Odds and Return to Player

Many gamblers believe that video poker machines are a waste of time and money and instead, they head straight to the slots to try their luck. But the truth is very different – video poker games may not be as colorful and flashy, but they have proven to be far more generous to the player than slot machines. In fact, video poker is one of the very few casino games, the other one being blackjack, where players have a real opportunity to win more than they lose.

Video poker may seem like a game of chance to the less experienced gamblers, but avid players and experts know that it is, for the most part, a game of skill. This means that every decision made during play will have an impact on the outcome of the game, whereas this is never the case with slots. Moreover, casinos do not reveal the average payback percentage of slot machines and they often do it when it comes to video poker. This payback percentage shows how much of players’ bet on average would be returned to them as winnings over the long run. While with slot machines, it varies between 70% and 90%, it is approximately 97-99% for video poker. In other words, players are more likely to lose when playing slots than they would at video poker.

But how is this percentage calculated? Casinos carefully determine the amount of money they are prepared to give back to their customers – they create the games and adjust the pay tables of each of them in such a manner that the odds are always in their favor. Of course, each different game also comes with certain probabilities of winning and losing, depending on its game play, specific rules, etc. There are many factors determining whether a game is more generous or not. Although nothing is certain in gambling, video poker players are able to guarantee a return of their investment if they pick a good game and employ the proper strategy.

Video Poker Odds

In order to understand the odds of winning at video poker, players need to become familiar with the game and its rules. Video poker is based on the simple 5-card draw poker, which is one of the simplest forms of table poker. It is played on either a video console, similar to the slot machine or as a virtual game in online casinos. Typically, video poker uses a standard deck of 52 cards (sometimes more if the Joker is added) where the player is dealt 5 cards during the initial draw and has the option either to hold or to discard them. A second draw follows and if a winning hand is formed, the player receives a payout that corresponds to the original bet and the winning hand.

Before proceeding to explain the odds of winning in video poker, it is important to outline several basic things. The first thing players should know is that in a standard video poker, they have exactly 32 ways to play each hand they are dealt. In order to succeed, they need to make the best choice every time they push the Draw button. This is possible in two instances – if the game is played by a computer, or by a knowledgeable player who uses the right strategy, based on a careful mathematical analysis.

The second thing each player needs to know is the ranking of the winning hands in video poker. In the most basic version of the game, called Jacks or Better, the winning hands are ranked the same way as in regular poker. The highest paying hand is Royal Flush, which is a combination of a Ten, a Jack, a Queen, a King, and an Ace of the same suit. It is followed by Straight Flush, which is formed by 5 consecutive cards of the same suit. Next is Four of a Kind (any four cards of the same value) and then, Full House, which contains a Three of a Kind and a Pair. The following hand is Flush – any five cards of the same suit, and next, Straight, which is 5 consecutive cards of any suit. The lower hands in the pay table are Three of a Kind, Two Pair, and Jacks or Better, which is a Pair of Jacks or higher cards.

Video Poker Hand Rankings
Hand Example
Royal Flush
AA
KK
QQ
JJ
1010
Straight Flush
KK
QQ
JJ
1010
99
Four of a Kind
55
55
55
55
Full House
99
99
77
77
77
Flush
33
55
88
99
1010
Straight
66
77
88
99
1010
Three of a Kind
22
22
22
Two of a Kind
QQ
QQ
44
44

Also, players need to remember that the cards are dealt randomly. This is guaranteed by the use of the so-called RNG (Random Number Generator) technology.

Random Number Generator

video poker random number generatorToday, all slot and video poker machines run under a Random Number Generator which ensures that the outcomes of the games are random and cannot be predicted. This is essential, as it guarantees fairness. What many people do not understand is how the RNG works, thinking it is a software, or rather a computer chip, that shuffles the cards in video poker. This is a common misconception and is far from the truth. In reality, the RNG produces a long sequence of numbers within a predetermined range. These numbers are generated constantly, even after the cards are dealt. In fact, this continues even when the game is not played at. The numbers determine which cards will be dealt and in which position.

However, the matter is much more complex. There are different kinds of RNG and the one used in casino games is called Pseudo Random Number Generator. It is the basis not only for all virtual games but also for many games in land-based casinos – video poker and slot machines, Keno, as well as the automated or computer-controlled roulette and blackjack games where there is no dealer. The RNG is “pseudo” because the sequence of numbers is only seemingly random. It is in fact determined by a seed key or a seed value. This computational algorithm, although fixed, actually produces many numbers each millisecond and the exact combinations cannot be predicted or reproduced, unless, of course, the seed value is known.

So, although the numbers are not exactly random, in practice, the outcome of a video poker game is. There is no shuffling of the cards, there are no strings of bad or winning hands, and there is no connection whatsoever between the amount of bet placed and the value of the cards dealt. Also, it is possible that the player hits the highest payout (or the jackpot) two times in a row. On the other hand, it is impossible to receive the exact same card that has been discarded after the initial draw. Once you discard a Nine of Spades, you can be dealt a Nine of another suit, but never a Nine of Spades again, as it is removed from the deck during the current round.

Initial Deal Odds

Most players know that a Royal Flush or another jackpot winning hand happens once in many deals as the stronger, higher ranking hands in video poker are rarer than weaker combinations. It is true, at least for the most part. The exact odds of hitting a particular winning hand actually depends on the video poker variation you play. But in the most common variations, the odds are known and players can use them in order to pick the best game or to make informed decisions.

When you play a basic video poker game with 52 cards, the odds of getting a Royal Flush during the initial draw are 1 in 649,740. For a Straight Flush, it is 1 in 72,193, and for Four of a Kind – 1 in 4,165. The player will receive a Full House with the first cards dealt once in 694 games, while the odds for getting a Flush are 509 to 1, for a Straight, they are 255 to 1, 47 to 1 for Three of a Kind, 21 to 1 for Two Pairs, and 7.69 to 1 for Jacks or Better. And the odds of getting any pair (from Twos through Tens) is 2.37 to 1.

What these numbers mean is that you will receive any pair of cards almost half of the time during your play. And every 7 to 8 hands you will get your bet back from the even Jacks or Better payout with the opportunity to only increase your winning. Of course, all these are average stats – you should not expect to receive a pair of Sevens every two or three deals. You may not get them even after 20 hands. However, the RNG may deal you a Four of a Kind on your first bet at the game.

Video Poker Initial Odds
Hand Odds
Royal Flush 649,740 to 1
Straight Flush 72,193 to 1
Four of a Kind 4,165 to 1
Full House 694 to 1
Flush 509 to 1
Straight 255 to 1
Three of a kind 47 to 1
Two Pairs 21 to 1
Pair J,Q,K or A 7.69 to 1
Any Pair 2.37 to 1

Odds on the Draw

The odds change significantly after the player chooses which cards to hold and which cards to discard. This also depends on what cards he or she holds. For instance, if you hold 4 cards to a Royal Flush and need just one to complete it, the odds of achieving that are 47 to 1. The odds that you will turn a Three of Kind into a Four a Kind are 24 to 1 and into a Full House – 16 to 1. The options here are too many to count or list, but every avid player can make their own research and take a look at the data available in video poker guides, strategy books, or even online.

Return to Player

video poker return to playerUnlike roulette or slots, video poker gives the player the opportunity to maximize their chances of winning. A good success strategy is based on the particular variation of video poker and the pay table which lists the winning hands in a certain order in combination with the payouts for them. These will also show how higher the house edge of the game is and the payback percentage. The payback percentage, also known as Return to Player (RTP), is a term which describes the percentage of wagered money paid back to the player over time. And this is one of the most important things to look for when determining whether a video poker machine is good or not.

A typical 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker game has an RTP of 99.54%, which means that for every $100 wagered, the player receives $99.54 as winnings. This percentage is average and calculated over the long run, which, according to experts, corresponds to thousands or even millions of rounds of each game. The RTP is a theoretical return which can be expected only if the game is played accurately and with the maximum bet.

House edge, on the other hand, shows how much money the game will keep over time. It is one of the basics that every beginner should know about gambling – casino games are specifically designed to always give the casino the advantage. However, when it comes to video poker, the house not always wins, or rather, the house does not come out as the sole winner. To put it simply, the house edge is just the flip side of RTP. If you are playing a game with a payback of 99.54%, the house edge on it will be 0.46%, one of the lowest among casino games. Generally, the house advantage in video poker ranges from 5% to almost 0.5%. However, in some games, it is zero or even negative. The full pay Deuces Wild, for instance, has an RTP of 100.76%, which means that the house edge is -0.76%.

Sometimes, casinos would post the RTP rates for the games they offer in order to show that they are favorable to the players and attract more customers. But in case the returns are not clearly displayed, you can still find which games are more generous and which will leave you penniless. The easiest way is to look at the pay tables of the different variations of video poker.

Pay Tables

The expected return is always influenced by the specific pay table of the game you are playing. The payouts for two of the winning hands are the first thing to look for, as they are usually the primary indicator for house edge and RTP – these are the payouts for Full House and for Flush. Players should stick to full pay games, where typically, the Full House payout is 9 times the original bet, while the winnings for Flush are 6 times the bet.

A 9/6 Jacks or Better refers to a full pay game with an RTP of 99.54%, whereas the 10/8/5 Bonus Poker has a return of 94.18%, which is among the lowest possible for video poker as a whole. In this game, a Full House pays 10 coins for 1 coin bet, a Flush pays 8 coins, while the Straight pays 5 coins. However, the payout for a Four of Kind hand is split, depending on what cards it is composed of. In addition, a hand of Two Pair pays evenly, instead of double the bet as it is in 9/6 Jacks or Better. This is a great example of a deceptive pay table, which is seemingly great, but when you do the Math, it turns out that the odds are in favor of the house. There are literally hundreds of video poker variations, most of which have lower RTPs and are often called by players “tight”.

Usually, players try to stick to games with more balanced pay tables than to try getting a rare hand. Knowing the pay tables, they can wisely choose a suitable game – some variations offer lower but regular payouts, while those that feature progressive jackpots come with the prospects of making you rich, but until that happens, you will probably lose a lot of money.

9/6 Video Poker Pay Table
Coins 1 2 3 4 5
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four of a Kind 25 50 75 100 125
Full House 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 6 12 18 24 30
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5

Video Poker Variations with High RTPs

video poker deuces wildAlthough most video games are designed with odds in favor of the casino, there is a wide range of variations which offer RTPs of over 100%. Of course, such profitability is possible only if the player makes as few mistakes as possible and uses the proper strategy. A perfectly played full pay Deuces Wild, for instance, has the potential for maximum return of 100.76%. It is a 9/6 game and the Deuces (the Twos) are Wild Cards, which can replace any card in the hand so that the player can achieve a winning combination much easier. It is important, however, to check the payout for Four of a Kind – if it is 4 times the bet, instead of 5 times, the return will decrease to 99.73%.

Another popular variation which gives you the opportunity to come out as a winner is the 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, which has an RTP of 100.17%. There is a Double feature, which can help players double their winnings during a bonus game – they are given five cards but only one is face up and they need to choose a card from the rest. They win if they manage to open a card which has a higher value than the original card.

Double Double Bonus Poker also attracts players with an RTP higher than usual – 98.98%. It is a full pay, 9/6 game based on the classic Jacks or Better but the payout for a Four of a Kind hand depends on how strong it is – it starts from 50 coins (from Fives through Kings) and reaches 400 coins for four Aces.

Of course, video poker games which have progressive jackpots can be quite attractive, because the RTP percentage rapidly grows with the jackpot and often goes beyond 100%. However, in order to qualify for a jackpot, players need to wager the maximum bet and they can quickly run out of money.

RTP and Expected Value

video poker expected valueTypically, players would choose video poker machines with higher RTP percentages, but the higher average return of a game does not always mean a higher actual return. Playing a game with an RTP over 100% such as 9/6 Deuces Wild, for instance, would earn you money over the long term, but you cannot expect to achieve its theoretical return of 100.76% in just a few rounds. However, you can still calculate the expected return and value of each game by considering its RTP percentage and total bets you are going to place.

If you wager $100 on a video poker game with an expected return of 100%, you may earn $100 if you use a strategy which is close to perfect. If you are to bet $400 on a full pay Deuces Wild, which theoretically pays back 100.76%, you can calculate the expected return to be $403.04. In other words, for every $400 bet placed on this game, the player can expect to collect winnings of $3.04 if he or she plays for a long time. Playing a game with an RTP lower than 100%, on the hand, would eventually lead to generating losses. Betting $400 on the 9/6 Double Double Bonus Poker which has an RTP of 98.98%, would leave the player with $395.92 after multiple hands have been dealt. The loss will be $4.08, although it is only theoretical and should only be thought of as an average.

Similarly, one can calculate the expected value of each game – this is the average amount of winnings the player can expect to generate after playing for a certain amount of time. Most experienced gamblers place on average 650 bets per hour. In order to estimate the total wager for an hour, we need to take into account the total bets. Some video poker games offer lower denominations, which means that the total wager would be less. Of course, the number of hands that are played simultaneously should also be considered, as most of the lower denomination machines are in fact multi-hand or power video poker games.

For instance, if the player bets 5 coins, which is the maximum, and a denomination of $0.25, the amount he or she would wager on each hand is $1.25. Considering he or she plays 650 hands per hour, we should simply multiply $1.25 by 650 to estimate how much would be invested for one hour – $812.5. If the player wagers this sum on full pay Deuces Wild, he or she can multiply it by the RTP of the game, which is 100.76%. The result of $818,675 is the expected return after playing for one hour. Comparing it with the initial investment of $812.5 gives us a difference of $6.175. This means that the expected value of playing Deuces Wild for a period of one hour is $6.18.

Let us calculate the expected value of another high paying video poker game – the 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, which has an RTP of 100.17%. We would expect that playing this game would earn less than betting on the full pay Deuces Wild. But interestingly, this is not the case. Playing with the maximum number of coins and bet amount would guarantee maximum winnings, so let us take $5.00 bet and multiply it by 5 (the max amount of coins) to get a bet of $25.00 for each hand. The investment for an hour of play would be $25 multiplied by 650, or $16,250. The expected return would be 100.17% of $16,250, or $16,373.5. The difference is $123.5 and this is the expected value of playing the game for a period of one hour.

It turns out that the player can win much more by playing a game with a lower RTP percentage. This is why when choosing a video poker game, gamblers should always take into consideration the total bets they intend to place. The best choice would be a game that provides the highest expected value and not necessarily the highest expected return.