By Henry Tamburin
I was just about to hit the deal button on my video poker machine when my friend screamed to me, “What are you doing?” He was shocked that I was going to continue to play the same video poker machine that I had just hit a royal flush on.
My friend is a novice slots and video poker player, and he was in Vegas for a weekend of some R&R. He, like most other casual players, mistakenly believes that once a machine “hits a royal flush,” the chance that it will hit again soon is nil. So here I was, in the middle of a casino, trying to explain to him why this isn’t necessarily so. This is what I told him.
Inside that video poker machine is a software program that resides in a computer chip and it randomly selects the cards that appear on the video poker screen from a 52-card virtual deck of cards. “Every card has the same chance of showing up on the deal and on the draw,” I told him, “Just like if you were to deal me the cards from a freshly shuffled deck of cards.” I also emphasized to him that after a hand is completed, the computer reshuffles the virtual 52-card deck and then deals the next hand when I hit the deal button again. “So every hand is an independent hand,” I told him, “And because each hand is independent, I have the same chance of hitting a second royal as the first royal even on the same machine.”
“And what are the odds of that happening?” he asked. I told him that the odds of hitting a royal flush are about 40,000 to 1 (assuming the royal occurred on the draw and not on the deal). So even though I had just hit a royal, the odds that I could hit another royal were the same – 40,000 to 1. He had a doubtful look on his face when he said, “OK, go play your video poker machine. I’m gonna play some slots.” And off he went.
Let me pause for a moment and tell you another part of this story. My friend was staying at a plush casino on the Strip and when we made plans to meet, he was somewhat taken aback when I said I’d like to meet him at a locals casino. I’m sure he would have preferred that I come to his plush casino and play there. I politely told him I wanted to meet him at this particular casino because I had the edge playing video poker there, and I didn’t have the edge at the Strip casino where he was staying. I could tell by his voice that he didn’t quite understand what I was saying but he agreed anyway to meet me there.
As my friend wandered off to play the slots, I continued to play video poker. I was playing a triple play jacks or better machine (which paid 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush per coin played, which is a very good pay schedule for this game), when it happened: I held three cards to the royal and on one line I got the two cards I needed for a royal flush. (This royal occurred about 15 minutes after my first royal.)
While the slot attendant was paying me my winnings in cash, my friend showed up and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Don’t tell me you hit another royal,” he said incredulously. “I responded with a big smile and said, “Yep … now do you believe what I said earlier about the chances of hitting two royals on the same machine in the same session?”
We broke for dinner and my friend started to ask me some more questions about video poker. “Tell me again,” he said, “What makes this casino so special for video poker players?”
I began to tell him that that there are three important variables that a smart video poker player needs to evaluate before he sits down and plays. First, is the return on the game. Second is the cash-back. And third are the mailings. My friend looked at me like I was from outer space.
I explained with a real world example: the game I happen to be playing in this casino. “That 9/6 jacks-or-better game,” I said, “Has a theoretical return of 99.5 percent if you play every hand perfectly.” He quickly chimed in and said, “So how do you learn to play perfectly?” I proceeded to tell him about several commercially available software programs that you can pop in your computer at home to learn the video poker strategy. “Plus,” I said, “I always have these handy strategy cards with me when I play just in case.”
Secondly, this casino gives video poker players 0.3 percent in cash-back based on your coin-in (or total amount wagered). They also send you mailers which contain coupons for free play (as well as other freebies). In my case, I would be getting $120 a month in free-play ($30 weekly) if I wagered $20,000 during the month, known as my coin-in ($120/$20,000 = 0.3%). The mailer also contained some generous meal discounts: two free buffets, $50 off any of their restaurants, plus 2/1 show tickets, and other freebies. I estimated these comps to be worth roughly 0.4 percent based on my coin-in. So, I wrote down on a napkin the following figures for my friend to see:
Return on game: 99.5%
Other: 0.4 %
Add up all the percentages and you arrive at a total return of 100.8%, meaning I had a 0.8% edge when I play video poker there. I also emphasized to him, “that to get that edge, you had to use the coupons in those mailers, which for me was not a problem since I spend roughly half my time in Vegas.” I concluded my lecture by saying: “You also have to stay on top of the casino’s play requirements because they can change from one month to the next.”
My friend was impressed at how a blackjack player could know so much about video poker. He also knew that I taught blackjack classes for many years so he asked me the obvious question: “Why don’t you teach video poker classes?” I winked and told him, “I do.”
Henry Tamburin has been a respected casino gambling writer for the past 50 years. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide and was editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. You can read his latest articles on blackjack, video poker, and his personal playing experiences at