When people in the casino industry think about the way players are beating casino games, the drum beats for three opportunities: poker, sports betting and table games. The reason given is that only these games bring a player's skill into the mix.  But there is another type of game that APs are beating: video poker. There are at least four ways that APs use to beat video poker.

The first way APs beat video poker is by identifying machines that are set to "full pay." Premium pay tables allow the casino to post a sign saying the machine pays "over 100%," usually with an asterisk indicating that the return is based on optimal play. There are people who are students of video poker and know the intricacies of optimal play. They are willing to pound the games for hours per day, for days or weeks on end, to earn their small edge. The list of the most popular "full pay" versions is:

  • Double Double Bonus Poker: 100.07%
  • Double Bonus Poker: 100.17%
  • Jokers Wild: 100.65%
  • Deuces Wild: 100.76%

The next way APs beat video poker is by targeting machines with progressive jackpots. Any time video poker is offered in a progressive version, there will be some dollar figure on the progressive beyond which the game returns more than 100% to the player. Professional video poker players know exactly what the target value is, and when they find it, they bring in a small army. Their teams consist of a group of expert players who move in and occupy every machine in the bank and play the progressive until it is hit. The most common progressive offered is for Jacks or Better video poker. In considering Jacks or Better pay tables, they are usually differentiated by their pays on a flush and a straight.

Here are the progressive cut-off points for a positive return game for Jacks or Better video poker:

  • Full House = 9, Flush= 6: Cut-off = $4,889
  • Full House = 8, Flush = 5: Cut-off = $9,440
  • Full House = 7, Flush = 5: Cut-off = $11,766

A third way APs beat video poker is by targeting promotions. A few years ago, a casino offered a promotion where "Four-to-a-Royal" always wins. The casino's marketing department did not consider the mathematical effect this promotion had on the house edge. Moreover, the rule was not well-understood by the employees on the floor. The promotion was supposed to be paid only if the player was dealt four-to-a-royal on their initial five cards. But when it was run, it was being paid for four-to-a-royal after the draw, including those games with wilds. This rule change created a theoretical win for the player of more than $200 per hour on the $1 Jacks or Better machines. Needless to say, when advantage players discovered this opportunity, they staked it out until it was burnt out.

Finally, some APs exploit the abundance of comps, free play, points and perks showered on them for premium play. With the recent explosion of free play, many casinos are upside down with a segment of their players. Advantage players will discover the tiers where they have the edge, and play directly against the casino to exploit that edge. Top tier players do even better by negotiating loss rebates, show up money, and other perks. A player named Don Johnson famously beat blackjack using this strategy, earning more than $12 million in Atlantic City in early 2011. The same type of exploitation is going on with video poker. These guys know how to exploit marketing departments and hosts. They use the competition for top-end players as a weapon against the casino to crush the bottom line.

Advantage players look for any way to get an edge over the house. Video poker is one of the most commonly used resources for these players. Marketing, in particular, has to be extra cautious. There is very little room to work with to keep video poker profitable. If you understand the unique vulnerability of video poker, then you can better look out for the interests of your players while protecting your own bottom line.

Received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson