Are Video Poker Bonuses Worth the Extra Bet?

By John Grochowski

If you like your video poker with a little extra spice, it can come at the price of an extra bet.

Games such as Hot Roll, Wheel Poker and Wheel Poker Deluxe offer multipliers or bonuses, but to be eligible you have to kick in that additional wager?

Is it worth it?

The short answer is usually, yes. International Game Technology, which produces these games, designs them so the return on the bonuses is as high, or higher, than on the base game. In many cases, making the extra bet increases the overall payback percentages. On some, notably Hot Roll, the house edge on the feature is the same as on the base game, making the attraction an addition of volatility and a chance at big wins rather than increasing the payback percentage.

In all cases, the base games are the titles video poker players have known and loved for decades – Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, Bonus Poker Deluxe, Double Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker being the most common.

You’ll usually see the bonus games in multi-hand formats such as Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play, although some also are available in single-hand versions.

If you make the standard five-coin per line maximum bet, then you play the base games as usual. It’s only when you make an extra bet that the bonus feature is unlocked and comes into play.

Let’s check out how a few of them work and how the bonus feature affects the overall return.

HOT ROLL VIDEO POKER: Available in Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play versions, Hot Roll takes a wager of 10 coins per hand to activate the bonus feature. Instead of the 15-coin max bet on basic Triple Play, the max is 30 coins for Triple Play with Hot Roll.

What you get for your extra wager is a randomly occurring roll of two onscreen dice for a multiplier.

The dice pop up an average of once per six hands. After they roll, you complete your hand and any winners are multiplied by the total on the dice.

If you roll two 1s, your winnings are doubled. Roll two 6s, and winners are multiplied by 12. And, of course, there are plenty of multipliers in between.

The dice rolls are set for true odds – the onscreen roll yields the same frequency of totals as rolling two physical dice. The average multiplier is 7x once per six hands, and that means your average payoff is double the usual. Let’s use a high pair as an example of how that works.

High pairs usually pay 1-for-1, or five coins for a maximum bet. In an average set of six high pairs on Hot Roll, five would get no dice roll and pay just those five coins, but one would pay 35.

Five returns of five coins is a total of 25, and when you add in one 35-coin return, that’s a total of 60 coins for your six winners. And that’s an average of 10 coins per winner, exactly double the base return of five coins.

You double your bets, and on the average you double your payoffs, so the average return on the Hot Roll feature is the same as on the base game. If you’re playing 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, a 98.98 percent return game with optimal play, you also get 98.98 percent on Hot Roll.

WHEEL POKER: IGT incorporates vertical wheels that spin for bonuses in many of its most popular slot machines – notably the Wheel of Fortune series. Wheel Poker and its sister game, Wheel Poker Deluxe, bring a taste of that to video poker.

In the original Wheel Poker for Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play, the maximum bet is six coins per line instead of the usual five – just one extra coin per hand instead of the five extra on Hot Roll.

When you draw a natural four of a kind – meaning no wild cards – you get a spin of a prize wheel. The wheel is marked off in spaces worth 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800, 1,000 or 2,000 coins.

At the end of the spin, you get the indicated value on the wheel added to any other winnings.

Let’s say you’re playing Triple Play Jacks or Better with an 18-coin maximum bet and start with a pair of Kings. The draw leaves you with just the high pair on two of your hands, but you get four Kings on the third. Then on the base game you get five-coin pays on each of the two high pairs, 125 coins for the four of a kind, plus the wheel spin.

Not all spaces have an equal chance of stopping at the top indicator. The most frequent values are 250 or 400 coins, while the least frequent is 2,000 followed by 100.

The average return on a wheel spin is 428 coins. The effect on payback percentage differs with the game and your strategy, which affects the frequency of quads.

But in all cases the wheel spin increases the overall return. One example is 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, with a basic return of 98.98 percent with expert play. Making the extra wheel bet increase that to 99.65 percent.

WHEEL POKER DELUXE: In the second Wheel Poker game, it takes an extra five coins per hand to activate the feature.

The Deluxe wheel is activated by starting hands instead of final hands. You go for a spin anytime your initial hand includes three of a kind. That includes dealt four of a kinds or full houses.

Instead of awarding you a set coin total, the wheel awards you a strong starting hands in multiple hand versions. You could get a Triple Play draw to suited Ace-King-Queen-Jack, suited Ace-King-Queen or suited Ace-2-3-4. You could get a Five Play draw to suited Ace-King-Queen, to three Kings or to 8-8-7-7. You could get a Ten Play draw to a pair of Aces, Ace-King-Queen suited, or 2-5-8-10 suited.

Even Fifty Play and Hundred Play are in the mix. You could get 50 hands starting with 8-8-7-7 or 100 with 2-5-8-10 suited.

Your strategy does not affect the frequency of starting hands, so a payback percentage on the wheel spin can be calculated. Michael Shackelford at wizardofodds.com did the math and came up with 100.9 percent.

So the overall payback percentage is the average of the return on the base game and 100.9 percent on the wheel. If you were to find Bonus Poker with an 8-5 pay table on Wheel Poker Deluxe, the wheel would raise the payback percentage from 99.2 percent with expert play to 99.9 percent. At a 7-5 pay table, Bonus Poker would become a 98.7 percent game instead of 98.0, and at 6-5, it would be 97.8 instead of 96.8.

Because the wheel doesn't spin unless you get the strong starting hands, Wheel Poker Deluxe increases volatility, as do all the extra-bet games. In a cold streak, it will eat your bankroll faster than base games without the extra bet, but when the bonuses come, they can lead to big wins and higher payback percentages.

John is the author of six books on casino games, including "The Slot Machine Answer Book."