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Video Poker - Mike Emmerik Archive 1999

JackQueen

Introduction

Video Poker is one of the few machine games combining skill with the ability to obtain an edge. Your edge is not over the casino, but is created by other players who contribute to the jackpot, or the casino offers a better than fair game, but only those very few who know how to play optimally can achieve a better than 100% return.

There are several types of machines. Most are "flat top" machines, meaning that the payouts for all hands including the Royal Flush are fixed. Others are progressive jackpot machines, meaning that when certain rare hands are hit (such as the Royal Flush or 5 of a Kind for machines with wild cards), the payout is a jackpot whose value is displayed on a meter. When the jackpot gets big enough, the machines will return greater than 100% with optimal play. Even if you walk away a consistent winner, the casino does not lose out in this case. For example, a player who wins a $5000 jackpot on a 20c machine typically makes a $1000 profit, since it will on average cost $4000 to win that jackpot. Of the $5000 payout, $2000 comes from the casino, and is the payoff for the Royal Flush. The other $3000 comes from a small percentage of the losses of other players. So while the player makes $1000, the casino has made $2000 (excluding player's club and other promotions).

As well as flat top machines and those with progressive jackpots, it is also possible to have separate jackpots for Straight Flushes as well as Royal Flushes, and sometimes bonuses are awarded for certain hands at certain times (e.g. "Flush Attack" machines). As far as I know, none of these variations are offered in Australia.

Another major distinction is the standard Draw Poker machine, verses wild card poker. The latter include "deuces wild" and "joker wild" versions. In Queensland where I live, I have only seen progressive Draw Poker machines, only joker wild non progressive machines (no longer at Treasury or Jupiters), and never deuces wild or double bonus machines of any type. The types of machine that can legally be offered are set by legislation, so it is unlikely that other types exist in this state.

Video Poker machines vary considerably on their payouts. Machines differ in detail from those common in Las Vegas. Payouts are given in multiples of player's bet:
 
 

Hand Jupiters 
20c
Las Vegas 8/5 
25c/$1
Sheraton Townsville 
$1/$2

Burswood 6/5  20c/$1

Royal Flush 5001/8002/Progressive3 2501/Progressive4 Progressive5 2501/Progressive4
Straight Flush 100 50 50 50
4 of a Kind 15 25 25 25
Full House 8 8 7 6
Flush 6 5 5 5
Straight 4 4 4 4
3 of a Kind 3 3 3 3
2 Pair 2 2 2 2
Jacks or Better 1 1 1 1
Expected Return6 96.4%2 / 101.7%3,7 96.1%1 / 102.4%4,7 101.2%7 101.7%8

Notes:

1 With 1-4 coins bet
2 With 5-9 coins bet
3 10 credits for 20c machines
4 Usually 5 coins required. Progressive starts at 800 bets
5 5 coins required
6 Assuming perfect play
7 Jackpot of 2500 bets
8 Jackpot of 3000 bets (rare)

Although the Las Vegas machines appear to return much more than local machines, remember that their progressive meters start at 800 bets, compared to our 1000. Reducing the jackpot to 2300 bets (1500 above minimum, in line with local machines) reduces the return to about 102.0%, still somewhat better than ours. The payoffs are set by state regulations, and they presently allow for both the "8/6" and "7/5" variations, as shown above.

Machines with better than 100% return

At Jupiters casino, the Draw Poker progressive machines break even at about 1950 qualifying bets. (Sheraton Townsville mahines break even at about 2100 bets). You have to play 10 credits to get the progressive jackpot; otherwise the Royal Flush payoff is 500 bets for 1-4 coins, and 800 bets for 5 or more credits. This translates to a break-even jackpot of $3900. (Even though they are 20c machines, you insert $1 coins for 5 credits per coin).

Jupiters has two 20c meters (upstairs). The players seem quite jackpot sensitive; when a jackpot gets high, people flock to the machines, and there are few spare seats. Jupiters apparently plans to remove the remaining Video Poker machines (the dollar machines are already gone, and at its sister casino, Treasury, both 20c and $1 VP has gone). At the Sheraton Townsville casino, the $1 and $2 progressive jackpot VP machines have a payoff schedule similar to the Las Vegas proressives, except that the payoff for full houses is 7 instead of 8, which costs about 1.1%. So the expectation excluding the royal is about 94%, similar to that of Treasury and Jupiters. Even so, the proportion of time that these machines will return better than 100% will be considerably less, since the meters start at 800 bets, and they have to climb another 150 bets to make up for the low return (due mainly to the full house payoff). That's a total of 250 extra bets just to make break even.
 

Playing Video Poker

Its all well and good to make statements like "machine X returns 102% when the jackpot reaches $X", but what sort of time and money is required to win at Video Poker? The short answer is: heaps. You need a bankroll of the order of several good jackpots (say $12,000 on a Queensland 20c machine, or $30,000 on a $1 machine), and it will take about 44 hours on average of very rapid play (750 plays per hour) to hit a Royal Flush. I have heard of people hitting the Royal after 3 days of intensive play, but that is most unusual. Also, the 44 hours and $3,900 are average figures. The most common figure is more like $2800 (approx 50% chance), but there is a small chance that you will have to invest only $1200 (about 25% chance), or $12,000 (about 5% chance). Five percent is no small figure, and the jackpot rarely exceeds 3000 max bets ($6,000).

On the positive side, though, the 102% figure often quoted (e.g. about $5200 jackpot on a 20c machine) is return per dollar bet, not per dollar lost prior to the jackpot (i.e. invested). If the break even point is $3,900 and the jackpot is at $5200, then if you hit the jackpot after the average amount of time (and money) you will net $1300 for your $3,900 investment, for a 33% return on investment (but 2% return on total money through the machine). Moderate return for a hard week's work (almost $30/hr at 750 plays per hour). (The 2% figure comes from the fact that you have put about $67,000 through the machine, but 94% of that has been from earlier winnings). It's even better if you hit the royal after the most common amount of time, returning 112% on your investment. But before you rush off to the change booth, remember that 5% of the time (see graph below) it will cost you $11,700 to get that royal, and 132 hours of work, for a return of -55% (or losing over $49 per hour, and that's after the jackpot! Until then, you have averaged over $88 per hour loss!).
 

http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/big_br_graph.gifGraphClick http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/big_br_graph.gif here or on the graph to see a larger (6K GIF file) version of this graph, from 0-500%.

The graph is of the function

             x

 y = 1 - 0.99

Think of it as the probability of a full house (actually 1 in 87), or the probability of getting the royal in a number of plays expressed as a percentage of the average. Consider the first play: there is a 99% chance that we don't make our goal (only 1% chance that we get our full house on the first play). So 1-.99 = .01 is the chance that we make our goal. The chance of not making our goal after 2 plays is .99*.99, so we have a 1-.99^2 (where "^" represents "raising to the power") = .0199 chance of making our goal on the second trial. In general, we have a 1-0.99^x chance of making our goal after x trials. It turns out that the graph for 1 in a thousand events is the same shape as this one in a hundred graph. They all have the probability of making the goal in the average time (in this case 100 plays) as 0.63 {for the mathematically inclined, this = 1-(1/e)A}. Note that the 50% probability point is at about 70% of average plays, so half the time you will make your goal at 70% of the average or less. But look at the right hand end of the graph: there is still a 5% chance that you won't have reached your goal after three times the average (x=300). The small chance of taking a lot longer than average balances the moderate chance of taking a bit less than average.

500-700%To see just how bad it could theoretically get, here is an expanded view of the same graph, from 500%-700% of expected. The last 20c VP session that my wife and I played at Treasury casino went to over 220,000 plays without a royal flush, which is 667% of the expected number of plays. You can see from the graph above that you should have almost a 999/1000 chance of hitting a royal flush with that number of plays or less. More accurate calculations put the probability of this event (not hitting a royal flush after 220,000 plays, assuming the machines are fair) at 1 in 792 (0.0013%). Interestingly, the jackpots grew to larger than usual amounts over this period as well. We recorded about 500 4 card royals in that time; a royal flush is expected every 86 of these events (see http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/fourroyal.htm How Many 4/Royals. The reader can draw his/her own conclusion from these results. (20c VP is no longer available at Treasury).

Many people believe that it is pointless playing Video Poker because of the high chance that someone else will win the jackpot, and you have therefore wasted all the money spent so far. But this is not true, as long as you have the opportunity to come back and play again when the jackpot is high again. Sure, 80% of the time someone else may win the jackpot, but on average, you will win the jackpot after you have played about 33,000 hands, regardless of what anyone else does. As long as you only play when the jackpot is higher than break even, then you will on average make a profit. (But along the way, there is a chance that you will be behind by several times the breakeven point, so don't try to make a living from playing!) And the beauty is that the casino will welcome you, because they make a profit from you as you make a profit (from other players).

For a discussion on how many times you will be teased with a 4 card royal flush, see http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/fourroyal.htm How Many 4/Royals?.
For a discussion on how often you will end up with a below average length session, see http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/vpfreq.htm How Frequently This Bad?.
For a discussion on the most commonly seen rank of straight flush, see http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/strfl.htm Most Common Straight Flush Rank.

Other Casinos in Australia

All casinos (except the Canberra Casino) have gaming machines of some type. http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#StarCity Star City (Sydney), the Country Club (Launceston) and Wrest Point Casino (Hobart) do not have progressive jackpots. The MGM Grand (Darwin) has no Video Poker, and Lasseter's Hotel Casino (Alice Springs) has only abysmal (6/5) non progressive VP.

http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#Adelaide Adelaide Casino apparently used to have progressive jackpot VP, but now has a selection of flat top games with poor returns in the range of 94 - 96.5%. The least worst of these is an unusual "aces or better" 10/7 game with 96.5% return when playing 10 $1 credits per game. There are many "Wild One" 6/5 Jokers Wild machines that pay 500 for all Royals (wild or not), but don't pay anything for even a pair of aces (94.0%). Also common are 20c IGT Deuces Wild with poor payoffs (94.8%) with a double-up feature that doesn't seem to be able to be turned off. Also, it's difficult to play the machines fast because the you have to establish the number of credits per bet every play. The least worst game can be found in a single $1 multi-game machine (downstairs) that requires 10 credits per play ($10/play) to achieve 96.5% return (Draw Poker) and 96.0% (Deuces Wild).

http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#Burswood Burswood casino in Perth has a variety of progressive VP. Most of these are 20c games with 5 credits required to qualify for the progressive payout (i.e. $1 per game). (One game is $1, with 5 coins to qualify, so that's $5 per game). For those games with a 6/5 jacks or better payoff, the return without the royal flush is a rather low 93%. Because only 5 coins are required to qualify, a greater proportion of people would play the qualifying coins, and so the jackpots will tend to go off at lower amounts. Ignoring silly things such as bonuses for sequential royals, these games break even at 2500 bets ($2500 @ 20c, $12,500 @ $1) (also ignoring any cashback). That's a big climb from the (presumed) base of $800.

The http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#Townsville Sheraton Townsville casino has $1 and $2 jackpots as indicated in the introduction. I believe that the http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#The Reef Hotel Casino Reef casino in Cairns has 6/5 progressive jackpot VP, similar to that of Burswood.

In Victoria, there are machines (not at the Crown Casino) called "Tattersals Video Gaming Machines". These have a weird payout scheme (e.g. 10 for 1 on a full house, but nothing is paid on pairs less than aces). VP Tutor reports a return of 92.177%! They also have a Jokers Wild game, again with non standard payouts (such as 1 for 1 for straights. Really!).

The http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm#Crown Crown casino (Melbourne) has a large collection (2500) of gaming machines; they claim over 100 jackpots. Presumably, many of these would be playable. They currently offer the http://www.crownltd.com.au/gamingmachines/promotions/jackpot_1mill.htm Millionaire a month promotion, which is pretty amazing.

See also my http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/casinos.htm Australian Casinos page.

Other sources of Information

The World Wide Web

By now there are some sites on Video Poker. Here are some of the better ones, in my humble opinion:

See also my http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/vpshort.htm short term optimal strategy page, and http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/fourroyal.htm How many 4/royals?

Software

VP tutor, by Panamint Software, is an excellent practice and analysis tool. I found a copy of version 1.5 at http://www.umich.edu/~archive/msdos/games/card Garbo; there is a much more http://www.vid-poker.com/vptutor.zip up to date version available from http://www.vid-poker.com Skip Hughes' VP Page. The registered version allows analysis of wild card games, variable 4 of a kind (such as Bonus, Double Bonus, and so on), and more. For DOS; ideal for practicing on a laptop computer.

Masque Video Poker (commercial software) comes with a nice booklet by Lenny Frome. It is a simple play program with a good practice mode, where you can select the level (beginner to advanced) of hands that you want to practice. It is not customisable, and contains table for the 5 most common full pay US machines. I managed to modify one of the tables to be reasonably close to Australian payoffs, by editing the binary data files with a hex editor. For DOS.

Casino Vérité sells a software package for Blackjack, Video Poker, and Pai Gow poker. My impression of Casino Vérité Video Poker is that is a very flash program (lots of dazzling graphics and sounds), with a useful amount of customisation. It has a few irritating points, like specifying expected values in coins instead of bets, but these are hardly fatal. Unlike many VP programs, this one allows you to enter your own payoffs, and it handles several bonus options, so it copes well with Australian conditions. It is also possible to enter your own strategy (basically, you order the various dealt hands like "3 card royal flush" and "high pair".) One very useful feature is the so called "Huh" screen, where if you make a strategy error (these can be contrived if desired) the program will generate the exact expectation for your hand (unless you hold one or no cards; then the numbers are estimated from a table). You can download a shareware version of the software from the CV .

Stanford Wong Video Poker is a practice game and tool. It calculates correct strategy on the fly, and it appears that is can cope with any payoffs. I have not tried this software.

VP exact is a Dos program tells you the exact overall payback and the probability of getting each winning combination. It does this by cycling through every possible hand, finding the best cards to hold, and keeping track of the results of playing the hand perfectly. It can take some time to complete (worst case is about a day). This is the original program of this type, however VP Tutor appears to be able to handle the same calculations at least 10 times faster.

Books

"Professional Video Poker", Wong S, Pi Yee Press, California 1993. ISBN number 0-935926-15-1. This is a well respected book, but its strategies do not allow for Australian payoffs. The chapter on risks is applicable to all Video Poker. The concept of Break Even Points (BEPs) is interesting.

"Video Poker - Precision Play", Paymar D, published by the author, Las Vegas 1996. Does not appear to have an ISBN number. Dan's main idea is that it is easier to remember a set of rules than a table; personally, I like tables. But he has tables as well, and they appear to be thoroughly prepared. There is a little maths in this book, covering Poisson distributions, risk of ruin, and the like. Three main machine types are covered - Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, and Joker Wild, but many weird variations are also discussed. Unfortunately, some of the better material is left out, and he urges that you buy his newsletter called Video Poker Times. There is also a survey of machines in the USA.

BJRnet sells these and other books on Video Poker.

As with my other pages, I always appreciate any extra information, including pointing out any errors; please just email me.

http://www.powerup.com.au/~emmerik/mike.htm Original Author's Home Page.

Last Update: 01/15/99 - No longer updated by original author. Link update July 2018.