Most bars with video poker have “Card of the Day” promotions that pay cash or credit bonuses for hitting a specified four-of-a-kind. For example, you might see a 7 hung up somewhere behind the bar, which indicates that four 7’s wins the bonus. Others pay on multiple bonus cards, e.g., quad 7’s or 9’s each get the bonus. Sometimes you’ll find a place paying on all four-of-a-kinds. The more the better, and these bonuses are necessary enhancements given the low base returns on most bar games. But you have to be eligible to get paid when you hit, or they’re of no value to you.
At some bars you’re automatically eligible, because all you have to do is call a bartender over to verify. But most do it through their players clubs, which means you have to be logged into the systems. The most common example is the ETT bonus wheel (the one that plays “Spinning Wheel” by Blood Sweat & Tears when you hit it). That wheel will only engage if you use an encoded key to log in before you play. You can play without being logged in, but you diminish your expected return if you’re excluded from getting the available bonuses. To ensure that you’re eligible, you can ask for a “bar key.”
A bar key is a community key that can be used to log in any player who doesn’t have his own. The bartender activates your machine with his bar key, and you’re qualified for the bonus. Most bartenders will log you in without a thought. Some, however, will ask (or even insist) that you join the club, in which case you can decide for yourself if it’s worth the effort. It usually is, because then you might also get mail with additional offers from the bar. But if you don’t feel like filling out paperwork at that moment, or it’s a place you almost never go to, then asking for the key is the next best thing you can do before playing.
One bar I know of insists that you can’t win the ETT wheel’s largest payout of $1,000 when you use a bar key. That’s not something I’ve been able to confirm at other places, and in every other bar I’ve asked, I’m told it’s not the case. Hence, it may just be a house policy there. Hitting the $1K is such a rare event that it almost doesn’t matter, but ask before you play if you want to be sure this isn’t the rule.
Bar keys aren’t a consideration in several Las Vegas bars that use the Gamblers Bonus system, where you log in using the keypad on the machine with a username and password that works everywhere Gamblers Bonus is installed. At Gamblers Bonus bars, you have to sign up once, but then you’re set.