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Pros & Cons Of Video Poker Progressive Machines, Part One

An insider reveals the mysteries of video poker’s richest games

By Henry Tamburin


In today’s market, non-progressive players consider themselves lucky if they can eke out a 1% edge, which includes the return on the game plus the perks they get from slot club points, etc. Progressive jackpots offer the opportunity to make far more in much less time.

When it comes to video poker progressive machines there’s a new expert in town, and his name is Frank Kneeland. He’s the former manager of the largest progressive video poker team in Las Vegas, and the author of the new book “The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives.”

I interviewed Kneeland about the pros and cons of playing progressive video poker games for this two-part series. Here’s what he had to say.

Let’s start with the basics. What’s the difference between a progressive video poker machine, and a non-progressive video poker machine?

If we focus only on the video poker game (excluding slot club points, casino promotions, drawings, etc.), non-progressive video poker machines do not vary in either player strategy or expected return. A non-progressive game that has a negative expectancy will always be in the house’s favor and never offer the opportunity for the player to get an edge. The opposite is true for some 100%+ return non-progressive games, such as full pay Deuces Wild, because they are always in the player’s favor. In both cases, however, the playing strategy and the expected return remain constant.

video poker

On the other hand, the playing strategy and expected return for progressive machines does not remain constant. As the amount of the royal flush jackpot increases, the return increases and the playing strategy changes. Therefore, progressive video poker machines are dynamic. Since all progressive video poker machines have the possibility to exceed a 100% expected return, it makes all of them potentially playable. However, you can’t say the same for all non-progressive video poker machines. One of the worst non-progressive video poker games is 5/6 Jacks or Better (meaning the per-coin payout for a flush is five coins, and for the full house it’s six coins). The basic game has an expected return of 94.99%, yet it was one of the best progressives I’ve ever played because of its 4.5% meter-rise (more about meter-rise in a moment).

In the case of multi-meters, where meters progress on two or more hands, the story becomes more complicated. Progressive video poker machines often start out worse than their non-progressive brethren, but they become far better when the jackpot becomes sizable.

What makes playing a progressive video poker machine a good option for video poker players?

In today’s market, non-progressive players consider themselves lucky if they can eke out a 1% edge, which includes the return on the game plus the perks they get from slot club points, casino mailers, and a combination of overlapping casino promotions. Progressive jackpots offer the opportunity to make far more in much less time. Last month, for example, I played a dollar progressive that had a royal flush jackpot over $18,000. It came to about a 6% edge with meter-rise factored in. In addition, consider this: higher percentage wins do not merely earn you more money. They are safer and less risky. Therefore, you get to win more money, with more consistency.

One of the negatives of progressive machines is that they can’t be played all the time and they require scouting. Therefore, your profit and safety aren’t the only factors, making it harder to make a straight-across comparison. If you could play progressives and non-progressives with equal frequency, there really wouldn’t be a comparison. Progressives would win hands-down.

Can you explain what the “reset” on a progressive machine means?

“The Reset” is the point at which the progressive meter starts (resets to) after someone has hit the royal flush jackpot. The reset point is usually the same amount of money as a comparable non-progressive game (e.g., a royal flush pays $4,000 for maximum coin wagered on a dollar denomination, non-progressive 5/8 Jacks or Better machine, and the reset amount for a progressive 5/8 Jacks or Better game is also $4,000). As players play the progressive machines, a certain percentage of the coins wagered are used to fund the increase in the jackpot(s). Therefore, a progressive will always have a slightly higher return than an identical non-progressive will. Of course, casinos often put their progressive jackpots on games with lower returns to counter this but not always, though. (For example, you usually will find a progressive on a 5/8 Jacks or Better game but rarely on a 6/9 Jacks or Better game.)

And what’s the meaning of the “break-even” point?

“Break-even” (BE) is the point at which a progressive machine reaches exactly 100% expected return. The return of the game is influenced by the strategy you are playing, and the strategy is influenced by the rising jackpot, so calculating BE is harder than it first appears. There are other “magical” aspects to BE, such as when it’s best to play a progressive, and what playing strategy you should use. It’s too much information to give here…[so let’s just say] “Never play a progressive if it’s below its BE point.”

What does a “1% meter” mean?

“1% Meter” is an abbreviated way of saying, “A progressive with 1% meter-rise.”  What we mean is that for every dollar you put in the machine, 1% goes on the progressive jackpot(s), which in this case would be a penny per dollar wagered. However, keep this in mind: not all progressives are 1%. There is no standard. They must be taken on a case-by-case basis.

How can a player determine the meter rate for a progressive machine?

OK, that’s easy. When no one else is playing, just drop $10 in the machine and see how much the meter goes up (around five in the morning is usually a good time for this). Divide the progression of the jackpot by the amount you dropped in.

Here’s an example of a 1% meter-rise, where the amount of the jackpot increased ten cents after $10 was played:

.10 / $10 = 1%

Obviously, you have to be sure you are the only one playing to accurately clock the meter-rise. Very late at night or early morning is best.

My interview with Frank Kneeland will be continued next month. In the meantime, you can listen to his new radio show “Gambling With An Edge” by visiting his website You can also read his column on video poker progressives in my Blackjack Insider Newsletter (


Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains training products for video poker players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at

Pros & Cons Of Video Poker Progressive  Machines, Part One.

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