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Turns For the Worse

Be wary of changes in your casino’s video poker policies

by Henry Tamburin


Lately, it seems that some casinos are changing their policy toward video poker players, and this often is not good news for us. I’ll give you a few examples so you will be aware of these revised casino policies.

A Mississippi casino recently posted a banner on their web site which announced: “9/6 VIDEO POKER MACHINES…36 NOW AVAILABLE.” I got excited and paid the casino a visit to see for myself. Sure enough, I found 36 slant-top video poker machines that had 9/6 Jacks or Better games on them. However, as I glanced over the entire pay table, I noticed something that made me sick to my stomach: they had shorted the max-coin royal flush payout from 4,000 coins to only 2,500 coins at all denominations (25 cents, 50 cents, and dollar).

This reduction in the payoff for the royal flush decreases the Expected Value from 99.54% to 98.39%. Now, you might think a reduction in ER of 1.15% is not a big deal— but for serious players, trust me, it is. I had a short meeting with the casino’s slot manager to voice my displeasure over their shorted royal flush payout. Casino management revisited this issue and subsequently changed the payout to 4,000 coins on their quarter denomination 9/6 Jacks or Better machines (at 50 cents and dollar denomination, the payout is still 2500 coins). The point is this: you need to be diligent and check the entire video poker pay table to be sure none of the payouts have been shorted.

Many casinos have also changed how they determine a player’s monthly mailer (specifically, the amount of bounce back cash, free play, and other comps in the mailers). The amount of perks that players got in their monthly mailers used to be based on either their coin in over a period of time, or their daily average coin in. Nowadays, casinos are basing a player’s mailer on theoretical (or “theo”), meaning how much average profit the casino expects to earn from a player based on the specific machine they play. So video poker players that play, say, 9/6 Jacks or Better, will get much less bounce back free play and  comps in their mailers compared to a player who plays a video poker game with a worse pay schedule.

Here’s another policy change that blows my mind: some casinos now factor a player’s win/loss history into their equation that determines how much a player will get in their mailers. Get lucky and hit a royal flush (or a jackpot on a slot machine), and the amount of bounce back and comps in your mailers will dramatically decrease.

Here’s a real-world example that happened to my wife and I in a casino that adopted this policy. We had been playing video poker for several years in a local’s casino in Las Vegas that based their mailers on the amount of coin in over a month. Then, suddenly— and without any notice to players—the casino changed their policy to include the amount a player won. Coincidentally, my wife and I hit each hit a royal flush the following month in this casino, and the amount of weekly bounce back free play and comps in our mailers dropped to almost nothing (even though our monthly coin in stayed the same).

A few months later, my wife hit another royal flush, and her mailers were discontinued. (Slot players in this casino have also seen the quality of their mailers decrease after getting lucky and hitting a jackpot.) Needless to say, my wife and I do not play video poker at this casino any more, and I know of many more players who walked away as well.

Some casinos decrease the rewards a player receives for playing a full pay video poker machine. Instead of having to wager 1,000 coins to get a point on their slot card, signage on the machine will state that you need to wager 4,000 coins for a point (thus it takes more coin in to get a point). Several casinos have even gone so far as to post signage on their full pay video poker machines that state when you play this machine,  you will get zero points and you won’t be eligible for any promotions. (No, I’m not kidding…absolutely no incentives for the player!)

Many casinos actively promote bonus point promotions to video poker and slot players. Unfortunately, when some video poker players took the casino up on their offer while playing full play video poker games, their mailers were discontinued.

So what should a smart video poker do if their favorite casino changes their policies for the worse? My friend Jean Scott recently addressed this issue on her blog on, and had this to say (which I wholeheartedly endorse):

Wise recreational players, with experience, will know approximately how much, on average, this entertainment (playing video poker) will cost them and adjust their time in this business to fit into their entertainment budget. If their favorite casino has cut the pay tables on the games they want to play or aren’t sending  them as much bounce-back free play, or have reduced the comps, they will look for another casino. Or, if there isn’t another casino conveniently located, they may just cut the number of times they choose this leisure-time activity.

A video poker player who wants to cut his “cost” for this entertainment will need to do more studying–fine-tuning his strategy skills with practice on tutorial software and perhaps learning new games. He will do more research and scouting. And he will vigorously ramp up his use of promotions to make up for a loss of EV when casinos downgrade pay tables. He may look for ways to increase his gambling bankroll so he can play at denominations higher than his usual ones when he finds good plays there.”


Tamburin’s Tip of the Month

The game is Jacks or Better. Which cards would you hold in these two hands?

You should hold the three unsuited cards in the first hand and the unsuited King and Jack in the second hand. The reason you discard the unsuited Ace in hand #2 (and not one of  the unsuited picture cards in hand #1) is because there are two ways to make a straight when you hold unsuited J-Q-K (i.e., 9-10-J-Q-K or 10-J-Q-K-Ace) whereas only way if you hold unsuited K-J-Ace (i.e., 10-J-Q-K-A).

Remember this rule: when you are dealt a hand containing three unsuited high cards including an Ace, discard the Ace and only hold the other two unsuited high cards.



Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the website and 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 books, strategy cards, and software for video poker players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at


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