Casino Stories - Video Poker - Making money at Video Poker
An Advance Comment
A general statement about this Hub Article is that it is not an instruction manual on how to play Video Poker. Instead it is a treatise about the anticipated profitability of the game in the casino.
In writing this article I realized that the real answer to the question of making money at video poker is that a player probably can not. There are some exceptions and I'll try to point them out.
Some of the discourse is discouragingly basic and if you already know that stuff, it can be skipped.
Are There Games Out There That Can Be Profitable?
Video poker games that allow the player to gain a percentage advantage over the casino are almost non existent. There are many games that return above 98% of the player's money. There are a few that will return above 99% of money wagered. And, although in recent years I have never seen a game that returned above 100%, I understand they exist.
It should be clear that unless a machine returns over 100%, it's going to keep some of your money.
Because the game I am most familiar with is Jacks Or Better, it will be easier to understand if the explanation concerns this game. However, the calculations that I'm going to suggest will work for any game and rate of return on wagered money.
First, a comment about the game
I would expect disagreement about the comments in this section. There are experts that will disagree with what is written in this section. And, while expert players may, after years of practice and searching for good games, may find better games than what is described here, the normal recreational player will not.
Jacks Or Better video poker has variations in the amounts that a player is paid if certain combinations of cards are in the final hand on the screen of the machine being played. For instance, a pair of jacks, queens, kings, or aces (hence jacks or better) normally refunds the player's bet. Two pair of any denomination normally pays 2 times the player's bet. This multiplier increases through 3 of a kind, a straight, a flush, a full house, and so on.
Identification of a full paying Jacks Or Better machine can usually be made by seeing that a flush pays 6 times the bet and a full house pays 9 times the bet. When those conditions are met, the remainder of the payoffs are usually the same across many machines.
However, for the insertion of one coin in a machine, a royal flush normally returns 250 times the initial bet. To encourage larger bets, most casinos off a special payoff on a royal flush of 4,000 times the initial bet when five coins are wagered.
Recently I have seen machines that require more than the five coin bet to receive an enhanced payoff for the royal flush. These payoffs change the rate of return to the player significantly to the casino's advantage.
When playing, therefore, it is smartest to find the proper payoff an to play five coins at a time. That can be 5 nickels on a nickel machine - making a bet of 25 cents. It can be 5 quarters on a quarter machine making a bet of $1.25. It can be 5 $1 tokens on a dollar machine making a bet of $5. There are also higher denomination machines that take larger bets.
The rate of return doesn't normally vary when denominations change.
When the cards are played to get the best mathematical result this game with the described payouts returns 99.54% of the money wagered.
Even minor variations in the amounts returned for various combinations change the payback. If a full house, for instance, pays only 8 coins - not 9 - the percentage drops significantly to 98.39%.
What's Does This Mean?
It's clear that 99.54% sounds like almost 100% and it is.
If a player is playing nickel video poker and betting 5 coins per hand, they are playing a quarter a hand. Every 4 hands they've played $1.00
At a the return expected for that dollar, they will average getting back 99.54 cents.
If a player plays carefully and somewhat slowly, they will play some 400 hands an hour. On average in an hour the player will play $100 (400 hands at $.25 per hand) and on average will receive $99.54 back from the machine.
On a nickel machine, then, a player who plays correctly will average losing 46 cents.
Quarters will cost the player $2.30 (5 x $.46) per hour. Dollars will cost the player $9.20 per hour.
Clearly it is not a profitable undertaking.
How does it become at all profitable?
Even the stingiest of casinos provide free soft drinks or coffee. Some casinos are restricted by law or tradition but those that are not may provide alcoholic beverages free of charge. Depending on how much you drink, that'll add a benefit that should be figured into your play. Even if you're drinking Pepsi and playing nickels, you don't have to drink very much to put yourself ahead even though your bankroll is shrinking.
Casinos have player's clubs. Most of these clubs allow players to accumulate points which can be exchanged for food or playable cash. The casino near me where I play video poker gives me $1.00 in playable cash for every $1,000 I put into the machine. If I want to use the points to buy food or merchandise, they'll give me $1.00 for every $500 I put into the machine.
That increases the percentage that I receive back from my play by .1 percent if I want money and .2 percent if I want merchandise or food. Or, if food is involved on my favorite machines, the percentage changes to 99.74 and if money is my goal, it is 99.64 percent.
At my nearby casino, if I accumulate 15,000 points in three month, I get additional benefits such as $25.00 in complimentary food every two weeks. There are some additional benefits at this level of play but they are not as easily definable.
I figure there are just over 6 biweekly periods in 3 months so I must obtain 2500 points every two weeks.
If I play quarter video poker and play the same slower speed (400 hands per hour), I'll need to play 50 hours every two weeks to obtain this benefit. My anticipated loss on that amount of play is $12.50. That's a total of $2500 into the machine to receive $25 in food - another .1 percent. It brings our total return to 99.74% - still not a profitable situation.
If I rise above the quarter level, I begin to get some complimentary activities that increase the value of the return to me. However, they don't decrease my cash outlay.
Over the long haul, for every hundred dollars I put into a jacks or better video poker game with the payoffs that I want, I cannot get the cash return to me above $99.54.
As I said at the beginning of the article it is unlikely that a player is going to win money at video poker. However, it is enjoyable to play occasionally at a game I like, pay the cost by losing, and then use the act of that pastime to eat free at the snack bar.
That being said there are times that I've sat down at a machine and put in a hundred dollar bill. I selected quarter jacks or better and began playing. In the first 10 minutes, the cards turned up for a royal flush and the machine paid me $1,000. I'd normally cash out that $1,000 and go home.
I'd be exuberant that I had won money but in the back of my mind I knew that if I continued to play because I enjoy the game, it will cost me about a nickel for every five dollars I put into the machine.