QUESTION: You have written that with perfect basic strategy some video poker machines will have a payback above 100 percent. I have also read that the machines can NOT be set to return over 100 percent. Can you please explain the difference of what I am reading? Dave D.

ANSWER: When employing expert play, a player’s strategy can affect payback percentages. A good basic strategy player who can identify decent paying machines can virtually eliminate the house advantage, bringing it down to zero, and in some cases, giving the skilled player a slight edge. An example of the machines I am speaking of are a full-pay Deuces Wild and 10/7 Double Bonus. By playing these two machines and using perfect strategy, and playing the maximum amount of coins, you can achieve the following payback percentages: 100.7 percent on full-pay Deuces Wild and 100.1 percent on 10/7 Double Bonus.

But, you are also correct, Dave, to be suddenly suspicious of what I wrote. Certain states do not allow video poker machines to produce a 100 percent or higher return. I note here that your letter comes from Indiana, which is one of the states that limit the return. I believe your bordering state Illinois is another. I can’t think of another.

All states with legal casino gambling have a minimum payback percentage on slots and video poker. The two mentioned above also have maximums. The reasoning, at least the state’s reasoning, is to collect as much in taxes on casino revenue as it can.

What is great about video poker, Dave, that not only do you have the probability of a decent payoff, but you truly are in control of the game by your skillful decisions. The tricky part here is finding those advantageous machines. Today, they are few and far between, and generally can only be found in very competitive markets.

Q: When playing at a higher denomination, are the returns on a 9/6 video poker machine in high-roller room higher than on a 25¢ 9/6 machine on the casino floor? Mike M.

A: When you can find a 9/6 (9 for a full house, 6 for a flush) video poker machine and use basic strategy, you can achieve a 99.5% percentage payback on a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine.

All paytables being equal, Mike, a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine will return 99.5% over the long run with expert play regardless of whether the game takes quarters, dollars, or $125 per hand ($25 X 5). What will not be the same is the net profitability from playing at a higher coinage level.

The problem with a higher denomination machine, Mike, is that IRS reporting becomes mandatory with certain jackpots. For instance, a hand pay for a four-of-a-kind or a straight flush on a $25 machine will automatically get you one. With these payoffs, you will be required to sign an IRS form W-2G before they can pay you any jackpot of $1,200 or above.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Under the influence of uncontrollable ecstasy the players gambled their wives, their children and ultimately themselves into captivity.” — Tacitus, Germanicus (A.D. 99)

Mark Pilarski is a nationally syndicated gaming writer. Visit him online at or follow him on Twitter @MarkPilarski.

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