A Complete Guide to Video Poker

Welcome to the video poker section of our site. This game, along with blackjack, is one of our two favourite games in the casino. Video poker not only offers some of the best odds in the casino, but it is also one of the most fun slot machines on the floor.

Video poker looks like a slot machine and indeed has many similarities with slot machines. The biggest difference between the two games is the payback percentage. The amount of money a slot machine is programmed to pay back per $100 is considered its payback percentage.

Here’s an example:

You play a slot machine for $1 per spin. You make 100 spins, so you have wagered $100. The machine is programmed with a 92% payback rate, so you lose $8 in total, and you have $92 left in your bankroll.

In that example, that is an expected return. Because of standard deviation, your actual results will vary. You can end your short slots session by winning $8, or $16, or even $24. Or you may lose a larger amount.

The payback rate is the long-term expected outcome based on probability. The more bets you place, the more likely you are to see results that reflect the expected return. Casinos rely on this to make a profit.

The payback rate of most video poker games starts at 96%, but many of them offer a 99%+ payback rate.

Another way to look at this number is as the house edge. That’s just the payback percentage subtracted from 100%. This is how we look at the casino edge for most table games.

Here’s an example:

You are playing a “fully paid” Jacks or Better game. The payback percentage is 99.54%. Subtract that from 100% and you’re left with 0.46%. That’s the house edge.

The house edge is the amount of each bet the casino expects to win in the long run. For the player, the lower the house edge, the better.

0.46% is exceptional, by the way. The only other game in the casino that even comes close is blackjack, and the house edge for that game varies based on the conditions at the table.

The rest of this page focuses on what you need to know about how video poker works, how to play, and what types of strategies can help you improve your odds. We’ve included links to the main sections of this section of our site, along with descriptions of what you’ll find in each section.

How video poker works.

Just because it looks like a slot machine doesn’t make it one. Even though a video poker game may look like a slot machine, the mechanics of what actually happens on the screen are very different from what you might expect. The main change in the mechanics is the amount of information available to the player.

At a slot machine, you are paid out certain prize amounts based on which combination of symbols appears on the screen in front of you. For example, you can win $1,000 on a $1 bet if you get three red cherries in a row.

You have no way of knowing the odds of getting each of these symbols.

That chance is determined by the slot machine’s random number generator, which has settings set by the manufacturer to meet a certain expected payback percentage.

Getting a cherry on a certain reel after a spin can be programmed to happen one in every ten spins, or it can be one in every twenty spins, or it can be one in every hundred spins, or any other number.

By manipulating the odds of achieving certain results and then comparing them to the payout amounts of these combinations, a slot machine manufacturer can predict within a few tenths of a percentage point how much that machine will pay out in winnings over time.

If you had that information, you could even calculate the machine’s payout percentage.

And that’s exactly the kind of situation you have with video poker.

Instead of symbols on spinning reels, the action in video poker takes place over five “stops,” and the result in each of these is a deck of standard playing cards. Most video poker games use a 52-card virtual deck, although some games use a fifty-three card deck with a joker as the joker.

Since the odds of getting a particular card or combinations of cards are known, you can compare the payouts for particular hands to the odds of getting that hand and get an expected payback percentage.

In video poker, you are not paid out by a random combination such as three cherries but rather based on the poker hand ranking of your final result. A royal flush is the highest paying hand, a straight flush is usually the second-highest paying hand, and so on.

How to play video poker

Learning to play video poker is easy and doesn’t take long. The first thing you do is put in your money. The computer in the machine converts your money into credits (or “coins”).

The most common denominations for video poker machines are quarter and dollar machines. So if you put $100 in a dollar machine, you have 100 credits. Put that same $100 in a quarter machine and you have 400 credits.

All pay-outs for the different hands are based on credits.

Once you’ve put in your money, you decide how many coins you want to bet on each hand. You should always wager the maximum number of coins, which is five coins on most video poker machines.

This recommendation has a reason.

The best hand in almost any video poker game is the royal flush. That hand usually pays out at 250 to 1 if you play less than five coins, but if you play five coins, it pays out at 800 to 1. That’s a huge difference.

If you don’t feel comfortable playing for five coins, you should lower your bet. It’s cool if you don’t want to play for $5 a hand. Just scale it back to a quarter machine and play for $1.25 per hand. But don’t cheat yourself with that bonus playout for the highest possible hand by betting just $1 per hand on a dollar video poker machine.

Once you’ve decided how much you want to bet per hand, you can hit the deal button. If you do, your account will be debited at the machine with your bet amount, and you will be dealt five cards. You have the option to keep any combination of cards you like or discard any combination of cards.

Once you’ve decided which cards to keep and which to discard, the machine will deal out your replacement cards. Then you get paid based on the strength of your hand.

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice something else about this setup. Since the probability of hitting certain hands is a known factor, you can make intelligent decisions about how to play each hand to get the best possible expected outcome every time.

For example, consider the following scenario:

You get a three-card hand for a flush, but you also get a pair of jacks.

If you keep the jacks, you have a 100% chance of an even payout. So the expected value starts at $1, but you also have a chance to improve your hand to three of a kind, and you also have a chance at a full house or two pairs.

If you keep the three cards on a flush, you have a 1/25 chance of making your flush. Since that hand pays out at 6 to 1, the expected value of that bet is less than $1. The obvious choice is to keep the pair and discard the flush draw.

On the other hand, suppose you have four cards to a royal flush, and you also have a pair. The odds of becoming your royal if you break the flush are about 1 in 4, but the payout, if you succeed, is 800 coins. That’s much better than an expected value of $1, so you should break the pair and go for the royal flush. Even though the chance of hitting the hand is about 2%, the payout is well worth it.

The game continues like this, hand by hand until you run out of money or want to quit.

Pay Tables for Video Poker

The payable determines how much you win based on the strength of a particular hand. You will also find pay tables on slot machines, but they are relatively pointless—again, you have no way of knowing what the odds are of getting a particular result on a slot machine game.

Here is an example of a Jacks or Better video poker game payable:


You’ll notice a few things right away. One of the most important things is that the hands all pay out the same no matter how many coins you bet, except for one—the royal flush. You simply multiply the payout by the number of coins wagered to get the payout for a given hand.

But with a royal flush, you get a payout of 250 to 1 on any bet except the five-coin bet. On that, you get a payout of 800 to 1 (or 4000 coins).

To a greater or lesser extent, all video poker tables are similar to this one. In Jacks or Better, the simple version of video poker on which all other games are based, the casinos and manufacturers focus on changing just two payouts to adjust their payout percentage for the games—the full house and the flush.

You can see in the paytable above that the full house pays out at 9 to 1 and the flush pays out at 6 to 1. This is what is considered a “9/6 Jacks or Better” game, or a “fully paid” game. The payout percentage for a Jacks or Better game with this paytable is 99.54%.

You’re more likely to find a Jacks or Better game that pays out 8 to 1 for a full house and 5 to 1 for a flush. This is an 8/5 machine, and the payout percentage for such a game is significantly lower than that of a full slot machine—97.3%.

You will also find games with 7/5 payouts and 6/5 payouts.

The difference between a 99.54% payout and a 97.3% payout may not sound like much. After all, if you got that grade in a college course, you’d have an A+ with both scores.

But let’s see how that difference can affect an average player’s winnings.

You can calculate a player’s expected hourly loss by multiplying the number of bets she places per hour by the average amount of each bet and then multiplying that result by the house edge.

The average video poker player plays 600 hands per hour. (We know that sounds like a lot, but the game plays a lot faster than you’d think by reading about it.) Let’s say you’re playing for $5 a hand. That’s $3000 an hour in action.

The house edge for the full payout machine is 0.46%, so that’s the amount you expect to lose per hour: 0.46% times $3000. That’s $13.80 per hour.

But the house edge for that 8/5 machine is 2.7%. $3000 multiplied by 2.7% equals $81.

There is a huge difference between a loss of $13.80 per hour and one of $81.50 per hour.

But don’t get us wrong. Even 8/5 Jacks or Better is an improvement over the average payout percentage of a slot machine of similar value. Even at a good casino, you might only be looking at a 95% payout percentage on a slot machine of that value.

Even worse, you have no way of knowing what the payback percentage is for the slot game you are playing. With video poker, you know what kind of bet you are getting for your money.

On our dedicated page, you can read all about paytables for the different types of video poker games.

Games of Video Poker

We’ve devoted an entire section of this site to explaining the differences between video poker games.

You will find dozens of different video poker games available at any given casino at any given time. These are largely similar to Jacks or Better, but they usually offer different payouts for certain hands or other wrinkles to confuse the gameplay a bit.

Perhaps the most common video poker game variant (besides Jacks or Better) is Deuces Wild. The game has two distinct differences from Jacks or Better:

  • The 2s are wild and can replace any card you need to make in your hand.
  • The pay tables are different to indicate how much easier it is to make certain hands.

In our video poker games section, you can find a comprehensive list of video poker games and how they work. We also add strategy advice to each variant.

Another widely used video poker game is Joker Poker. You can think of it as halfway between Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild, because it only has one joker: the joker. So, on average, you will see better hands in Joker Poker than in Jacks or Better. But you won’t see them as often as in a Deuces Wild game. There is a big difference between having a single joker in the deck and having four wild cards in the deck.

Bonus Poker is another variation. This one plays just like Jacks or Better, but offers bonus payouts for four of a kind. There are several versions of Bonus Poker available, most of which vary the payouts for a four of a kind based on the rank of the cards in that hand.

Other variations allow you to pay one or two extra coins for each hand to get a multiplier on your winnings. There is a dizzying array of these variations.

Online Video Poker

You will also find an online video poker section on this site. In that section, we look at the video poker games available at different online casinos in terms of what software is used to power those casinos.

What many gamblers new to the online casino scene fail to realise is that there are only three dozen types of online casino software. Most internet casinos lease their software from a software supplier, and if you play at one casino with that software, the games are the same as at any other casino that uses that software.


Bovada and Slots.lv both use RealTime Gaming software. So no matter which casino you sign up with, you will have the same video poker games with (usually) the same paytables at both casinos.

However, this makes it easy for humble gambling writers like us to write about online video poker. With over 3000 online casinos out there, it would be a huge task to write about all of these casinos if they each had unique games available.

Our online video poker section provides detailed information on how sign-up bonuses work for video poker players, and we provide recommendations for which online casinos are safe places to play, as opposed to some online casinos that are not safe places to play.

Video poker for fun

We’ve devoted an entire section to where and how to play free video poker games online. Your reasons for playing a free video poker game may vary, but many players use such games to practise their skills. Because strategy is important, it’s a good idea to know how to play each hand before putting real money into action.

Almost all online casinos offer their games in a free or play-money mode, and so do their video poker games. Of course, their motivation for offering those free games is obvious: they want you to have so much fun that you want to try their real-money versions of the games. But if you just want to play for free without risking money, you can do that too.

You can also find online video poker strategy trainers where you can play for free and even get advice back from the game on which cards are right to keep and/or discard. The graphics on these trainers are usually less robust than the graphics you see from an online casino, but there are benefits to being able to play for free and get strategic advice.

You can also find plenty of sites that offer free video games of all kinds, and they often include video poker in the mix. Several apps and software downloads also offer free video poker games.

You can find out more about everything discussed above in our free video poker section. We’ll give you all the advice you need if you’re interested in practising your strategies before playing for real money.

Video Poker Strategy:

We also have an entire section dedicated to video poker strategy.

In that respect, video poker is very similar to blackjack. Because we are dealing with known odds based on a 52-card deck, we can determine with a great degree of accuracy what the correct deck is for each hand. When you make the right play with every hand, you are working on optimal strategy.

The payout percentages calculated for the different games all assume that you are playing with an optimal strategy. If you make mistakes while playing, your actual payout percentage will deviate significantly from the stated number. But most players with a bit of card sense don’t give up more than 1%.

On the other hand, new video poker players who have no idea what they are doing can give up as much as 3% or 4% per hand.

And if you want to know how much of a difference that makes to your bankroll and how fast, take a look at the section of this page (above) where we compare the difference between 9/6 Jacks or Better and 8/5 Jacks or Better.

Knowing the right strategy versus not knowing the right strategy can be the difference between losing $13.80 an hour and losing $81 an hour.

The right video poker strategy varies from game to game based on the rules of the game and the payouts for the different hands. As you might expect, the strategy for Deuces Wild is dramatically different from the strategy for Jacks or Better.

Our comprehensive video poker strategy section will teach you how to play your best. It contains a variety of information and advice that will help you get better results.

Real money video poker

You probably noticed that we have a section on free video poker. It’s only fair that we also offer a section on real-money video poker.

The pages in that section focus on the implications of playing video poker for real money, both online and offline. Not everyone enjoys playing online games for money, but when you get started, educate yourself about what to expect.

That section also includes a page about buying video poker.

In the United States, video poker is popular.

Since this site is written in English, a large percentage of our visitors are from the United States. And video poker is more popular in the United States than anywhere else in the world. So it made sense that we made a section about the game as it is played in the US.

This section lists which states offer casinos with real money video poker and which states do not. We also look at what the different states have to say about the legality of playing online for real money.

The United States is a large, diverse country with fifty different states. Almost every state has a different legal stance on online or offline gambling. In this section, we’ll discuss how each state handles our favourite game.

We also break it down into certain major gambling cities and what they offer in terms of video poker. Two of the major cities we’re looking at specifically are Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Video Poker Questions & Answers

One of our favourite sections to write in on much of the site is the questions and answers category. For each game, we usually have a page made up of random questions we receive from the readers of our site. Usually, a detailed answer to those questions can be an interesting mini-essay in itself.

Most of this section is one page, but we can extend it to multiple sub-pages if we get questions so detailed that we need an entire page to answer one or more of those questions.


Video poker is one of our favourite games in any casino. That’s because it gives us the opportunity to take some control over our destiny and influence the odds in our favor. In addition, most of these games offer a low house edge compared to other games in the casino.

We enjoy the transparency of this game. Slot machines are too opaque. You have no way of determining whether you are playing a mathematically generous game or not. We think it’s much better to know exactly what kind of games a casino offers.

We have dedicated a large number of pages to video poker on this site. That’s because it’s a fascinating subject, and we want to cover it in as much detail as possible. Since discriminatory gamblers almost always prefer video poker over slots, we think it’s only fair to accommodate them.