos across the US began struggling. It’s at this point when casinos realized that they needed to diversify their revenue streams. The decreased gambling focus means that casinos don’t go out of their way to appease gamblers as much. They’re especially not going to order video poker machines that offer up to 103.2% RTP.

Another problem with casinos diversifying their revenue streams is that they don’t give out as many comps. Ideally, you’re looking at a 0.1% cashback rate combined with full-pay Deuces Wild. Even if you play 1,000 hands per hour, you’re only going to add a little over a dollar to your hourly winnings. The lower cashback rate and the absence of high-paying video poker machines means that becoming a professional player is no longer feasible.


The world of advantage gambling moves quickly. Successful gamblers often move on when they find out that a certain game or technique no longer brings them significant profits. The same is true of video poker, where I doubt that there’s a single player making a good living from the game today. Players with aspirations of being a professional gambler are either counting cards, hole carding, shuffle tracking, or playing a skill-based game like poker or daily fantasy sports.

Even Chung quickly transitioned from video poker when he spotted better opportunities. Bourie contacted him again in 1999, and found that he’d moved out to the Midwest to play $1 blackjack machines. Chung also told Bourie that he’d “found something much better” in the form of a specific video poker machine with a “programming error.” He was traveling across the Midwest to take advantage of these games wherever possible. It was later revealed that Midwestern casinos lost millions of dollars to players who capitalized on these flaws.

In any case, advantage gamblers look for the biggest edge possible that can be realistically exploited. They don’t, however, spend 80 hours per week grinding out a living on a game that pays $10.50 an hour at best. Professional video poker may have once been a very lucrative pursuit. Today, though, it’s just a good way to make a few bucks from your gambling hobby.

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