While visiting casinos, I have often wondered how video poker machines work. Is there any skill involved in beating them? Or are they programmed in favor of the house and require luck to win like slot machines? So, I did a bit of research and these are my findings.

How are poker machines programmed? Video poker machines are programmed with primitive software designed around the random number generator (RNG). Basically, the RNG is constantly shuffling the deck until a player hits the button that deals the cards. Machines favor the house but there are no programmed patterns or rigging done.

Now, let’s explore the different types of machines and how they are programmed in greater detail.

What Type of Software Is Used in Video Poker Machines?

Poker machines do not use software the way computers do in the modern age. In fact, it is not really software at all since it was mostly created during the 1980’s using old technologies.

The “software” is much more rudimentary and basically only picks random numbers that generate the images of cards on the screen. Usually, once the initial deal is made the cards are set and no more calculations are made until the next hand is dealt.

In other words, when you draw a new card it was already pre-set and not calculated each time you click the button.

Types of Video Poker Machines

A video poker machine is usually computerized and in casinos, you will find two types of video machines. They include the Class II Machines and the Class III Machines.

What Is a Class II Machine?

The class II games are pertinent and related to bingo. They, therefore, include lottery-style games and pull-tab machines played within one location, including the card-games that are not house-banked are within the Class II games.

Seemingly, Bingo has little to do with video poker gaming, but we will get to that later.

What Is a Class III Machine?

The Class III casino games are common in Las Vegas Casino gaming. Every traditional casino game such as blackjack, roulette, traditional slot machines, and the video poker games is within the Class III category.

Federal law allows Native American casinos to conduct Class II gaming without supervision. To conduct Class III gaming, they have to negotiate with the state first. The first thing that some people think of after the phrase “video poker games” is mentioned is Class III gaming.

The Difference Between Class II and Class III Machines

Each outcome of a Class II video poker machine is determined by an electronic bingo game. If you already know how the bingo machine functions, you will find it easier to understand this.

In a bingo game, the entry fees and number of entries determines and limits the prizes. When playing Class II gaming machines, you will be participating in electronic bingo games with very many players. The cards on the video poker game are there for display purposes alone.

Each casino has networked computers at the back that determine the results and power the results of many machines simultaneously.

The odds of video poker machines are based on the hit bingo patterns. Actually, on Class II video poker machines, a big screen will display the cards but you will have another subtle screen displaying the electronic bingo card.

The small electronic bingo card is the only clue you require to understand what is happening mathematically.

How Do Class II Video Poker Games Play?

Most video poker machines that you see in casinos are similar in function. In fact, video poker play is very simple.

When you play, you will be dealt with five cards alone and then you will have the chance of deciding on which to keep by tapping the pictures that appear on the screen or pressing the buttons situated on the console.

After that, you will have to press the DRAW button to get the replacement for any card you chose not to keep. If the result is a traditional poker hand, which include a straight, flush or two pair, you will have won.

Random Video Poker Number Generator

Some believe that the purpose of RNG is to shuffle the virtual cards. That is not the case; the RNG generates many combinations of numbers in predetermined ranges on a constant basis.

Basically, the RNG uses the same randomness found in an actual deck of playing cards. In practice, the concept is the same.

For example, each of the 52 cards in the Better or Jacks video poker game has corresponding numbers – between 1 and 52. If a gamble presses on the “Bet Max” or Bet One Credit” buttons or deposits coins, the microprocessor in the video poker machine will collect five random numbers within a period less than 1/1000th second and translate them into real card images. After that, the player will get a hand to start the game.

Are Video Poker Machines Actually Random?

The RNG is the computer program which determines the results of every hand. There are no patterns or rigging done to the software. Instead, it constantly “spins” through the deck until someone clicks the deal button.

In Class III machines, the odds are random, but some people assume that the machines use similar probability and logic to that of a deck of cards. The random number generator has to use the same probability and odds to generate 5-card hands – found in the standard decks of 52-cards. Some games have 53 cards because of the wild card (the joker).

A video poker machine deals the first five cards in the above manner, but some other machines generate the replacement for cards that a player wishes to get rid of in different ways.

The Parallel Dealing Method

Machines that entered the markets in the mid-80s rely on “parallel dealing method”. They, therefore, select five cards simultaneously, which comprises of the hand and another five cards for the replacement. They link every replacement card to one of the original cards.

After a player decides to get rid of a card, the machine will show the replacement card. At the time the machines entered the gambling world, some people were against parallel dealing. The primary reason behind that was that the card a gambler requires to complete a winning hand might be behind a card that they have kept. Therefore, they cannot receive the card.

The Switch to the Serial Dealing Method

Due to complaints about the parallel method, the modern poker machine was created based on a different way of determining the cards. The “serial” dealing method. This basically means that all of the future replacement cards are now in one stack. In other words, there are no longer cards out of play.

This change took place in the 1990s and is now the preferred method of dealing video poker in the vast majority of casinos.

Are Video Poker Machines Programmed to Favor the House?

The probability of winning and the payout ensures that the casino will make huge profits in the long term. Moreover, the casino has the main goal of influencing you to keep playing for the longest time possible. They design the random number generator and the payback tables with that in mind.

Video poker machines are definitely designed to favor of the house.

Is Video Poker Beatable?

Only a few people will actually win at video poker over the long term. Some individuals believe that making a living out of it is possible, but that is very hard. To be a professional in the field, you have to be intelligent, manage to sit in one place and play for very many hours.

In the best case scenario, the maximum edge attainable for winning video poker players is about 1% or 2%.

To win in video poker games, you will need a lot of practice and a sound mathematical strategy. There are available online tools that will tell you each time you make a strategic mistake. The tools offer simplified strategies, which are easier to play or remember and will work more like the professional strategies.

Can Video Poker Machines Be Rigged or Hacked

Video poker machines have to be FIPS compliant. The interfaces have to be locked and in trigger-sensored enclosures.

Moreover, there are no WAN interfaces or intranet and the firmware and house-variable updates happen through the ports. Outside the glitching and the logic backdoors and bugs, including the RNG Weakness, the machines are impossible to compromise physically.

How the Paytable and Returns Are Programmed

The amount of money you win for every hand depends on the machine’s pay table. Each paytable offers five columns because the winnings only depend on whether you played 1,2,3,4 or 5 coins. Keep in mind that the Royal Flush offers a bonus. For example, instead of winning 1250 coins (equal to 5 coins x 250), you will win 4000 coins.

Therefore, it is always good to play five coins at once and switch to the lower-denomination machine. That is the opposite of what most people will advise you when it comes to slots. The reason behind that is that penalties for failing to play the maximum coins in the video poker games are higher.

Benefits of Knowing the Paytables

One great thing about video poker games is that you will be aware of the return of each machine before you even start playing. On the typical video poker games, the average profit of a casino after each play is around 3 percent – known as the house edge.

The return refers to the actual amount the casino returns to the players. If a casino gets 3 percent after every bet, the players will get around 97 percent of the money bet. The paytable determines the returns on the video poker machine.

Some casinos will provide returns of 99 percent and others 98 percent. If a paytable displayed 8 coins for a house and 5 coins for a flush, know that it is a 97.4 percent machine.

Conversely, in slot machines, you will not have any clue on the payout you are getting. And in cases where the return is usually displayed, it is more likely lousy. In fact, the slot machine is the only casino game with very bad odds. After you have learned the best playing strategy for video poker, you will have to select the machine with the good paytable.

Video Poker Programming Myths

There are quite a few prevailing myths floating around out there that many people believe. Here are three common ones:

  1. The number of coins bet determines the strength of the hand myth – The idea behind this myth is that people think the machines are rigged to give more frequent payouts or stronger hands for lower betting amounts. That way, when someone wins big, they will be suckered into pumping larger amounts into the machine for a larger payout.
  2. The pattern myth – As we have discussed before, some people believe that the machines are set up to payout in patterns. Similar to slot machine campers, they think they can just sit around and wait for someone to pump a bunch of money into the machine and then swoop in to get the big jackpot.
  3. Thrown away cards can reappear myth – Some players think that cards that are gotten rid of can show back up on a future draw.

What Is the History of Video Machines?

Understanding the key differences between the two types of video poker machines requires a look at the past.

Gambling machines entered the market for the first time in the year 1988 after Congress authorized the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The law governs the type of casino games a tribal casino can provide.

Class I casino games also exist, but they are the traditional Indian games and social games. Put differently, the class I games are not commercial.

Is Online Video Poker Programmed like Live Video Poker?

Online video poker users a more complex RNG that is similar to the one designed for regular online poker. It is more akin to the serial dealing method.

If you want to try online video poker, I recommend Ignition Casino. It is my favorite place to play poker and has the best variety.

Final Thoughts

I find it interesting that there has not been more updating done to video poker machines over the years. The machines are still using technology that was created with PacMan and Donkey Kong were the biggest computer games in town.

While it might seem fun and simple to play a quick video poker game, it is definitely not really a game of skill. If you want to win money at poker you are better off learning strategy and playing with real people.

If you are interested in getting into online poker and learning a simple strategy for winning at cash games, you can get a free basic strategy that I created by signing up for my newsletter.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck at the tables! (or machines)

Related Questions

What is the video poker risk of ruin? Risk or ruin means how likely you are to lose your whole bankroll based on how much money you have and your skill level. For more information, read this.

How do you tell if a video poker machine is going to hit? There is no way to tell if you are going to be dealt a strong hand in video poker. The machines operate off a random number generator that is not programmed or rigged by the casino.

Are there video poker professionals? Most poker professionals play against other players and not on video poker machines. This is due to the very small edges that are attainable in the games. However, there are players who manage to make money on the machines. Even so, it would be very difficult to make a sustainable living as a professional video poker player.

Jim James
Jim James

Jim is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. He has been playing professionally for over 15 years and has helped countless people become winning poker players. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, Jim has helped demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em.
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