Travel Fanboy

Video Poker Basics

I guess I should start a discussion about Video Poker by addressing a question a bartender and I were actually asked on a recent trip by a woman playing video poker, which was “Where does the money go?” I had to explain to her that whenever she wins a hand, money does not actually shoot out of the machine. Rather, it remains in an in game “bank” until she loses it all or is ready to cash out. Despite my best efforts, she was quite confused. The bewildered woman helps make a good point, though: do your best to understand the basic rules and strategy before playing a game. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be adventurous and try new things if you want, but study it a little before finally bellying up to the table.

Slots are popular among novice gamblers simply because they require no such strategy. So, if you’re used to the colorful and increasingly interactive slot experience, why should you occasionally switch to VP?

Better odds

Most VP machines have paybacks of over 96%. Some of the best pay tables can get as high as 99% plus, though those are becoming harder and harder to find. Compare this to the low 90% to high 80% range for Las Vegas low denomination slot play.


While VP doesn’t give the opportunity for frequent bonus rounds, it does still allow for the potential windfall, which is a big draw for slot machines. For example, hitting a royal flush on a $0.25 machine at full play ($1.25 a hand), rewards 4000 credits or $1000. Depending on your game of choice, straight flushes and certain 4-of-kind hands can have a hefty payout as well.


I’ll admit, the layout is quite boring and has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction. But, it is a game of skill and requires player interaction. Simply put, the better you are, the better the payback percentage will be- over the long term, that is. I, like many other VP fans, like the feeling that we have some control over the outcome, even if it is limited. That’s one of my big hesitations when it comes to playing slots- the lack of control.

How to Play

Put your money in and get at it! Well, it’s almost that simple. Obviously, it’s best to know poker hand hierarchy first. The pay table will give you an indication of how each are rewarded. The game is essentially 5 card draw poker. A 52 card deck is reset each hand and cards dealt via a random number generator. In a basic sense, your goal is to achieve the next best hand, statistically speaking, based on the cards you’re dealt initially. Things can and do get more complicated on a hand to hand basis, and a good strategic foundation will help you navigate more complex hands.

If you ever hear people discussing pay tables and hear people saying things like ‘9/6’ or ‘8/5’, they’re referring to the full house and flush payouts, as these are the hand payouts that typically differ from machine to machine. When looking for a machine to play, that is where you should look. For help understanding the difference in the payouts, check out the Wizard of Odds cheat sheet, which shows standard payouts for the different game variations. This sheet offers a great way to see how even small changes in the individual payouts of the full house and flush affect the payback percentage.

Choose a Game:

I’m going to echo what most suggest and that is to start by learning jacks or better. To me, it’s the simplest to learn and the most straightforward strategy wise. I’m far from a master, but learning JoB has really helped me appreciate strategy variances in other games.

You can practice using any number of online resources. The Wizard of Odds site has their own online tutorial. If you’re an iPhone user, the WinPoker app is a great buy. Its $10 price point may seem high, but it will save you quite a bit of money in the long run. Android users don’t have access to WinPoker, but there are a couple of somewhat useful apps that will suit your needs.

Where to Play:

Finding a place to play with decent payouts is probably the most arduous aspect of VP play. is the best source for finding best machines. They list the casino, games offered, applicable payouts, and the locations of the best machines. It’s an invaluable resource VP players. Like most games, the best payouts are typically on machines with higher minimums. The Strip, as expected, is becoming extremely unwelcoming for $0.25 players. Caesars properties are the worst among them. Great machines, even those with 100%+ payouts can be found Downtown.

But, the machine payout is not the only factor  in deciding where I take my play. Sometimes, I willing to play at a substandard machine if the atmosphere is to my liking. On the next episode, I’ll discuss some of the best places to sit down and play.

What I’d like to know from you, where are some of your favorite spots and why? Maybe it’s because of the drink service or venue overall. I’d love to hear from you.



Host of the Vegas Fanboy podcast. A reluctant Millennial. An amateur human.