Since practically everyone learned to play five card draw poker at their kitchen table when they were growing up, practically everyone understands enough about poker in order to play video poker games. And who wouldn’t want to parlay that common skill-set into a million dollars or more? Don’t scoff; Bob Dancer won over $1 million over a six month period in Las Vegas, all because of video poker.
Free video poker is a great way to get started, especially if you don’t have the bankroll to play for real money. All online casinos offer “play money” casino games that you can play either using software or your browser. These kinds of games are perfect for familiarizing yourself with how the pieces move, so to speak. Someone who’s completely new to the game might be confused about the hold/discard options, and learning how to negotiate the buttons might be simple enough once you’ve played a few times, but why not play a few times without any money at stake? That way you can learn without losing money because of boneheaded mistakes caused by your lack of familiarity with how the game works.
You could also learn how to play video poker from reading the articles on this website or on many of the other sites on the subject. Or you could read one of the excellent books on the subject. But for most people, direct experience of a game interface is a faster way to learn than just reading about the subject.
Keep in mind that just playing free video poker games won’t necessarily improve your skills as a video poker player. You still need to memorize the appropriate strategies in order to become an expert player. This requires some rote memorization, even if it’s not of a strategy table—you can learn the right way to play by memorizing specific principles, too. But most free games won’t offer you that kind of training.
Heck, even once you’ve memorized most of the strategy needed to play as an expert, you should still put in some time practicing before putting any money on the line. It’s one thing to know something—it’s something else to know something and then put it into practice. In other words, there’s no substitute for experience. Whether you gain that experience while putting money on the line or not—that’s the decision.
Another use for free games is deciding which games you want to play. You might find that you hate Jacks or Better but love Deuces Wild, or vice versa. Then again, you might not like ANY video poker game besides Pickem Poker. No matter what your preference turns out to be, wouldn’t it be better to discover your preferences without risking your precious funds?
Of course, it’s good to be familiar with and proficient at multiple games, because the games with the best payout tables are going to vary from casino to casino. You might find a casino in Las Vegas that only offers 7/5 Jacks or Better, but they have a number of NSU (not-so-ugly) Deuces Wild games. The difference in payout percentages between these two games is significant (96.15% versus 99.73%), but if you only know how to play one of the games, you’re out of luck.
You can find free video poker games in places other than online gaming websites, too. Most sites who offer these freebie games support themselves via advertising. When you play a new hand, the screen refreshes, and every hand you play provides the site owner with an additional ad impression. Since site owners get paid per 1000 impressions, this can become lucrative quickly.
The benefit to playing at one of these kinds of sites is that you can avoid the temptation (and the sales pitch) of signing up for the Internet casino in question. Of course, depending on what else is being advertised, and how susceptible you are to this advertising
I know of at least one site where you really can get something for nothing. They offer a free sweepstakes to players who win a certain pre-defined minimum number of credits on their free slot machine games. Since these credits are the virtual equivalent of Monopoly money, if you have a small chance of winning anything at all, your expected value is essentially infinite.
What is expected value? It’s the average of the results of a tremendous number of repetitions of a bet. It’s the amount you can expect to win or lose on each bet given an almost infinite number of bets. Professional gamblers (including casinos) use expected value (EV) as a means of determining the attractiveness of a bet. It’s a simple enough calculation, too.
Here’s how you calculate it. You take the odds of winning and multiply that by the amount you stand to win. Then you take the odds of losing and multiply that by the amount you stand to lose. So if you’re flipping a coin, and you win $1 every time you call it correctly, and you lose every time you call it incorrectly, your expected value is $0. You’ll win and lose in equal amounts over a large enough number of repetitions.
With a free slot machine game that offers any kind of chance of winning a prize, you have no loss to factor in. Over an infinite number of repetitions, your winnings would theoretically be infinite, while your losses would be 0.
Of course, in practical terms, you’d never be able to get anything close to an infinite number of repetitions. Nor would you want to. Even the most obsessive of slot zombies will get bored with playing for Monopoly money eventually, even if they stand the chance of winning $50 or $100 every once in a blue moon.
Still, it’s nice to know that an activity as seemingly meaningless and pointless as playing free slots can have a tangible reward.
Most online casinos make the bulk of their money from slots players. The oft-quoted percentage of 70% is probably an understatement of how much of an online casino’s profits come from the one-armed bandits. But if you’re new to the world of Internet casinos, how do you know whether or not you’ll enjoy playing the games at a given website?
The casinos make it easy for you. They offer free versions of their games that you can play in order to try out the software. Sometimes these require a download, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. You can now try it before you buy it with free casino games that work on almost any device—not just your desktop computer, but also your tablet or your cell phone.
I’ve seen some speculation about the free versions of these games that’s worth sharing though. I have no way of knowing how accurate these observations are, but I trust the lady who shared them with me. This is pure speculation and completely anecdotal; I won’t share the name of the casino.
My friend tried the free casino games at a particular casino. She occasionally received advertisements from within the game encouraging her to try playing for real money. But she noticed something odd about her number of credits in the free version of the casino.
They kept going up.
She kept winning. If you’ve ever played at a real money casino, online or otherwise, you know that over time, a casino gambler’s bankroll doesn’t gradually get bigger. It gradually gets smaller. That’s because the games are designed to give the casino a mathematical edge over the player. The payouts for your winnings pay off at lower odds than your odds of winning would dictate in a “fair” game.
Her theory was that the free games were designed in the opposite manner, giving the player a small edge over the house. That’s why her bankroll kept growing. She was consistently winning more than she was losing, or at least she thought she was. She’s convinced that the casino set the free games up this way in order to encourage players to switch to the real money games. If it’s this easy to win on the free version of the games, why wouldn’t you want to try the real money games?
Of course, real money casinos don’t stay in business long by offering games with a long term positive expectation.
Free slots are more interesting than you’d initially expect them to be. The Internet has created these new factors to think about. In fact, before the Internet, people didn’t even think about free slot machine games much at all. They can be a fun diversion, but they can also be used as bait to lure gamblers into real money gambling on the Web. As long as you’re aware of that going in, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional free game.