Video poker is a staple offering of most casinos. The machines that host the game usually share floor space with the slot machine banks.
As a result, they often occupy the role of palate cleanser for slot machine players. Instead of merely riding the whims of fate, a video poker player can exert some level of control over his or her destiny.
The video poker scene in live casinos throughout Pennsylvania is alive and well. The landscape will only broaden as established casino brands throughout the state offer online casinos with video poker games.
Are video poker games legal in PA?
Yes. Video poker games are legal at all of Pennsylvania’s casinos.
The state authorized them by virtue of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act of 2004. The law provided for the licensure and regulation of casinos and racetrack-casinos in the Keystone State.
Accordingly, all 12 casinos in Pennsylvania have many rows of video poker machines. However, private citizens and businesses are not permitted to operate video poker machines.
In fact, there was a massive bust against some private video poker usage last year. Anthony Zenner allegedly raked in millions for operating a ring of unlicensed video poker machines.
So, video poker is fine – as long as it’s in the casinos.
How to play video poker for free in Pennsylvania
Great, Pennsylvania residents can play video poker. But, what if you’ve never played before?
No worries. There are several options for Pennsylvania inhabitants to practice playing video poker for free before they begin wagering their money.
First and foremost, Pennsylvanians can use Chumba Casino to practice their video poker. Now, to be clear, there is only one Chumba video poker game, Jacks or Better.
There are many more variants of video poker available. However, the Chumba version has a very important feature that should make it your first stop.
Namely, Chumba Casino’s Jacks or Better provides a percentage calculator for the chances that your draw will improve to any winning hands. This feature will allow you to try different strategies and approaches to video poker.
Once you feel comfortable, then you can try out the variety of games available on either Parx Casino Online or SugarHouse Casino4Fun.
Both sites offer roughly 15 variants of video poker for play absolutely free. You will simply need to register in order to log in and take part.
Make sure to try out each variant so that you can see which style of video poker you prefer. Everyone has their favorites, and these sites are a great way to discover yours.
Moving to real-money video poker
Once you feel comfortable with all the different types of video poker, you may want to give the real money version a try. If so, both of these aforementioned sites are more than happy to help you transition over to the real-money side.
Now, you will have to register all over again for a real-money account. Parx requires a complete redo, so that’s a bit annoying.
SugarHouse does not, but there’s some bad news there. At this time, PlaySugarHouse does not offer real money video poker.
Hollywood Online Casino does offer online video poker though. Unlike Parx, which only offers Jacks or Better, Hollywood offers the entire IGT Game King suite of nine different varieties, including Deuces Wild and Double Double Bonus Poker.
So, Pennsylvanians can choose between Hollywood, Parx, and Chumba. For now.
Every online casino will have several options for depositing cash onto them. Any one of the following methods may be available on your site of choice:
- Bank transfer
- PayNearMe (via 7-Eleven)
- Wire transfer
- Cash in-person at the casino cage
Make sure to check the promotional offers at the site before you hit “submit.” Many casinos will have opportunities to enhance your deposit amount.
Video poker apps
There are Android versions for all three PA online casinos.
The situation is a bit dodgier for Apple users. Hollywood Casino is the only one of the three with an iOS app. The bad news is the game library is extremely small. The good news is the Game King video poker suite is one of the available titles.
PlaySugarHouse has a solution that allows casino play via iPhone browser, but does not have video poker at the moment. Parx has no option for iPhone users.
Additionally, Chumba Casino is a completely browser-based site. So, it does not matter what device is used to log in.
As far as the games themselves, they work decently well. They are definitely playable through both laptops and devices, and it’s clear that all three sites have taken pains to make sure that they optimize for mobile users.
However, there is a clunky quality to the mobile versions that may be distracting. It’s hard to describe – some sort of lag, perhaps – but it betrays some sort of discomfort on the part of the mobile developers.
That said, we’re nitpicking a bit here. There’s no doubt that most people should be able to find a way onto these three sites to try their video poker options.
The basics of video poker strategy
So, what is video poker?
Video poker is a computerized version of five-card draw poker. Players are seeking to make a winning five-card hand. What constitutes a winning hand varies from game to game.
Video poker and slot machines are often lumped together, both in terms of their game class and physically in the casino. However, the element of control that a player exerts over a video poker game leads to a key difference between the two.
Namely, there is, in fact, a correct way to play each hand of video poker. Numerous books abound that help players identify the best statistical way to approach each hand.
As it happens, you can have these books along with you as you play. Casinos have no problem with players playing perfectly, because, as you may have guessed, there is still a house advantage over perfect play.
However, playing perfectly will minimize the house edge to fractions of a percentage point. So, it is possible to get quite a bit of bang for your buck on video poker, and sometimes, you’ll come away a winner.
So, the payout percentages listed in each game variant below are calculated assuming that you are playing perfectly. If you are playing less than perfectly, the percentage will tip farther into the casino’s favor.
One other factor that influences the odds of winning is the number of coins that a player is wagering. Video poker machines usually have some sort of outsized payout for the highest coin play. Typically, you’ll have to play five coins on a single game to qualify.
However, these highest levels of play can also have progressive jackpots attached to them. So, if at all possible, you should play the highest level to maximize your expected value on your wagers.
Types of online video poker games in PA
A quick look at a video poker game list can be overwhelming. There are so many variants that it can seem impossible to master.
Surprisingly, though, the different types of video poker are all basically the same. The changes from the standard games are mere tweaks, by and large.
In terms of odds, video poker machines return over 96% of the cash wagered into them. This percentage places video poker as a much better bet than slot machines.
The different variants do play with the odds, at least in terms of the timeframe. Which variant you prefer depends upon how much variance you want to accept.
Jacks or Better
The most prevalent video poker game, and indeed, the only one that Chumba Casino features, is Jacks or Better. Like most standards, Jacks or Better is beloved due to its simplicity.
The key to winning the game is inherent in its title. A player must make a pair of jacks or better in order to win.
As the hand strength increases, so does the payouts. As you’ll see later, casinos have introduced ways of chipping away at these payouts.
In the early days, some Jacks or Better games would pay out as a “full pay” machine; that is, full houses would pay 9x the bet and flushes 6x the bet.
Over time, casinos offered this ratio less and less often. For instance, Chumba’s Jacks or Better is a 7x/5x game.
However, those shaves on the profits haven’t really hurt the game. Overall, Jacks or Better will pay back 99.54% of its wagers.
Another common video poker variant is Deuces Wild. This version renders the four twos, or deuces, as wild cards.
This change inflates the normal hand strength that you’re going to get. With four cards that can be anything, pairs can easily become three of a kind, and random hands can become straight or flush candidates.
Of course, the game takes this escalation into account in its winning conditions. Most forms of Deuces Wild require three of a kind or higher to pay out.
Strange as it would seem, a perfectly-played game of Deuces Wild will pay out 100.8%. If you can play correctly and play the highest number of coins available, there is a positive expectation.
Understand, however, that percentage is a long-run calculation. Most players are not going to have enough cash to stick around for the long run.
Bonus Poker/Double Bonus Poker/Double Double Bonus Poker
Bonus Poker plays exactly like Jacks or Better up to a certain point. That point is four of a kind.
Bonus Poker rewards players for achieving quads of any value with an extra payout. Unfortunately, the game also collects from other payouts to finance this perk.
So, even though there are higher individual payouts on some hands, the overall effect is a percentage return drop. Bonus Poker players will only see a return of 99.2%.
Bonus Poker has proven popular enough, however, to spawn two offspring, Double Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker. Like Bonus Poker, Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus place special value on four-of-a-kind hands.
So, they further separate four-of-a-kind hands by their value. Double Bonus Poker has an increased payout for players who acquire four aces.
However, the increased payout has turned things around on the expected payback. Double Bonus Poker returns 100.2% to its players.
Double Double Bonus Poker takes things a step farther than its cousins. Each possibility of four-of-a-kind is subject to a different payout.
The aces are still the target of most of the breakouts. Double Double Bonus Poker has a pay structure based upon the kicker in the quad ace hands.
Furthermore, four 2s, 3s, and 4s each get their own payout level. Then, 5s – kings are all paid at the same rate.
All those machinations don’t actually make much of a difference overall, actually. The payout rate drops a tiny bit to 100.1%.
Any other variant you find will have elements of these three types of video poker in it. Just make sure to investigate each type you find and figure out what it’s about before you bet.
Bonuses and rewards program
As you play on an online casino, you often have the ability to take part in the casino’s loyalty program. Playing video poker certainly qualifies for any of these promotions.
However, a video poker player may find it significantly difficult to qualify for as many rewards points as their slot-machine brethren. Casinos often award fewer points for video poker, due to its high return to player ratio.
For instance, SugarHouse calculates how many points to award in its iRush Rewards program based upon the return-to-player percentage. So, a game that returns 94% of wagers to players will award points at a higher rate than a game that returns 96%, for instance.
As stated earlier, video poker returns a high percentage to players, usually upwards of 99%. As a result, video poker will not earn points at SugarHouse very quickly.
In a similar vein, Parx values slot play far more than video poker play. Rather than any sort of calculation, Parx’s Xclub awards 1 point per $20 wagered on slots and 1 point per $60 wagered on video poker. So, playing video poker is a third less fruitful than playing slots.
General rules and hand rankings
Video poker is a five-card-draw style of poker. After placing your wager on a hand, you will initially be dealt five playing cards. You then have the option to “hold” or “fold” any number of those cards with the intent of making the highest-valued hand possible, according to the poker-hand hierarchy.
Poker hands are listed, in order, from strongest to weakest:
- Royal flush: A hand consists of the cards 10, jack, queen, king and ace, all of the same suit
- Straight flush: A hand consists of five sequential cards all of the same suit, such as 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of clubs
- Four-of-a-kind: A hand consists of all four cards of the same value, in each suit
- Full house: A hand consists of both one pair and one three-of-a-kind
- Flush: A hand consists of any combination of five cards that are all in the same suit
- Straight: A hand consists of five cards in a sequence, regardless of the suit
- Three-of-a-kind: A hand consists of three cards that are all the same value
- Two pair: A hand consists of two unlike pairs of cards
- Pair: A hand consists of one like pairs of cards
- High card: A hand consists of no pairs or a higher-value combination of cards
The highest-value card is used to determine hand strength
Versions of video poker will offer different payouts for each outcome. Some games will come with conditions, such as requiring at least a pair of jacks. There are many variations of the game also include wild cards, and even jackpots, when certain conditions are right.
Video poker odds
When it comes to determining the odds in a game of video poker, we can understand the potential outcomes rather easily. That’s because players play video poker with only one deck. That means odds are generally the same across all video poker games, be it at a live casino machine or on regulated PA online gambling site.
The general odds and payout schedule for jacks or better video poker hands are as follows:
|Royal flush (dealt)||1 / 650,000||800|
|Royal flush (ending hand)||1 / 40,400||800|
|Straight flush||1 / 9,150||50|
|Four-of-a-kind||1 / 423||25|
|Jacks or better||1/4||1|
Additionally, it may not be possible to win the total jackpot when holding a royal flush unless the maximum amount of wagering units are administered at the beginning of the hand. Keep in mind, some variations of the game will offer different payout structures, depending on a natural royal flush being dealt at the beginning of a hand.
Online versus casino video poker
There is little difference between online video poker and video poker played in live casinos because all the games are all machine-based.
The benefits of online video poker are you will never have to wait your turn to play a particular version, and there are so many varieties to enjoy.
Additionally, you can jump from variation to variation with no effort at all. As a result, games play much faster than in a live casino setting.
Where to Play video poker in Pennsylvania
Video poker is a ubiquitous feature of casinos, so it’s no surprise that video poker machines are located in every Pennsylvania casino.
As stated earlier, video poker and slot machines often share space in a casino. Given how much of a pleasant change of pace video poker offers slot machine players (and vice versa), it’s unlikely that this marriage of games will break up any time soon.
Below is a list of the addresses for all twelve of Pennsylvania’s casinos. Please note that we have also listed the Live! Casino property, though it has not opened yet.
- Harrah’s Philadelphia – 777 Harrah’s Blvd, Chester, PA 19013
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course – 777 Hollywood Blvd, Grantville, PA 17028
- Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin – 4067 National Pike, Farmington, PA 15437
- The Meadows Racetrack and Casino – 210 Racetrack Rd, Washington, PA 15301
- Mohegan Sun Pocono – 1280 PA-315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
- Mount Airy Casino Resort – 312 Woodland Rd, Mt Pocono, PA 18344
- Parx Casino & Racing – 2999 Street Rd, Bensalem, PA 19020
- Presque Isle Downs & Casino – 8199 Perry Hwy, Erie, PA 16509
- Rivers Casino (Pittsburgh) – 777 Casino Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
- Wind Creek Bethlehem – 77 Wind Creek Blvd, Bethlehem, PA 18015
- Sugarhouse Casino – 1001 N Delaware Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
- Valley Forge Casino Resort – 1160 1st Ave, King of Prussia, PA 19406
- Live! Casino & Hotel – 900 Packer Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Pennsylvania’s laws surrounding video poker machines
There is one clear legal motion that has precipitated Pennsylvania’s video poker machines. The Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act of 2004 essentially inflated the gambling balloon for the entire state, providing for 12 casinos to be constructed.
Video poker also flowed into legality due to this law. As a dozen casinos came into being, video poker came with them.
Video poker will presumably make the jump to Pennsylvania’s mini-casinos and online casinos when all the rest of the games do. There’s no real distinction between them and slot machines.