Reason I like Bovada #4:

It's fair and safe

The best way to avoid losing money by gambling is to not gamble in the first place.  That goes double online, because online gambling is mostly unregulated in the U.S.  That means the casinos serving the whole U.S. don't answer to anyone.  If you have a problem with a casino (like they won't pay you), then you're usually out of luck.  I can't count how many players have written to ask me for help because they didn't get paid by some other casino.  (Not that I helped them, it's not what I do—if a dodgy casino won't pay you then you're on your own.)

So if you're intent on gambling online, then the #1 most important thing is to pick a good casino.  The good ones know they make more money with fair games and consistent payouts than the dodgy casinos, because fair play means repeat customers and good word-of-mouth referrals.  It's no coincidence that the most successful online casinos are the ones that focus on their players.

Many casinos try to find excuses to not pay winning players, especially players who have won big.  Outright cheating (rigged games) is pretty rare, but it happens.  Either way, if you have a problem with most U.S.-facing online casinos, you're usually out of luck.

This is another reason why Bovada is the only online casino I've accepted advertising from for over 15 years.  They use industry-standard software, it's absolutely fair, and players get their payouts, consistently.  I have a choice in whom I advertise, so I purposefully picked a casino with a good reputation where I'm confident my readers will have a good experience.

To be clear, Bovada's not perfect.  Once they got duped by a bad vendor (Betsoft) who provided progressive slots whose jackpots weren't winnable.  When I discovered this I alerted Bovada, and they pulled all the Betsoft games from the site, but I thought they were slow to do so and didn't offer proper restitution to affected players. (more on this)  Still, even with this incident, their overall history is better than most; as just one example, there are many other casinos still offering Betsoft's questionable games.

Another good thing about Bovada is that they allow me to mediate if one of my readers clicks over to them, plays the games, and has a problem they can't get Bovada to resolve.  My time is valuable and I wouldn't offer that service if I had to do it very often.  I think I've gotten maybe one or two inquiries from affected players in the 15+ years I've been advertising Bovada.

Bottom line: I'm confident that Bovada is fair and reasonably safe.  You might have a good experience with another casino...and you might not.  I trust Bovada, and that's why I picked them.

Visit Bovada


Gambling problem?

  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

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Gambling problem?

  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

Video Poker for Beginners

See also how to Play: Baccarat | Blackjack | Craps | Roulette | Slot Machines | Texas Holdem Poker

Last update: October 2020

Video poker offers some of the best odds in the casino.  It's a good alternative to slot machines since you still have the chance of hitting a big jackpot, but you're about five times more likely to actually get it.  Slot players should seriously consider graduating to video poker, because they're much more likely to win that way.  The only catch is that to enjoy the good odds, you have to learn the proper strategy.  If you just guess then you could easily do worse than with slots.  But you came to the right place, because we'll cover strategy here.

The play is simple:  You're dealt five cards.  You decide which ones to keep by tapping the pictures on the screen or pressing buttons on the console. Then you hit the DRAW button and you get replacement cards for the cards you didn't keep. You win if you wind up with a traditional poker hand like two pair, straight, flush, etc. (We'll explain these below for those new to poker.)  The amount you win per hand depends on the paytable of the machine you're playing.  Here's a sample paytable.

 

There are five columns in the paytable because your winnings depend on whether you played 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 "coins".  (Machines don't use physical coins any more, but the language persists.)  Note that there's a bonus for the Royal Flush.  Instead of winning 1250 coins (5 coins x 250), you win 4000 coins.  So you should always play five coins ("Max Bet") when playing video poker.  If you can't afford to play five coins at a time, switch to a lower-denomination machine.  (Yes, this is opposite of my advice about slots, and that's because the penalty for not playing max coins in video poker is greater.)


Paytables & Returns

One nice thing about video poker is you can know the return of the machine even before you start playing, unlike slots where you're always flying blind.  On a typical video poker game, the casino's average profit on each play is about 3%.  That's called the house edge.  The return is the part that's returned to the player.  So if the casino gets 3% of all money bet, the players get back 97% of all money bet.  The return on a video poker machine is determined by the paytable.  Just compare the paytable to the list at Wizard of Odds and you'll see that, for example, the Jacks or Better paytable above means that the return on that machine is 99.54%.  If the paytable showed only 8 coins for the full house and only 5 for the flush, it would be a 97.3% machine.

Compare this to slot machines, where you have no clue as to what payout you're getting.  And even if the return were listed, it would be lousy.  The slot machine is the only game in the casino where your odds are a total mystery.  Why would you let the casino do that to you?  Play video poker instead.

Right after learning the proper strategy, the most important thing about playing video poker is to choose a machine with a good paytable!  Here are some pictures I just took in the same casino, same style game, same denomination.  The only thing that's different is the paytables.  The first one pays 9 & 6 for the full house and flush respectively, and the second one pays only 8 & 5 for those hands.

99.54% return 97.29%

If you choose the machine on the right, you'll lose your money six times faster!  And your chances of winning will be far less.  If the reason isn't obvious then consider this:  If the player is getting back 99.54% and 97.29%, that means the casino is keeping 0.46% and 2.71%.  The casino profit on the second machine is 2.71 ÷ 0.46 = 5.9 times higher.

So it really pays to hunt out the good machines!  But it's actually pretty easy, because the readers of a website called VPFree2 scout out the best machines and post their locations on the site.  Using that site you'll see that there's slim pickings on the Strip for 9/6 Jacks or Better except at very high minimums.  To find the good machines at lower limits, you have to go downtown or to a locals casino (which is one of my tips on How to Be a Smart Gambler), or play online at a casino like Bovada, which has offered 9/6 at low limits for years.

Despite the importance of finding the best machines, most players don't.  That's why casinos can offer both decent and lousy machines in the same casino and be confident that gamers will still play the lousy ones.  They have to keep some good machines, otherwise they'd lose all the players who know what they're doing.  But most of the machines will be bad, and most gamers will play them anyway.  Heck, in Vegas even casinos and supermarkets have video poker, with absolutely terrible paytables, but people will still play them rather than going across the street to a casino where they can get seven times better odds.  Go figure.

Practice video poker with fake money (or real money) at Bovada

No popups, no download, no registration, no B.S., just the game. One click and you're in.

Some games actually have a return of over 100% with proper play, such as a special flavor of Deuces Wild which pays out 100.77%.  There are a few caveats, though:

  • Those machines are hard to find.  Casinos don't like to put games on the floor that potentially lose money.  Your best bet for finding these games is in downtown Vegas (not on the Strip) and at locals casinos, which have to be more competitive than Strip casinos in order to lure customers there away from the Strip.  Here again, VPFree2 can help you find good-paying machines.
  • Proper play is essential. If you just guess at the strategy, you won't do much better than you would at a slot machine.
  • You won't get rich from video poker even if a machine pays 100%+.  At a fast 600 hands per hour, and $1.25 per hand ($0.25 x 5 coins), that's $750 wagered per hour.  If you play perfectly (no mistakes) and realize your 0.77% advantage, that's $5.78/hr. on average.  You'll also need several thousand dollars of capital to fund the losses you'll suffer while waiting to hit the royal flush.  Yes, if you were capitalized you could play at higher denominations, except 100%+ machines are rarely found at anything but quarters and below.

Whether you seek out the 100%+ machines or the 99%+ machines, I can't stress strongly enough that it's essential to learn the proper strategy.  If there are only two things you take from this page, it's to find the games with the best paytables, and play those games according to the published strategies.


Video Poker probabilities

Chances of making a good hand
Actual results of my last session

Dealt
Hand
Desired
Hand
Probability
Actual
Results
Two pair
Full House
8.5% (4/47)
5.1% (4/79)
4 to a straight
Straight
17.0% (8/47)
17.5% (7/40)
4 to a flush
Flush
19.1% (9/47)
19.7% (15/76)

Your odds of hitting a royal flush (the top jackpot) are about 1 in 40,000.  At 600 hands an hour and 8 hours a day, you can expect to hit a royal once every 8.3 days on average.  But I estimate the odds of hitting a slot jackpot to usually be at least 1 in 262,000, so you're far more likely to hit the jackpot with video poker.

Elsewhere on this site I show you how to figure your average loss for an hour of play.  In summary, you multiply the house edge by the bet size by the number of rounds per hour.  On a 9/6 quarter Jacks or Better machine with proper strategy, that would be 0.5% x $1.25 (remember we're playing 5 coins at a time) x 400 hands per hour = $2.50 per hour.  Not bad.  Except that the formula doesn't work for video poker in the short term.  That's because you'll hit the royal only once every 66 hours on average, and while you're waiting for the royal, the return on the game isn't ~99.5%, it's ~97.5%.  So you're more likely to lose 2.5% in the short term rather than 0.5%.  So we can expect our hourly loss to be closer to $6.25/hour than $1.25/hour while we're waiting for the royal.  Still, $6.25/hour is pretty cheap.  On a slot machine your loss would be closer to $40 an hour.  So you can see why I'm so eager to switch you from slots to VP.

Incidentally, a Four of a Kind happens about once per hour.

Recently I played a bunch of video poker and recorded the results,
which you can see in the table at right.

Practice video poker with fake money (or real money) at Bovada

No popups, no download, no registration, no B.S., just the game. One click and you're in.

Often when you hold four cards and throw away one, the new card is the same value as the one you threw away.  For example, let's say you have 9, 9, 2, 2, 5, you throw away the five, and then you get another five.  This might seem to happen way more often than it should.  But that's an illusion caused by the human tendency to look for patterns.  A good example of how easily our perception can be fooled is to take the awareness test, where you watch a short video and count the number of passes the white team makes.  Most people fail.  I did.

Once I hit two 4 of a Kinds back to back.  The probability of hitting it once is 0.24%.  The chances of hitting it back to back are 0.24%2 = 0.0006%, or 1 in 179,000.  That's four times less likely than hitting a royal flush.  And I would have preferred the royal!  (By the way, purists will note that after you've hit a 4 of a Kind, the chances of hitting another four of a kind is just 0.24%, not 0.0006%, but I'm considering the probability of getting two back-to-back before I get the first one.)

Once I put $100 into a $0.25 machine and played it for a while.  I played it down to zero credits, and then I hit Four of a Kind, which saved me.  I played that down to zero again, and then I hit Four of a Kind again.  I played it down to zero credits a third time, and then hit Four of a Kind a third time!  But that was the end of my luck.  I didn't get it a fourth time, I just went bust.  Still, that was pretty unusual.

Getting started with Video Poker

  1. Practice video poker with fake money (or real money) at Bovada

    No popups, no download, no registration, no B.S., just the game. One click and you're in.
    Pick a game.  There are dozens of varieties of video poker.  I recommend Jacks or Better because it's the original VP game, it's widely available, and most importantly, the strategy is pretty easy.

  2. Learn the strategy.  You can't just guess or you'll lose money hand over fist.  See my video poker lessons to get started.

  3. Practice!  Practice on your computer with play money before you risk real money in a casino.  The Wizard's practice game is nice because it tells you when you make a strategy mistake.  But if you want a game with sound then you'll prefer Bovada's practice game.

  4. Find the good games.  The VP games with the best paytables are findable, but they're rare.  Naturally the casinos prefer that you play the stingier machines.  In general, the Strip casinos have the worst machines, and everywhere else it's better—off-strip, downtown, and locals casinos.  Find the best games in Vegas at VPFree2.

More Resources

Lessons.  See my page on how to play the proper strategy for Jacks or Better.

Practice video poker.  The Wizard's practice game will tell you when you make strategy mistakes.  If you prefer sound (who doesn't?), then try Bovada's practice game.

Best video poker on the strip.  This is kind of a misnomer, like trying to pick the tastiest of all the various mud sandwiches.  For the best video poker, you really have to leave the Strip and go downtown, to off-strip, or to locals casinos.  But for what it's worth, here's a good list of the best video poker on the strip.

Other strategies.  The Wizard of Odds has come up with simplified strategies that are very easy to play and remember, and which work almost as well as professional strategies.  He's also got a bunch of other useful stuff on video poker.

Bob Dancer's site.  Bob is the most famous professional video poker player around, and his site shares his insights.  He also sells useful VP-related software on the site.


Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

I like Bovada's practice games the best, because you can play right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's why Bovada is the only online casino that gets space on my site.  I hope other casinos will eventually start treating their visitors like human beings rather than walking wallets, but until they do, there's Bovada.  One click and you're in.

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