Slot machines are extremely popular. They require no particular skill to play – simply make your bet and spin the reels. Huge winnings are possible. Standard slot machines can pay as high as tens of thousands of times the amount bet.

There is a cost for this, however – a high house edge.

When video poker first hit the casinos decades ago, the game appealed to a completely different type of slot machine player.

Video poker machines allow players to participate in the game and influence the results of play. The house edge is usually considerably lower than that for slot machines. In fact, some games have a player edge.

The type of players drawn to video poker were a new and relatively untapped market for casinos. Until the introduction of video poker, players who wanted a chance to use some skill or knowledge in casino games had to choose table games such as blackjack.

The problem for many would-be players was table games require interaction and there was scrutiny from other players at the table. This aspect of table games was daunting for many players. Machine play, however, requires no interaction with other players.

Video poker is made to order for players who like to use their knowledge to improve the outcome of the game without enduring any comments from other players.

Classic video poker games could not compete with slot machines when it came to huge jackpots, however. 

New games that paid higher amounts for certain hands were introduced. This helped attract new video poker players who craved the thrill of bigger jackpots.

Still, from the standpoint of the size of top jackpots, video poker trailed slot machines. Progressive video poker helps fill that void. Patterned after progressive slot machines, the games offer a jackpot (or jackpots) that steadily increase as play continues.

This article explores strategies to have a enjoyable gameplay.

1. Keys strategies to slot machine play

The house edge of each slot machine is a closely guarded secret. Unless the player has inside information, there is no way to determine a slot machine’s house edge. One thing is very certain, however, the house edge favors the casino. 

To be improve your chances playing slot machines, all that is required is a “little” thing called luck. 

  • There is no betting scheme that will improve a player’s chance of winning.
  • There is no method of play that will improve a player’s chance of winning.
  • Winning at a slot machine is all controlled by a random number generator with the results triggered at the instant the reels (physical or video representations) start spinning.

Unfortunately, luck is a fickle thing. Over time, slot machine players will lose closer to the house edge.

There are only a couple of ways to be a successful (meaning winning) slot machine player.

  • Get lucky and win early on and then quit playing.
  • Somehow find a machine that has a player edge instead of a house edge and play it. Obviously, this is not a viable option.

2. Keys strategies to video poker play

  • Find the best game

    Because video poker games are based on a random dealing of a standard deck of cards, the house edge (or player edge) can be determined. This is one of the key attractions of video poker.

    The pay table has all the information required to calculate the edge (also called the return). Players can search for the game with the highest return and play only those that are acceptable to them.
  • Know the playing strategy

    As many aficionados of video poker are aware, each different pay table of each different game can have a different playing strategy. 

    Successful video poker players must know and properly play the strategy for the specific game and pay table of the game they play. Any mistakes in play will cost the player in the long run.
  • Play the maximum credits

    Playing the maximum credits improves the return from video poker. At less than maximum, the royal flush pays 250-for-1. Playing the usual maximum of five credits increases the pay for a royal flush to 4,000-for-5 (800-for-1). This makes a big difference in overall return.

    Be aware, however, that some games/pay tables require 10 or more credits in order to get the royal flush bonus.
  • Have an adequate bankroll for the chosen denomination, game, and pay table

    Make sure you have a large enough bankroll for the denomination the game played. Remember that getting the best return means playing the maximum number of credits. A 25-cent game costs $1.25 per hand. A dollar game requires $5 per hand. 

    Each video poker game and pay table can have a different variance. The higher the variance, the higher the required bankroll.

3. The eroding return from video poker

Early versions of video poker games had very good returns. Many of the games/pay tables returned 99%or more. Some even returned more than 100%.

Because the games were new, the gaming public was not aware of the proper playing strategy and casinos got a satisfactory return from video poker play.

As more research was done, playing strategies that maximized player returns were developed. At first, only a select few were aware of and practiced these strategies. The casinos still had an adequate return.

As the general video poker playing public became aware of and used the proper playing strategies, casinos saw a drop in video poker profits. To counteract this trend, casinos began changing pay tables to reduce the returns of the games.

A “full-pay” Jacks or Better game paying 9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush returns 99.54%. By simply reducing these two pays by one unit each (8-for-1 for a full house and 5-for-1 for a flush), the return drops dramatically to 97.29%. This is a two and a quarter-percent drop in return. It amounts to nearly three cents per hand on a 25-cent ($1.25 per hand) game.

Sadly, the video poker landscape in today’s casinos has a dramatically reduced return from those of a few decades ago.

Video Poker

4. Standard video poker games versus progressive video poker games

Yes, the return from today’s standard video poker is lower than it once was.  Is there any way to get the returns of old?

A few casinos still offer good video poker games with returns of 99% or higher, but there are not many.

Most casinos offer “progressive” video poker games. These games increase the amount paid for the royal flush (and sometimes other hands) as they are played. These higher amounts increase the overall return. Of course, once someone hits the jackpot, the amount is reset to the starting value (usually 4,000-for-5 for the royal flush). 

The longer the game goes without someone hitting the jackpot, the higher the return. If the jackpot gets high enough, the return can go positive for the player.

The casinos are not giving these higher returns away. When the jackpots are at the reset value, the returns are normally 1-2% lower than a standard version of the same game.

5. Preparing for progressive video poker play strategy

Being good in any endeavor requires preparation. The same is true with progressive video poker. Here are some things a player must do to prepare for becoming a nice well prepared progressive video poker player.

  • Emotionally prepared for progressive video poker play? The draw of progressive video poker is the high jackpots. They can make the game positive for the player. The problem is, the level required to do so is very high. It rarely happens. Are you mentally prepared to wander through the casino looking for a playable game more than 95% of the time? 

    You are not the only player looking for a great progressive jackpot. As the jackpot amount increases, so do the players attracted to the game. If the progressive bank is full of players, the likelihood of someone other than you hitting the jackpot also increases. It is likely that once you sit down and start playing, someone else will hit the jackpot shortly thereafter. Sessions are shorter playing progressive video poker.

    Not only are the high jackpots rare, cashing out as a winner at progressive video poker is also rarer than on standard games. The return at reset value is usually two to three% lower. Without hitting the jackpot, your return also will suffer the 1-3% reduction.
  • Research which games are available as progressive games. Not all games are available as progressives. Most video poker players have favorite standard games. Knowing which games are available can help the player decide if progressive play is something they want to do at each casino.
  • Check the pay tables on the games that look promising. Each pay table is different. Checking the pay table allows the player to determine the return at reset as well as at higher levels. If the return is too low, the game should be ignored.
  • Calculate the bankroll requirements. Because progressive games are attractive only when the jackpot is high means that the variance of the game will also be high – very high. Bankroll requirements become high as well. As an example, playing when the jackpot is at 6,000 rather than 4,000 increases the total bankroll requirement by 50%.
  • Determine the playing strategy. As the pay table changes, so does the playing strategy because the royal flush becomes more favored. Assuming you wait until the jackpot is 6,000, use a video poker app capable of generating strategies to produce a strategy chart for a game having a 6,000-credit royal flush. Make additional charts with the royal flush increasing by 1,000 for each additional chart. Play the strategy chart closest to the actual jackpot.
  • Is “Royals-Only” strategy a good option? Some video poker tournament players use a royals-only strategy. This strategy says to hold only cards that can produce a royal flush. The thought is a royal flush will put the player in the money. While this strategy may or may not work for tournaments, it is not viable for progressive play.

    Losing hands in tournament play means nothing because the play costs nothing. In progressive play, a losing hand means a hit to the bankroll. Not many dealt hands have royal flush potential, although they do have potential for a smaller win. The goal of the playing strategy must be to maximize each hand’s return.
  • Practice the strategy before going to the casino. As with standard video poker play, practicing the playing strategy at home helps prepare for play in the casino. Unlike standard strategies, progressive strategy changes as the jackpot increases. Use the previously produced strategy charts and practice to get a feel for the differences.

6. Executing interesting progressive video poker play

Ironically, the most difficult part of executing progressive video poker play is NOT PLAYING. A vast majority of your time will be spent looking for a playable game. I suggest a jackpot high enough to have a return of 100% or more before jumping in. The reason for not settling for something lower is most of the time your return will be 2-3% lower than a standard game due to the reduced pay table.

It is also difficult to play for just a short time and have someone else hit the jackpot. This means you need to stop playing – usually without satisfying your hunger for playing time.

7. Summary 

Lower average returns for standard video poker games helps progressive video poker take on an important role.

Progressive video poker games can offer great returns and very large jackpots if you use a good strategy. They are not as common as standard video poker games, but are much more common than standard games with a good return.

But, there are many negatives to playing progressive video poker:

  • Jackpots are rarely high enough.
  • Short play cycle when they are.
  • Higher bankroll requirements.
  • Changing playing strategies as the jackpot grows.

Success at playing progressive video poker could well mean not playing it. You decide for yourself.

Jerry “Stickman” has been involved in casino gambling for nearly 30 years. He is an expert in blackjack, craps, video poker and advantage slot machine play. He started playing blackjack in the late ‘80s, learned several card counting systems and used these skills to become an advantage blackjack player and overall winner of this game. He also acquired the skills necessary to become an overall winner in the game of craps, accomplishing this by a combination of throwing skill and proper betting techniques. Stich is also an overall winner playing video poker.