After inserting money (or a barcoded paper ticket with credit) into the machine, play begins by placing a bet of one or more credits and pressing the “deal” button. The player is then given cards and has the opportunity to discard one or more of them in exchange for new ones drawn from the same virtual deck. After the draw, the machine pays out if the hand or hands played match one of the winning combinations, which are posted in the pay table.
Pay tables allocate the payouts for hands and are based on how rare they are, the game variation, and the decision of the game operator. A typical pay table starts with a minimum hand of a pair of jacks, which pays even money. All the other hand combinations in video poker are the same as in table poker, including such hands as two pair, three of a kind, straight (a sequence of 5 cards of different suits), flush (any 5 cards of the same suit), full house (a pair and a three of a kind), four of a kind (four cards of the same value), straight flush (5 consecutive cards of the same suit) and royal flush (a Ten, a Jack, a Queen, a King and an Ace of the same suit).
Some machines offer progressive jackpots, or other unique bonuses, thereby spurring players to both play more coins and to play more frequently. Maureen O’Connor, former mayor of San Diego, made and then lost over a billion dollars playing video poker.
When modern video poker games first appeared, the highest-paying common variant of a particular game was called “Full-Pay”. Game variants that returned a lower payback percentage were termed “Short-Pay”. Though the term Full-Pay is still in use, today, there are many game variants that return more. Payback percentage expresses the long-termexpected value of the player’s wager as a percentage if the game is played perfectly. A payback percentage of 99 percent, for example, indicates that for each $100 wagered, in the long run, the player would expect to lose $1 if they played every hand in the optimal way. Some Payback percentages on full-pay games are often close to or even in excess of 100 percent. Full-pay Jacks or Better, for example, offers a payback percentage of 99.54%.
Casinos don’t usually advertise the payback percentages, leaving it up to the player to identify which video poker machines offer the best schedules.
The payoff schedules for most video poker machines are configured with a pay schedule that pays proportionally more for certain hands (such as the Royal Flush) when the maximum number of credits (typically 5 coins) is bet. Therefore, players who do not play with the maximum number of credits at a time are playing with a smaller theoretical return.