Video poker has been one of the main constants in the gambling industry throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
To this day, it remains one of the most popular gaming machines on land-based casino floors, primarily due to the fact there is an element of skill involved and not out-and-out luck.
It all started at the very beginning of the 20th century when a man named Charles Fey developed a five-reel machine that made an initial poker hand.
Players could then ‘hold’ some of the cards and spin the remaining reels to try and form a higher-value poker hand.
This machine was called “Skill Draw,” which helped inspire more draw poker machines, manufactured by Sittman and Pitt, also in the early 1900s.
The beauty of these machines – and video poker in general – is that they make players feel like they have a genuine say over the outcome of every game. Is that the case?
Or is the result still heavily dependent on luck – and the intervention of backroom computer algorithms?
What is video poker like today?
The software behind today’s video poker machines in land-based casinos and their online counterparts is very similar to what was used even 30-40 years ago. It’s still a straightforward, rudimentary gambling game.
The main reason people continue to play video poker in the 21st century – despite the fact there are way more exciting table games and video slots to sample – is due to its exceptionally low overall house edge.
Most video poker machines operate with a return to player (RTP) percentage of well over 99% – sometimes over 100% when players adhere to optimal playing strategies.
Subsequently, there is no doubt that the recommended video poker games offer an opportunity for players to put their poker skills to the test against computer machines.
If a video poker machine has an RTP of more than 100% it means that statistically, over the long-term, players will make a profit on the money they put into the machine.
Let’s say the RTP was 100.2% – for every $100 you put into the machine, you should win back $100.20 in the long-term. What’s that? A casino game that allows you to make money in the long-term? You heard it right.
However, we can’t stress enough the importance of an optimal playing strategy that ensures every spin of the reels is done to maximize the opportunities created by the machine’s inbuilt algorithm.
How machines regulate video poker
What’s an algorithm, we hear you ask. Most people who consider machines for video poker to be “rigged” or “scams” aren’t aware that the output of the machines is controlled solely by a computer algorithm.
Contrary to popular belief, particularly when gambling is involved, humans are driven by emotion as opposed to logic.
Those on losing streaks want nothing more than to pin their losses on a rigged machine that’s programmed to take your money and run.
The apparent reality is that video poker is a game that is programmed by inbuilt algorithms to operate to the absolute letter. Video poker machines don’t run “hot” or “cold.”
The outcome of every video poker deal is randomized by a program known as a random number generator (RNG) that delivers outcomes against the pre-set RTP percentage of a machine.
This could be 99.1%, 99.4% or even 100.2%, as we discussed earlier.
Understanding the concept of RNGs
To truly understand how a legitimate video poker machine works – or indeed many other gambling machines such as video slots – you need to acknowledge the role and function of an RNG.
An RNG isn’t something to be sneered at or fear, far from it.
In fact, an RNG is inbuilt into every single gaming machine to ensure fair and transparent gameplay for all players. It’s the role of hardware engineers to ensure that machines perform in line with their RNGs.
Very often, RNGs will also undergo stringent third-party testing from organizations such as GLI.
In video poker, an RNG is undoubtedly the hardest working aspect of any gaming machine. It solely exists to continue to shuffle decks of 52 cards. The deck keeps being shuffled until the moment you punch that all-important ‘Deal’ button.
Once this is hit, the machine will reveal the five cards at the top of the 52-card deck. Hopefully, this goes some way to allay your fears that the future outcome of a video poker hand is predetermined before you’ve even hit ‘Deal.’
Once the first five cards have been dealt on-screen, the remaining 47 cards in the deck continue to be shuffled by the RNG until you decide which cards to hold and discard.
Once the discarded cards are removed from the screen, the positions are filled with whichever cards are at the top of the deck at the time.
It is precisely this piece of software that helps to keep video poker games fair and, crucially, mathematically predictable.
As the software is designed to work to the letter of a gaming machine’s RTP percentage, your video poker strategy can follow suit.
Although some people might believe that video poker or video slot machines do run “hot” or “cold,” the concept of RNGs proves that this simply isn’t the case.
The random nature of these machines means that there will be occasions when they pay out more frequently than they do at other times of the day.
So while it’s true that video poker machines are controlled by computer algorithms, this isn’t something that should be sneered at, it should be embraced for creating a fairer playing field for all casino visitors to enjoy.