It’s time for the latest instalment of the “A to Z of Gambling”, in which we take a look at the letter “J”. We’ll be talking about “Jacks Or Better”, the most common form of video poker, as well as the history of the “Joker” found in a traditional deck of playing cards, and also a discussion of how a casino makes its money, via the “Juice”.

J is for… Jacks Or Better

“Jacks Or Better” is the title of the most common form of video poker, a casino game dating back to the late 1970s which somehow remains popular today, despite all the developments in the world of casino gaming.

Video poker is a card game based on five card draw – a variant of poker – which is played on a computer console that is not too dissimilar to a slot machine. The object of the game is to make the highest possible five card poker hand in order to obtain the largest possible returns, in accordance with the game’s payout table.

Although there are many variations on the video poker theme, Jacks Or Better is by far the most prevalent video poker machine found in the casino. Its name is taken from the game’s payout structure – poker hands lower than a pair of jacks do not return anything to the player, so if a player is to collect any money, they literally need to score (a pair of) “Jacks Or Better”.

The standard payout table for a Jacks Or Better video poker game is as follows:

Poker hand – Return
Royal flush – 800
Straight flush – 50
Four of a kind – 25
Full house – 9
Flush – 6
Straight – 4
Three of a kind – 3
Two pair – 2
Jacks or better – 1

The returns represent the amount of coins wagered, so if a video poker player were to wager the maximum of five coins and hit a flush, the returns would be 6 x 5, which is 30 coins.

For a basic Jacks Or Better video poker strategy guide, check out the Jacks or Better strategy article.

J is for… Joker

The “Joker” is a special type of playing card found in the traditional deck of cards, which is not always used. In those card games that do utilise a joker, it is usually a wild card that trumps all other cards.

The origins of the joker are thought to date to sometime around the 1860s and probably come from the card game Euchre. The card is believed to have been introduced to beat the two highest trump cards found in Euchre and the card’s name is likely derived from “Juker”, a mispronunciation of Euchre.

The joker is also connected to the Fool card found in a deck of tarot cards. It is thought that the modern depiction of the joker as a court jester in brightly coloured clothing borrows from the depiction of the Fool as a lute playing jester, back in the late 1800s.

Whilst it may appear counter intuitive to have a foolish entertainer with a low social status as the most powerful card in the deck, worth even more than a King or Queen, it seems that this reasoning may have its roots in the Renaissance. During this time, parts of the world were enjoying greater freedoms and the working classes were becoming more valuable to society, a fact that may have been noted in the deck of cards by the elevation of the humble joker to such a powerful status.

The joker is also a highly coveted playing card by modern day collectors, owing to its wide variety of colourful incarnations.

J is for… Juice

Everyone knows that casino always makes a profit, but how do they do it? They don’t cheat by stacking blackjack decks and they don’t have complicated systems in place to predict the outcome of where the ball will land on the roulette wheel, so what is it that ensures that casinos will never go broke?

The answer is the house edge, which is often referred to as the “Vigorish” or the “Juice”. The exact mechanics of the juice varies depending on the game and the ability or style of the players within those games, but the premise is very simple – all games found in the casino have a small, built in, statistical discrepancy that favours the house.

The juice may be very obvious, such as in the card room, where anyone winning a hand of poker will be contributing to the “Rake”. The rake is a small percentage of each pot that is taken out and given to the house to cover expenses.

In other casino games, such as roulette or craps, each bet has the juice built in. For example, a winning bet on a single number pays out at 35/1, though the true odds of winning are actually 36/1 (European Roulette) and 37/1 (American Roulette).

If you wagered £1 on every number on the European Roulette wheel, you would spend £37 (numbers 1 to 36, plus 0, for a total of 37 bets) and the winning number would pay out £36 (£1 at 35/1 = £35, plus the original £1 bet for a total of £36). As you will note, this is a total loss of £1 (£37 wagered, £36 returned).

Of course, nobody would try doing that at the roulette wheel. But you aren’t the only one playing at that roulette wheel and in all likelihood, the table will be covered with bets. Plus there will be more than one wheel, with plenty more players at each one. In the long run, the casino keeps taking that small amount of money – the juice – from spin after spin, at all of the different tables, which soon adds up.

Casino games such as blackjack have a variable house edge, depending on the strategy employed by the player. Against a typical player, who has a little knowledge of the game, the house will be playing with an advantage of around 2%, though a terrible player who has no idea how to play blackjack could be looking at a far greater house edge. In theory, by counting cards and playing with the correct strategy, blackjack players can completely eliminate the juice and even turn the game into a slightly profitable venture.

Until the next instalment of our A to Z of gambling, stay lucky!