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Behind Video Poker Paybacks

23 October 2014

By John Grochowski
Video poker regulars know that as a basic guideline, royal flushes account for about 2 percent of their overall payback. If you’re playing 9-6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5 percent to those who play at expert level, you can figure it’s closer to 97.5 percent between royals.

Actual percentages vary by a small amount depending on game and pay table. Royals account for 1.98 percent of the return on 9-6 Jacks or Better, but 1.99 percent on the 8-5 version of the same game, where paybacks are reduced to 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes. If your game is Double Bonus Poker, the full-pay 10-7-5 game – 10-for-1 on full houses, 7-for-1 on flushes, 5-for-1 on straights – gets only 1.67 percent of its return from royals, but the more common 9-6-5 version checks in at 1.96 percent from royals.

The situation can change dramatically when the games have progressive jackpots on the royals. When large jackpots build, much more of the game’s overall value to players is concentrated in rare hands. That means games with similar payback percentages can have much different play experiences.

At the simplest level, we can compare games of the game kind, but with different tables. It’s rare that you’ll see 9-6 Jacks or Better with a progressive jackpot. More common is to layer the progressive onto 7-5 Jacks or Better.

At its base pay table, with a 4,000-coin payoff on royals for a five-coin bet, 7-5 Jacks or Better returns 96.1 percent with expert play, with 1.99 percent coming from royals.

What if it has been a long time between royals, with a percentage of players’ wagers added to the jackpot until someone finally draws the bit one? With the jackpot at about 9,750 coins -- $2,437.50 on a quarter machine – the average return is about the same 99.5 percent as on the 9-6 game. The addition of 5,750 coins raises the average return by 3.4 percent.

However, in the 7-5 game with the big progressive, royal flushes account for 6.05 percent of the expected return, more than triple the royal proportion of the 9-6 Jacks or Better payback. Not only that, you have to make some adjustments to playing strategy to get that return. When royals are worth more, we adjust play to increase their frequency. That reduces the frequency of other winning hands, and lowers the payback percentage from non-royal hands.

As a practical matter, that means the 7-5 and 9-6 games offer vastly different play experiences even when the royal jackpots give them similar overall payback percentages. On 7-5 Jacks or Better with the 9,750-coin jackpot, the return between royals is only 93.5 percent, about 4 percent less than on the 9-6 version.

The difference is in those full-house and flush payoffs. With expert strategy in 9-6 Jacks or Better, we get a full house about once per 87 hands and a flush about once per 91 hands. An adapted strategy for 7-5 Jacks or better with a 9,750 coin royal leads to a slight increase in flush frequency, to about one per 90 hands. Assuming an easy – video poker regulars might say “slow” – pace of 500 hands per hour, that means about 5.7 full houses and 5.5 to 5.6 flushes per hour.

A 9-for-1 return brings enough money to play nine more hands, while at 7-for-1, you get enough to play seven more. That difference of two hands worth of return per full house means that in an average hour, you’ll get more than 11 hands worth more on the 9-6 game than on the 7-5 version. The difference of one unit in the flush paybacks mean you’ll get between five and six extra hands worth on the 9-6 game.

Put it together, and you’ll see that on the end of an average hour, you’ll have received about 17 more hands worth of credits on the 9-6 version. Those extra returns smooth out your play experience. They keep you going through some rough spots and give you more time at the game than you’d get at a version with lower full house and flush paybacks.

Despite having a similar payback percentage to 9-6 Jacks or Better with a 4,000-coin royal, the 7-5 version with the 9,750-coin jackpot is a much wilder ride. Taking your chances at the bigger payday comes at the cost of a better chance at going broke fast.

Look for John Grochowski at, on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at


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John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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