Slot machines are by far the most popular casino game and are easy to play – just make your bet and hit the spin button.

The broad category of slot machines includes video poker. Video poker requires more effort and knowledge to play than standard slot machines. Once the bet is made, the player must decide which cards in the dealt hand to hold and which to discard.

For this reason, video poker does not have the broad appeal of standard slots.

But, because of the added complexity, video poker players can determine a great deal about each game and pay table. 

  • The overall average return of the game/pay table combination
  • The average frequency of each winning hand
  • The proper playing strategy for each game and pay table

This article covers the differences between standard, high, and frequent jackpot games.


1. Video poker types – standard, frequent jackpot, and high jackpot

While all video poker machines may look alike, they can be significantly different. 

The original video poker game was called, simply, Draw Poker. It ultimately became Jacks or Better. This game (and other variants of it) has only one jackpot – the royal flush. It normally pays 4000-for-5. This was the original standard and is considered a standard jackpot game today.

After a while, players became bored with the standard jackpot games. They wanted more action. They wanted more frequent jackpot hits.

Video game manufacturers answered players’ requests by introducing “bonus” video poker games. These include Double Bonus Poker, Double-Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus Poker and other similar names. These games paid bonuses for four of a kind hands. 

Depending on the game, a four of a kind pays two times the normal 25-for-1 up to 4000-for-5 and even more. Since four of a kind hands appear much more often than a royal flush, players of these games hit a jackpot more often.

In an effort to appeal to an even wider range of gamblers, manufacturers developed progressive games. In a progressive game, the amount paid for a royal flush and, on occasion, other winning hands, increases as the game is played. Once a progressive jackpot is paid out, the amount paid returns to the “reset value” which is usually the amount paid on standard video poker games – for example, 4000-for-5 for a royal flush.

The idea was to appeal to all types of video poker players – those who were content with the standard game, those who craved more frequent hits and those who chased a very high progressive jackpot.

2. Standard video poker games

As mentioned in the previous section, standard video poker games include mostly games that are based on the original Draw Poker game. Games such as Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Bonus Poker Deluxe are in this group. The royal flush is the only jackpot sized hand in all these games.

Also, in the common pay tables, hands with two pairs all pay 2-for-1 where high pairs are paid at a rate of 1-for-1. 

The benefit of playing standard video poker games is their low volatility. Players who favor these games do not like seeing large swings in their bankrolls. They prefer the gentler ride that these games offer.

3. Frequent jackpot video poker games

This group includes jacks or better based games such as Double Bonus, Double-Double Bonus, Triple Bonus, Triple Double Bonus and others of a similar nature.

Each of these games dramatically increases the pays for many four of a kind hands. They can be as high as 4000-for-5 – the same as a royal flush. These added opportunities for jackpot sized hands are just what action-oriented video poker players are looking for. 

Naturally, the casino is not going to raise the pays for certain hands without compensating for it somewhere else – and they do. All these games pay just 1-for-1 for a hand containing two pairs – the same pay as a single high pair. This may not sound like a big difference, but hands with two pairs occur in roughly one in eight hands. Cutting the pay in half takes a big bite out of the overall average return.

Many of these games, also suffer a reduction in the pays for other hands such as a straight, flush, or full house. All of these changes are necessary for the casino to maintain its house edge.

Quite often the overall return from these frequent jackpot games is even less than the return from standard video poker games.

Besides the potential for lower returns, the main disadvantage of these games is the volatility. The much more frequent lower-paying hands are paid at a lower rate to pay for the more frequent jackpots. This means players’ bankrolls will be depleted much more quickly than on standard video poker games.

The players who prefer this style of video poker are action players who do not mind rapid drawdowns in their bankrolls. They live for the rapid replenishment from the more frequent jackpots these games offer.

4. High jackpot video poker games

With the exception of fairly rare video poker games such as Pick’em or Pick-a-Pair Poker (where a straight flush can pay 1000-for-5 and a royal flush can pay 10,000-for-5), progressive games are the only video poker games that can offer very high jackpots.

Almost any video poker game can be offered as a progressive. The pays for one or more of the top paying hands slowly increases as players play the games. There can be a progressive jackpot for any royal flush. Or there can be a separate progressive jackpot for a royal flush in each suit. Sometimes there is a progressive jackpot for other infrequent hands such as a straight flush or certain four of a kind hands.

As with the frequent jackpot games, this extra payout must come from somewhere. Rather than simply lowering the pays for hands with two pairs, most progressive games reduce the pays for one or more other winning hands. Generally, the returns from progressive games when the jackpots are at their reset value are at least 2% lower than their standard counterparts.

The good thing about progressive games is players can determine the overall return and determine when the game becomes a viable option to play.

Video Poker

The bad thing about these games is by the time the return approaches anywhere near the return of a standard game, the volatility skyrockets. This happens because so much of the overall return is concentrated in very few jackpot hands.

Players who play these games like to go all out for a huge win. They can tolerate many (sometimes large) losses in the pursuit of a seriously large win.

5. Summary 

There are three general types of video poker games: standard, frequent jackpot, and very high jackpot.

Just because jackpots are more frequent or very high does not mean that the return of the game is higher. In fact, in many cases the return for these games is lower than that of the standard games.

Players of the frequent and very high jackpot video poker games may see more jackpots or snag a very high jackpot, but they pay for them with (sometimes very) high volatility and many times with a lower overall average return.

Make sure you understand your cost for playing these games.

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.