A lot of folks just don’t “get” video poker. They either think it’s just like a slot machine or that it’s just like regular poker. The truth is, it has a lot in common with solitaire, too, a factor that many people never consider at all.
Players who think video poker is just like a slot machine play with almost no strategy at all. Players who think that it’s a lot like regular poker often use strategies that make sense in a real live poker game but make absolutely no sense in video poker. Keeping a kicker is a great example of that kind of mistake.
Video poker, though, has brought back 5-card draw in a big way. It’s not the same as playing with opponents, but the fundamental concept is the same. You get 5 cards, then you get to decide how many of them you want to discard. During the drawing phase, you get replacement cards.
But video poker has all kinds of advantages over other casino games. This post lists and explains the 7 most important advantages that the game has over the rest of what you’ll find.
1- Video Poker Looks like a Slot Machine, but It’s a Far Cry from Playing Slots
A slot machine is a gambling machine with 3 spinning reels with symbols on each of them. When you play a slot machine, you spin those reels, and if the symbols match up along a “payline,” you get a payoff. It’s one of the simplest gambling games you can play.
Slot machine games list their payoffs for the various combinations, and newer slot machines have more reels and more symbols than ever. Since they’re now powered by computer programs, they often have bonus games that make them even more exciting.
Why is this important? On a slot machine game, you have no way of knowing what the probability of getting any specific symbol on a stop is. You know how much the bet pays off with a specific combination, but not the probability of getting that combination. You’re missing some important information there.
If you had both those pieces of information, you could calculate the payback percentage and the house edge for the game. The payback percentage is the long-term expectation for how much of each bet you’ll get back when playing. For example, if a slot machine has a payback of 75%, you’ll win back 75 cents on average every time you bet a dollar. This is where the casino makes its money.
Some casinos might advertise that they have slot machines with a specific payback percentage—the number usually promoted is between 96% and 98%. This only means that SOME of their games have payback percentages this high. They don’t usually label which games have that payback percentage (although some do). But we know what the probabilities are of achieving certain poker hands. We can calculate the payback percentage for a specific video poker machine with a specific payback table.
2- The Payback Percentage for Video Poker Is Far Higher than It Is for Slot Machines
Most video poker machines have a payback percentage of 92% or higher, although really tight machines might be closer to 90%. Many video poker machines—the ones with the right pay tables—pay back 98% or more if you play with perfect strategy. Some even have theoretical payback percentages of over 100%, giving the player the advantage over the casino.
The casinos count on the fact that most video poker players don’t play with strong enough strategy to achieve a payback percentage that high. They also don’t offer the same pay tables on all their machines. It takes an experienced, savvy video poker player to distinguish between a high-paying video poker game and a lower-paying one.
This means, in the long run, that you’ll get more entertainment for your dollar gambling on video poker machines than on the slot machines. In fact, if you pick the right machines with the right pay tables, you can play a game with a house edge that’s lower than almost any game in the casino—including blackjack.
3- You Get to Make Decisions that Matter When You’re Playing Video Poker
When you’re playing a slot machine, your decisions are limited to which machine to play and how many coins to bet. You put your money in, and you take your chances.
In this respect, video poker is like blackjack. The decisions you make lower or raise the house edge based on the quality of those decisions. For someone like me, who enjoys a mental challenge and likes to feel like he has some influence over his destiny, this makes video poker far and away a better game than almost any slot machine you could ever play.
4- Video Poker Is Easy to Learn How to Play
Most people understand the basics of video poker within just a few minutes. I didn’t need to read a book to learn how to play. I started with the same video poker game most players start with—Jacks or Better. It’s so named because the payoffs start with any pair of jacks or better.
In Jacks or Better video poker, you get 5 cards, then decide which cards to discard and replace. After that, the machine gives you new cards, and you get paid off based on the pay table and the poker hand you finished up with.
The best possible hand is a royal flush, which pays off at 800 for 1. The worst possible paying hand is a pair of jacks, which pays off at even money. The harder it is to get a hand, the more it pays off.
On most Jacks or Better games, the pay tables differ in their payouts for only 2 hands:
- The full house
- The flush
On a so-called “full pay” Jacks or Better game, these hands payout at 9 for 1 and 6 for 1, respectively. A Jacks or Better game with such a pay table has a payback percentage of 99.54%. This makes the house edge for that game only 0.46%, which means that if you play optimally, you’ll only lose an average of 46 cents out of every $100 you run through the machine.
Compare this with the house edge for roulette, for example. In that game, the house edge is 5.26%. You’re looking at losing $5.26 every time you bet $100 on the game.T he only game in the casino with comparable odds is blackjack, and even that depends on playing correctly. If you can understand the pay table, you can pick the best games right from the start. Playing strategy for this game isn’t hard, either.
Other pay tables for Jacks or Better might only pay off at 8 for 1 for the full house and 5 for 1 for the flush. That dramatically changes the payback percentage—it drops to 97.3%. That’s still better than most games in the casino, but there’s a huge difference between a house edge of 2.7% and 0.46%–especially since we’re talking about the same game here, with just a minor change to the pay table.
5- The Variations of Video Poker All Involve Small Changes
All variations of video poker relate some way to Jacks or Better. Bonus Poker, for example, is just like Jacks or Better with a different pay table. You get higher payouts for hands with 4 of a kind in them. Jokers Wild, on the other hand, or “Joker Poker,” is the same as Jacks or Better with the addition of a joker in the deck. It’s a wild card. The pay table changes make up for the correspondingly higher average hand values.
Deuces Wild feels like it plays differently, although the mechanics of that game are also based on Jacks or Better. The big difference is that the large number of wild card dramatically changes the probability of getting a high ranking hand. Again, the pay tables get adjusted to compensate for this.
Lots of other bells and whistles get added to video poker games, but they’re all simple. 10s or Better, for example, is just Jacks or Better, but it’s easier to get a payout because the lowest paying hand has been expanded.
6- It’s a Fast-Paced Game
This advantage is a boon and a curse at the same time. You can play between 600 and 700 hands of video poker per hour once you get the hang of it. A lot of players love this, because the more hands you play, the closer you get to hitting that jackpot—the royal flush. It also keeps you in more or less constant action.
On the other hand, any time you play a game with a negative expectation, the more bets you make per hour, the more money you lose per hour. Compare how much money you lose at a full pay Jacks or Better game with the amount of money you lose at roulette.
At an average roulette table, though, you’ll only see 50 bets per hour. Assuming you’re betting $5 per spin, you’re putting $250 per hour into action. Your expected loss on that, assuming a house edge of 5.26%, is $13.15. That’s almost the same as what you’d lose playing $5 per hand at Jacks or Better.
7- Sometimes You Can Get an Edge
Any time you come across a casino game with a house edge this low, you can sometimes get an edge over the house. With video poker, the most popular and easiest way to do this is to combine your rebates from your slot club membership with perfect strategy to get a payback percentage of over 100%.
Here’s how that works:
When you join the slots club, you get back 0.2% to 0.3% of the money you put through the machine in the form of comps—free stuff that’s supposed to motivate you to return to the casino and gamble some more. If you’re playing a game with a 99.54% payback percentage, and you add 0.3% to that payback, you’re now looking at 99.84% payback.
That’s still not over 100%, but here’s what you look for:
Find a casino that offers a full pay game along with happy hours where you get double or triple slots club points. If you double or triple that 0.3%, you get either 0.6% or 0.9%. That bumps the payback percentage up to 100.14% or 100.44%. An edge over the casino of 0.14% or even 0.44% is negligibly small. But it’s the difference between the casino winning in the long run and you winning in the long run.
Video poker is a great game that offers a lot of advantages over other casino games—especially slots. I never play slot machines when I can find an available video poker game. I just prefer to play the more honest transparent game. And I prefer the game with better odds.
The biggest advantages to video poker are the skill elements and the low house edge. You do need to learn how to read the pay tables, though. Not every pay table offers a really low house edge, although even the tighter tables are usually better than the slot machine payouts.