If there were two identical slot machines side by side and I asked you which machine was “looser” (i.e., paid out more), would you be able to tell me? The answer is no, because there is no information on the face of a slot machine that gives you a clue as to what the machine is programmed to return to players. However, this is not the case with video poker machines.
It’s relatively easy to tell which video poker machine has a higher payback by simply looking at the pay schedule on the machine’s video screen. Smart video poker players always do this before they sit down and play any video poker game.
There are many different types of video poker games in casinos. For example, there are Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, Joker Wild, and other variations of these games. The pay schedules for every Jacks or Better game is not necessarily the same. Smart players know when a pay schedule is “full pay” (best) or "short pay” (worst). For example, if you examine the pay schedules for Jacks or Better, you will most likely find the following six pay schedules in casinos. (Note: I’ve only listed the pay schedule per coin played for reference, even though you should always play the maximum five coins when you play video poker.)
Jacks or Better Pay Schedule
9/6 8/6 9/5 8/5 7/5 6/5
Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800 800
Straight Flush 50 50 50 50 50 50
4-of-a-Kind 25 25 25 25 25 25
Full House 9 8 9 8 7 6
Flush 6 6 5 5 5 5
Straight 4 4 4 4 4 4
3-of-a-Kind 3 3 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 2 2 2 2 2 2
Jacks or Better 1 1 1 1 1 1
Expected Return 99.54% 98.39% 98.45% 97.30% 96.15% 95.00%
The first column shows the per coin payout for a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. The 9/6 designation represents the payout for the full house and flush. The second column lists the pay schedule for an 8/6 game, the third, a 9/5 game, and so forth. Notice that I’ve included the Expected Return (ER) percentages at the bottom of each column for each pay schedule. Of course, you won’t find this percentage on a video poker machine. This number is calculated based on the Pay Schedule and the assumption that you will play every hand perfectly. The higher the ER percentage, the more the machine will return to players. Saying it another way, smart video poker players will only play Jacks or Better games that have the highest ER. (The casinos will not tell you the ER of their video poker games ... this is something you, the player, need to know if you are serious about winning.)
Notice that even the worst-paying Jacks or Better game returns more than the vast majority of slot machines. Doesn’t that tell you something as to why playing video poker is much better than playing slots?
The important figures to focus on when you look at the pay schedule of a Jacks or Better game is the per coin payout for the Full House and Flush (highlighted in the above table). Casinos who want to lower the ER for this game (to generate more revenue), will usually decrease the payout for the full house and flush. Therefore, a 9/6 Jacks or Better game is the best Jacks or Better game that you can play because it returns 99.54 percent of all the coins played back to players in the long run.
Many casinos opt for the 8/5 Jacks or Better pay schedule, which has an ER of only 97.30 percent. One of the worst Jacks or Better games is a 6/5 game with ER of only 95.00 percent, about 4.5 percent lower than a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. As a general rule, you should try to play a video game that has an ER that is greater than 99 percent.
Besides looking at the per coin payout for the flush and full house when you check pay schedules, glance at the payouts for the other hands to be sure they are the same as listed in the above table.
A good rule of thumb to estimate the ER of a Jacks or Better game is for every one-coin decrease in the full house and flush, the ER will decrease by 1.1 percent. Therefore, decreasing the full house payout by one coin (from 9/6 to 8/6) will decrease the 9/6 ER by about 1.1 percent from 99.54 percent to 98.39 percent.
As I mentioned earlier, the above ERs assume you play each hand perfectly. That is not as difficult as it first appears. For example, you can play any video poker game on your home computer, using video poker training software. When you make a playing error, the software will alert you and tell you what the correct play is. The software will also keep track of your playing accuracy. You need to play with at least 99 percent accuracy before you risk money in a casino. In addition, you should always take a video poker strategy card with you when you play (they are legal). You can refer to the strategy card if you not sure how to play a particular hand. (You’ll find the video poker training software and strategy cards that I use when I teach video poker in my online catalog at www.smartgaming.com.)
Lastly, you can check whether your local casino offers a 9/6 Jacks or Better game (or any other video poker game for that matter) by checking the inventory of games in casinos located in different regions of the U.S. at www.vpfree2.com.
What should you do if your local casino doesn’t offer a 9/6 Jacks or Better game? I’d contact the slot manager at the casino and let him or her know that you will be taking your business to another casino that offers 9/6 Jacks or Better games. When enough players complain and casinos lose customers, that’s usually when they will take some action.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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