Playing video poker can be a tremendous amount of fun. For many people, it’s a perfect balance between the regular card game and slot machines. But is it a viable way to earn money?
Yes, you can make a living playing video poker. However, it’s not easy. A lot of practice and research are required. You also need to have a deep knowledge of which games payout a positive RTP (return to player); otherwise, you’ll lose money.
In this article, we’ll discuss in-depth how you can turn yourself into a video poker pro.
Why video poker?
There are a few reasons why people love to play video poker. It’s a game that you can play on your own and looks like a slot but plays a lot differently. There are also some other important things to note about video poker.
Easy to play
Video poker is easy to play, and you’ll likely understand the basics soon after sitting down at a machine. It doesn’t have the same intricacies of traditional poker, and you don’t have to worry about what other players are doing. That simply means you have little outside noise and can play hands very quickly.
It’s based on skill
Any game that’s not based on a level of skill is a long-term loser; roulette is a great example. Games that involve skill and strategy give you a much better chance of earning money once you’ve learned how to play them.
There are awesome jackpots
People love playing non-skill slot machines because of the prospect of winning a jackpot. This is especially true of progressive jackpots that grow as you play.
You get these jackpots in video poker without getting the terrible RTP that you get with some slot machines. That gives you the potential for great returns.
You’re playing solo
With regular card games, you get pit bosses looming over you, pushy dealers, and other players affecting your concentration and etiquette rules. With video poker, it’s just you vs. the machine, which appeals to a lot of people who don’t like the business of regular card games.
Why don’t you lose money?
Just to be clear: if you’re a terrible video poker player, you will lose money.
There are some key reasons, however, that you can avoid losing money with video poker when compared to other machines.
It’s the ability to make decisions based on logic that sets video poker apart from other games. With most slot machines and casino games like roulette, you simply make decisions based on randomness rather than a logical thought process, as there is no long-term winning strategy.
That need for logical decisions also makes video poker more stimulating, and you won’t ever fall into that zombie state of just putting coin after coin in a slot machine.
Video poker machines generally have a very high RTP or payback percentage. If a slot machine has an RTP of 95%, then that means over time a player will be expected only ever to win back 95 cents for every dollar they play – and that’s if it’s played perfectly.
That figure is crucial, as even a video poker machine with an RTP of 99.9% isn’t going to be profitable in the long term. You need to find machines that have an RTP of over 100% if you want to earn a living playing video poker.
Knowing the RTP
The biggest issue with slot machines is that you don’t know the odds of getting a particular symbol or combination of symbols. A cherry could come up once every 20 spins, whereas grapes would come up every 6 spins.
However, in poker, you already know the chances of any given card coming up, as there are only 52 cards in a deck. You also know the chance of getting a particular number or suit. The random number generators on video poker machines have to act as though they are using a real deck of cards.
The result of this is that you’re able to calculate your odds of winning on any given hand. You can then use this knowledge to see which machines pay a good RTP and ones which don’t. This means that if the RTP is 103%, then you’re guaranteed to win money in the long-term if you play a perfect game.
Knowing the math
Knowing math might not be all that exciting, but it’s crucial if you want to make a living playing video poker. You need to be able to know the RTP of a machine, and you also need to know the probability of the hand you’re playing if you want to make the right decision.
If you’re willing to put in the hours of research required, there are plenty of helpful resources out there for you to peruse. There are plenty of books on the subject, and also there are software programs where you will learn all about RTP and strategy. Here are a few of the best examples:
Best books for learning video poker
- The Video Poker Edge, Second Edition: How to Play Smart and Bet Right
- Frugal Video Poker
- Video Poker Optimum Play: The Strategies and Tactics of Advantage Play
- Million Dollar Video Poker
Best software programs for learning video poker
You don’t have to be some sort of genius to do this; you just have to invest some time in learning probabilities. The math isn’t complicated, but you need to know how to do it well and how to do it quickly.
Get ready to lose
If you want to get into a winning video poker mindset, you need to prepare yourself to lose.
What? That doesn’t make sense… right?
Actually, it does. Here’s why:
Say a friend makes a bet with you over the toss of a coin. You give him $1 if it’s head, and he gives you $10 if it’s tails. It’s a no-brainer bet. You’re getting 10X the potential winnings for a 50% probability.
However, your friend tosses 10 heads in a row, and you end up giving him $10 and walking away with nothing.
That’s an extreme example, but I think you get the point; as long as the odds are in your favor, you need to be willing to lose before you win.
The margins in video poker are much tighter than the above example. It’s just a reminder that even with the best odds and the best system, a lot of it will still come down to luck, and professional video poker players will have days where they make a loss.
The guaranteed winning isn’t over an hour, a week or a day; it’s over a long period of time.
This is why you need to stay calm if you’re losing money as you need to know that it’s not going to last forever. You’ll be winning eventually.
Walk before you can run
If you’ve not played much video poker before then, it’s time to put in the training and get comfortable with the math.
Jacks or Better is the simplest version of video poker and is a good introduction to it. I recommend playing that style before you move up to the more complicated games. Once you master that, then the more complicated video poker games will come easier.
With the margins being so tight, you need to be an expert before you can even think about making a living from playing video poker. Good Jacks or Better games will offer 9 to 1 payout on a full house with a 6 to 1 for a flush. These odds are often shortened to 9/6.
These machines often don’t have a positive RTP, but they are often close to 100%, making them a great training ground due to their simplicity. You also need to consider the volatility of the machine, which is very low in Jacks or Better.
A game with high volatility means that you’re waiting on low percentage hands for your winnings, and, therefore, most of the time, you are either winning small amounts or losing. If you don’t have enough bankroll, this can leave you without any money.
Simplify your strategy
Most video poker books will start you off with a fairly simple strategy that is quite easy to follow. You can get a list of hands that you’ll be able to reference and find out the correct decision to make. These often aren’t entirely accurate, but that’s because it’s simplified and easy to follow when you’re starting.
Want to jump straight into a complicated strategy? Don’t.
If you’re not confident with what you’re doing, then it’s going to be easy to make mistakes. As you build up your knowledge, you’re going to get better and be able to earn more.
Knowing the odds
You press deal on the machine, and you find that it lands on all spades of 4, 10, jack, queen, and king. You’ve got a flush!
This is called a ‘pat hand,’ which refers to anytime you’re dealt a hand that would be able to pay out straight away.
Most people would thank their lucky stars and hold all the cards for the win, as you have a 100% chance of the 6 to 1 payout, which is what you’ll typically find on most machines.
While that would be great, you are just one card away from getting a royal flush but with a chance of around 2%.
Faced with a choice of a 100% chance or a 2% chance, most people would opt for the former. That’s the right call… right?
Actually, no. Although the 2% chance of landing the royal flush is quite small, the payout for a royal flush is often 800 to 1. If you’re in it for the long haul, the odds would tell you to go for the 2% chance and try for the royal flush.
If it was for a dollar bet and you took the flush 100 times out of 100, you’d receive a payout of $600. (100 x $6 payout) but if you played for the royal flush, it’s a different story.
If you won the expected 2% of the time, you’d receive $1,600 (2 x $800 payout). Over the long run, you’d walk away with an extra $1,000, or triple the money you would have made otherwise.
It’s extremely important that you understand this. Even though you’d throw away a flush 98% of the time, your expected value is much higher by playing for the royal flush. By playing for the expected value here, you’d be losing a lot more often but winning nearly 3x as much when the cards finally come in.
The importance of bankroll
It’s time to focus on the importance of bankroll and volatility.
You have to have enough money to lose often and wait for the big wins. If you’re playing $5 bets and don’t hit it big 100 hands in a row, then you’re losing a lot of money pretty quickly. Professional video poker players play 1000’s of hands in a day, and you’ll have long losing streaks from time to time.
Due to this, a lot of players avoid placing large bets, preferring to play with bets as small as a quarter. This provides a lot less risk as if you have a losing streak; it’s a lot easier to cover. At the start, it’s a lot better to bet small.
The max bet on video poker machines with high RTP usually only goes as high as $2. Thi s is fine, as the daily rewards can still be quite good with a $2 max bet if you use the right strategy.
Different games = different strategy
Once you’ve mastered Jacks or Better, it would still be a mistake to think that you’re then set when it comes to strategy.
Each style of video poker will require its own strategy, and you’ll need to understand the complexities of the other versions before you start playing regularly. Even for the same game, there can be different strategies, such as the same game being ‘full pay’ or not.
The reality of video poker
If you think that mastering video poker is a great way to make your millions, then you’d be very wrong. The margins are far too slim to make a huge amount of money.
However, if you’re currently earning $25k a year and are looking for something better, video poker can a great way to earn more money.
With quarter bets (a safe amount until you have a high bankroll), you can expect to earn, on average, around 3.5 cents per hand.
If that sounds terrible, then you need to realize that a video poker master can play 1,000 hands per hour. That 3 cents then turns into $35 per hour, and if you play for 8 hours a day, that turns into $280 per day. Not too shabby for a day at the casino.
Say you play for 40 hours a week, which is the same as a standard job; you’d then be receiving $1,400 per week, which equates to $72,800 per year. The key here is that you have to play a lot to turn those small margins into significant revenue.
Finding the right machines
It can also be hard to find the right machines to play. Because it’s so easy with strategy and software now common, RTP-positive machines are rarer then they were during the 1990s when players had to work it all out themselves.
A video poker machine with a 99.9% RTP may sound great when compared to a slot machine, but it’s going to lose money in the long-term. You have to find machines with a positive RTP of around 102% or higher to make enough profit to earn a living off of.
All the figures above are very rough estimates. If you find a machine with a 100.7% return, then the returns are still going to be too low to make it worth your time. If you don’t live near an area that has sufficient machines, then you’re not going to be able to swing it.
These machines can also be very changeable. If a casino sees that they are losing money on a particular machine, they are going to be swapped out very quickly. There have to be enough losing players to disguise the winnings that professional players will get from the RTP-positive machines.
As we mentioned at the top of the page, you can make a living playing video poker.
However, you have to go into it with an open mind. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. You have to treat it like a real job, have enough bankroll, and become an expert in strategy.
In addition to this, you also need to research which machines will give you a positive RTP and where to find them. Professional players know this information like the back of their hand, but it can take years to develop that level of knowledge.
If you’d like to try earning a living with video poker, I recommend reading some of the books mentioned earlier in the article and beginning your training with an online Jacks or Better simulator.
Once you feel confident in your abilities to calculate odds, you can move up to the more complex versions of video poker. After you master those, you can start trying to locate RTP-positive video poker machines and placing small bets on your way to earning a living with video poker.