Video Poker – A Smart Game For Smart Gamblers

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I was never much of a video poker fan, mostly because I considered it relatively boring compared to a lot of the other games offered by the casinos. It’s mostly a lot of back & forth…you win a hand, you lose a hand, and you’re pretty much going nowhere fast.

What changed my mind about video poker was that my wife is a video poker fanatic and we like to play side-by-side, so I learned to appreciate the game and its nuances over time. Over the past five years, we have collectively hit about 20 royals so for the people out there that have looked at it and said that it is next to impossible, let me tell you from first hand experience that it happens more frequently than a jackpot on a slot machine.

Not All Video Poker Games are the Same

If you walk through a casino, you will usually find all of the video poker machines grouped together in one section and if you look at the machines you will find that there are a lot if different variations to the game. Aces & Eights, Double Double Bonus, Shock Wave, and the list goes on. For the sake of simplicity I am going to focus on the most basic of the video poker games which is Jacks or Better.

OK, now that we’ve decided to play Jacks or Better we just need to find an open machine, sit down, and put our money in and start playing, right? No, because not all Jacks or Better machines are the same either. What we need to look for are the ones with the best pay tables.

You see, unlike most slot machines where the pay tables are printed on the back glass, the video poker pay tables are programmed into the machines and can be changed at any time by the casino in order to increase or decrease the payouts. Just because two Jacks or Better machines are sitting side by side and the back splash and the buttons and the screen look the same doesn’t mean that the pay table is the same.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • If it is a machine that allows for multiple denominations (i.e. 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar), then select the denomination you want to play first.
  • If it is a machine that has multiple games, then select the Jacks or Better game. When you do, the game will appear on the screen with the correct denomination displayed at the bottom center of the screen.
  • Select the button at the bottom of the screen that corresponds to “View Pay Table”
  • When the pay table appears on the screen, press the button that corresponds with “Bet Down” until the pay table displays the payouts associated with betting One Credit.

What you should see is something that looks like this:

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Royal Straight Flush: 250

Straight Flush: 50

Four-of-a-kind: 25

Full House: 6

Flush: 5

Straight: 4

Three-of-a-kind: 3

Two Pair: 2

Jacks or Better: 1

If the pay table is displaying anything less than what is shown for Jacks or Better, Two Pair, Three-of-a-kind, or Straight, then RUN (do not walk) to the nearest exit. You will be DESTROYED by a machine that pays anything less.

Next, press the button that corresponds with “Bet up” and you will see the pay table change to what the payback will be if you bet 2 credits, 3 credits, and so on. As you page through the pay tables, note that the payouts for each of the different hands goes up in proportion to the single credit pay table, until you reach the top.

When you get to the maximum number of credits allowed for a single hand you should note that the payout for the elusive Royal Straight Flush jumps from 250-to-1 up to a whopping 800-to-1. Mos machines max out at 5 credits but there are some that allow you to play more. Only play the number of credits required to get you to the 800-to-1 payout for the royal.

In most reputable casinos, the variations in the pay table will occur with the FLUSH and FULL HOUSE. The pay table displayed above is referred to by video poker pros as the 5/6 pay table (the 5-to-1 payout for a flush, and the 6-to-1 payout for a full house) and carries a 95% overall payback for the game.

Here is a list of the most common pay table variations and their associated payback percentages:

Pay Table Percentage

6/5 95.00%

7/5 96.15%

8/5 97.30%

8/6 98.39%

9/5 98.45%

9/6 99.54%

The 9/6 pay table is also referred to as a Full Pay machine and is getting harder and harder to find. If you do happen to run across one, hold on to it for dear life! In recent history, the only full pay machines I recall are in older casinos that have not upgraded their machines for ticket-in/ticket out, so you are having to deal with buckets of coins. In my mind it is a minor inconvenience for getting an excellent payback percentage! Typically, the higher the denomination the better the pay table.

It makes sense because from a hard dollar perspective, the casino doesn’t have to squeeze you as hard to get their cut from a dollar player as they do with a nickel player. If you happen to be sitting at a machine that accepts multiple denominations then check it out for yourself. Look at the pay table for the same game under the various denominations and in most cases you will find variations with the higher denominations paying more.

The cool thing about video poker is that YOU CAN calculate the payback percentage whereas with slot machines you can not. Even if you are not a video poker player, just knowing how to find out what a casino is paying on their video slot games will give you a general idea of how tight or how loose their regular slot machines are. If a casino does not have any video poker machines, that should be your first clue that you’re about to be taken for a ride.

If you walk into a casino that you’ve never been to before, seek out the video poker machines and look at the pay tables. They will give you an indication of what you can expect from the rest of the slot machines in the house. If you see nothing but 5/6 and 5/7 pay tables, then don’t have high hopes of getting too much play from their other machines. Stick to the table games.