How to Find the Best Odds at Video Poker

Regular readers of this column know that I make periodic references to the return on video poker machines, usually by citing numbers like 9/6, 7/5, 6/5, etc. Let’s take a look at what those numbers mean.

When you walk up to a slot machine and put your money in, you don’t really know what you’re up against in terms of the house advantage. You have an idea based on regulations, your own experiences, things you’ve heard and read. But without access to a machine’s “PAR sheet,” there’s no way to get the full story. But that’s not the case in video poker.

On a VP machine, all you need are the payouts posted on the glass to be able to determine both the long-term return on the game and the optimal way to play every hand that you’re dealt. Of these two considerations, knowing how to pick the games with the highest returns is the easiest way to improve results regardless of your skill level.

While it can get complicated at the higher levels of analysis, it’s actually surprisingly easy to identify the better games. Simply look at the column of payouts associated with betting a single coin and note the numbers corresponding to a full house and a flush. For example, the full house might pay “9” (coins) and the flush “6.” That schedule is referred to as “9/6 Jacks or Better,” “9/6 Double Double Bonus” or 9/6 whatever game you’re playing. A schedule that pays “8” for a full house and “5” for a flush is referred to as an “8/5 game,” and so on.

While the level of the royal flush is also important, the full house and flush are the only important numbers that distinguish one schedule from another in the majority of games most commonly encountered—Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Bonus Poker Deluxe, Double Double Bonus and Triple Double Bonus. Note that this rule doesn’t fully apply to Double Bonus, which also varies by the payout for a straight, and it doesn’t apply at all for Deuces Wild games.

For every reduction of a single pip—e.g., a 9 to an 8 or a 6 to a 5—you lose about 1 percent back to the casino (a little more or less, depending on the game). Hence, in a game like Jacks or Better, where you’ll find schedules from 9/6 all the way down to 6/5, you’re comparing 15 pips (9+6) to 11 (6+5)—a four-pip difference that costs you about 4 percent.

Once you understand what you’re looking for, you can begin to assess the games at the places you play. If you play 7/5 Double Double at a casino or bar but find an 8/5 or 9/5 game elsewhere, it makes sense to re-evaluate where you take your patronage. Promotions beyond base return percentages can also come into play but, all things being equal, going with the highest-returning pay schedule yields the best deal.

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and