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Over the last twenty years video poker has become a huge attraction for gamblers. While the number of games in casinos has grown at a remarkable rate, there has also been a proliferation of the different types of games that are available. Multiple-game machines can now have many different varieties of video poker on a single machine. In addition, numerous multiple-play models allowing for play of three, five, ten, and even fifty or more hands at a time are now available. At the same time, the machine can provide any game in a variety of denominations resulting in a huge array of choices for the video poker player.

Why all this interest in video poker? There is some evidence that players prefer playing games in which they have some control over the result (unlike traditional slot games), and that some find the variety of possible wins attractive. Others may be attacted to the higher frequency of winning hands; playing 9/6 Jacks or Better correctly, half of the hands you play will at least return your initial bet. Whatever it is, a large number of players prefer video poker to other slot games.

One characteristic of video poker that is absent from traditional slots is that the average return of the game can be determined. One can, by viewing the "paytable" (sometimes called the "pay schedule"), know whether he is playing a game that returns 96%, 99.5%, or somewhere in between. This is important as it allows the informed player to seek out the best games.

As the interest in video poker has increased, it has become more difficult to find games with the best returns. For example, 9/6 Jacks or Better machines return 99.5% of the amount wagered to the player. Today, it is not unusual to find 6/5 Jacks or Better games that return only 95%. As with all forms of commerce, it often comes down to supply-and-demand; in locales where availability is limited (areas with a single casino) or demand is extraordinarily high (Las Vegas Strip), the "cost" of playing is likely to be higher. Casinos in areas where competition is high and demand is low often provide the best values to the player.

It is critical to understand how ostensibly small differences in the returns of games can affect your bankroll requirements. A 25-cent game that returns 96%, on average, will allow you play 375 hands (five quarters bet) on a $20 bill. With a 99% return, you would be able to play 1,500 hands on average -- four times as many -- on the same $20. To look at it another way, the average cost of playing one hand of five quarters is 1-1/4 cents on a 99% game, but on a 96% game, it costs five cents. When multiplied by hundreds or thousands of hands, these differences add up.

Casinos offering only poor quality games should be avoided. While it isn't unusual to find a mix of good and bad games in a single casino, it is reasonable to infer that a casino offering only poor quality video poker is also offering poor quality slot machines. When playing in casinos offering a mix of games it is worthwhile to make a habit of examining the paytable on every game you play before you begin playing it. A trap for the unwary, casinos often intermix the poor games with the better ones. For example, you'll see a bank of five Draw Poker machines, where three machines are 7/5 Jacks (96.1%) and two are 9/6 Jacks (99.5%). Strangely, at times players show no apparent preference -- the 7/5 Jacks machines may be full while the 9/6 machines sit empty.

In many casinos you'll find groups of games in which the jackpot amounts are "progressive". What this means is that the Royal Flush jackpot grows over time until it is hit, at which time it is reset to its nominal value (typically, 4,000 credits). Usually, there are multiple machines participating in a single progressive jackpot. This can provide one of the best opportunities to find a game having a higher return. If, for example, the progressive jackpot started at 4,000 credits but is up to 8,000 credits, the game may be worth playing even if the paytable would suggest otherwise. When there are progressive games in a casino, always be on the lookout for unusually high jackpots.

Video poker can be found in various denominations ranging from 1 cent to $100 per credit. Many games today allow you to select from a range of denominations by touching its symbol before you select the game you wish to play. It isn't always the case, but it is typical that higher denomination games provide the best returns. So, you may find on a single game console a 25 cent 8/5 JB game, a 50 cent 8/6 JB game, and a $1 9/6 JB game. Obviously, the higher paying games are preferable for their higher returns, but you don't want to exceed your bankroll for playing the game or you risk "tapping out" -- running out of money -- before the end of your casino visit.

As a general rule, to get the stated return on the game you must play at least five credits per hand. By examining the paytable on a machine, you will notice that the Royal Flush usually pays 4,000 credits if you have five credits bet. But if you only have four credits bet, it may pay only 1,000 credits for the same hand. Playing fewer than five credits substantially decreases the return of the game. For most games, the maximum number of credits you can play is five; however, it has become more common to provide a "max bet" of 10, 20, or 25 credits, but in most cases, five credits still qualifies for the "bonus" payout on the Royal Flush. If you are seeking the highest return on the game you should always play at least five credits to qualify for the bonus payout on the Royal Flush.




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