When I first started playing video poker some 25 years ago, I knew about the importance of playing with an edge. At the start of my video poker playing career, it was fairly common to find video poker games that had a theoretical return over 100%, especially in the local’s casinos in Las Vegas (and in one casino in Mississippi). Most of the time, my wife and I played a deuces wild game called Full Pay Deuces Wild (or FPDW), which returned 5 coins per coin played for 4-of-a-kind and 15 coins for 5-of-a-kind. By playing every hand accurately, the game had a theoretical return of 100.76% (meaning you had an edge of 0.76% over the casino).

You had to play every hand perfectly so my wife and I learned the video poker strategy for FPDW using a video poker software training program on our home PC until our playing accuracy was virtually 100%, and to be sure we played every hand accurately, we also brought along a strategy card when we played in case we weren’t absolutely sure of how to play a specific hand. I also played another game in Las Vegas that had a theoretical return of 100.17% (known as 10/7 Double Bonus; although this game had a higher variance than FPDW, meaning the ups and downs in your bankroll were steeper and thus required more bankroll). But it wasn’t long before the casinos started downgrading the pay schedules of both games so that the theoretical returns were below 100%. This made us change our focus to not only playing video poker games with the highest theoretical return that were offered in casinos but also with the best Player’s Club benefits to boost our overall return to greater than 100%.

Then along came THE game in a Mississippi casino (circa 2012) that blew me away. This particular casino offered a bank of progressive video poker machines that included 9/6 Jacks or Better (JOB) at a dollar denomination.

A traditional 9/6 JOB game (where the royal flush payout is 4,000 coins) has a theoretical return of 99.54%, which allows you to get over a 100% return if the casino’s benefits exceed 0.5%. But this particular casino had a progressive meter for the royal flush on its machines. If I recollect, it was a 1% meter, meaning the amount of the progressive jackpot for a royal flush increased 10 cents per $10 played. (This means the amount of the royal flush jackpot when playing five coins at a dollar denomination was often in the $4,200 to $4,500 range before it was hit. The latter depends, of course, on how much play the machine gets. I started playing weekly, and on each visit, most of the time the jackpot was in the above range.)

As a rule of thumb when playing progressive video poker games, the theoretical return of a game will increase by 0.5% for every 1,000 coins above the 4,000 coin base for the royal flush payout. For example, if the payout for the royal flush was at, say, $4,200 (dollar denomination), the theoretical return of the game would increase from 99.54% to 100.54% (99.54% + 1.0% = 100.54%.) Bottom Line: Most of the time I played, my theoretical return on the game exceeded 100%. But wait, there’s more to this story.

This casino, like most, had a Player’s Club. On Monday’s, they would have a 24-hour casino promotion where you played a silly game on a kiosk, and if you were lucky you could get up to 7-times points on all of your play for that day. However, if you were in the top tier of their Player’s Club (which I was), you would automatically get a guaranteed 7-times points multiplier every time you played the kiosk game. The result: With a base rate of 0.13%, I was getting another 0.91% return on my play. (The other perk was this: there was no limit to the number of points you could earn on Monday that would be multiplied by 7.)

The points you earned after the 7-times multiplication could not be cashed out; however, they could be downloaded as free play on the same 9/6 JOB progressive machines. This was yet another perk, since some Mississippi casinos during this time started implementing a new procedure where your earned slot points could only be used as free play in slots (i.e., video poker machines were excluded).

Lastly, as I began playing every Monday, I was racking up a lot of base points on my Player’s Club account and was receiving hefty amounts of weekly free play in my monthly mailers. I don’t recollect the exact amounts, but it added roughly another half a percent to my overall return.

There was a limited number of video poker machines that had the juicy 9/6 JOB progressives. (I believe there were a total of eight bar-top machines.) With a potential theoretical return that easily could be 100.2% or greater (depending on the amount of the jackpot for the royal flush and the number of hours you played on Monday to take advantage of the promotion), I knew that other local astute video poker players would be flocking to play these machines. I had to get a seat before they tied up all the machines, so this is what I did.

Fortunately, I had a great host at this particular casino who told me when the casino’s Player’s Club “clock” would start each day. You would assume it would be midnight, but at this casino it was 3:00 a.m. Therefore, for the next several months, every Sunday evening I drove from my primary residence in Alabama to this casino, slept for a few hours in a comped suite, woke up at about 1:30 a.m., checked out, and took a seat at the progressive machines. By around 2:30 a.m., the bank of the machines was filled with astute players. None of us played, we just sat there waiting for 3 a.m. when the 7-times multiplier would be activated. (Some read the newspaper; others ate their breakfast at the machines, but nobody played; we just patiently waited.) When the clock finally struck 3 a.m. on Monday, the automatic 7-times promotion began and all of us started shoving hundreds of dollars into the machines and playing for hours on end. (On most of my visits, I generally played 5–8 hours; sometimes more.)

You may find it strange that I would do something like this every week but when it came to being an advantage video poker player, you often had to take advantage of a juicy game or promotion before it ended. Fortunately, I also hit an inordinate number of royal flushes during the time I played this promotion. (A total of eight royal flushes over a two- month period that began one of the most memorable royal flush streaks I ever experienced playing video poker. I’ll describe this streak in a future article.)

Between the bonus payouts on the royal flushes, and the large amounts of free play I was earning with the 7-times promotion (I often had $500 to $800 in free play each week), I was earning quite an impressive amount of money from this juicy game and promotion. But alas, it all came to a screeching halt when I got a call from my casino host one day.

Up till then, I had been invited to comped golf outings by my host that were held for “high rollers” while I had been playing at this casino. They owned a golf course and these golf outings were something else; free transportation; free breakfast, free lunch; and just about everyone received a cash prize, oodles of free play, or a $100 or greater gift at the end of the tournament. Anyway, my host basically told me one day he couldn’t invite me to any more video poker tournaments, and that I would be contacted by the casino manager for the reasons why.

I knew exactly what was about to go down and it eventually did. The casino zeroed out my player’s club account, meaning I wouldn’t earn any points when I played and I wouldn’t be receiving any more monthly mailings. But what really annoyed me was they also deleted nearly $2,000 of comps I had earned from my account. (I could have filed a complaint to the Mississippi Gaming Commission for this, and based on prior cases that I knew of, they would have had to give me back my comps. But I decided not to pursue this since if I did, I would have been persona non grata in all the casinos in Mississippi.)

I didn’t tell this story to brag of my good fortune for finding and playing this juicy game but rather to let you know that being an advantage video poker player has its risks, and sometimes you will experience what I experienced. If something like this happens, you do what I did: just forget about it and move on to another casino that offers a (juicy) playable game.

What was ironic about the above experience is that a few weeks later, this casino went and severely downgraded all their video poker pay tables (including the former 9/6 JOB progressives) that basically made all the video poker machines in this casino unplayable for smart players. 

About the Author
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Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.