Author: Jonathan Turner
Video Poker is one of the most popular games in both brick and mortar casinos and online casinos, and the game has a fascinating history – from its earliest iterations to the versions now played today.
While video poker machines are typically traced back to 1970, the origins of the game go back much further – all the way back to 1891. That was when the New York-based Sittman and Pitt Company created the first video poker game that would forge the foundations of the machine game that would eventually be rolled out at casinos in Las Vegas, and ultimately around the world.
The original game had five drums – now known as reels – and each drum had images of 10 playing cards. A player would insert a coin into the machine, pull the lever, and wait for the machine to provide a combination of the 10 cards across the five drums to make a poker hand.
Charles Fey – credited as the man who invented the very first slot machine – then refined this video poker machine in 1898 by inventing the Card Bell, which paid out up to 20 coins for a royal flush. Fey wasn’t done there, however, and in 1901 added a hold feature that allowed players to hold one or more of the cards and re-spin the rest. This machine was called the Skill Draw poker machine.
It was the Skill Draw poker machine that made these games stand out when compared to regular slot games, as it gave the players a measure of control over the cards, rather than the blind luck players rely on when playing regular slots.
Fascinatingly, these machines only had 50 cards instead of 52 – which makes sense considering they were designed with 10 cards per five reels. Typically, it was the 10 of Spades and Jack of Hearts that were excluded, which therefore reduced the odds of a royal flush by 50 percent.
Following these early versions, it wasn’t until 1970 that video poker machines started to appear more commonly. A machine created by Dale Electronics called Poker-Matic was introduced to casinos throughout Las Vegas, but interestingly the game was not all that popular. Given the boom of casino poker at the time, this video version failed to capture casino-goers’ interests.
That all changed, albeit gradually, when a man named William ‘Si’ Redd came on to the scene. Redd pitched his version of a machine he called Video Poker to the bosses of his company in Chicago, which they outright rejected.
After taking over the patent, Redd formed Si Redd’s Coin Machines (SIRCOMA) after striking a deal with Fortune Coin Company. After releasing his version of the video poker machine, interest started to increase and by 1981 it was one of the most popular games in casinos across Las Vegas.
Video poker still needed a lot of refining, most importantly determining the house edge that would make it worth casinos’ time to house the machines on their floors. This process involved dozens of people playing video poker for weeks and recording their results, which were then used to determine the house edge. And if you think, everything nowadays is done just by creating algorithms!
From there, video poker has evolved and is no longer limited to casino floors but is one of the most popular games in online casinos.
Sports betting – like betting on NFL Super Bowl favorites, winners of the English Premier League, and horse racing – makes up the majority of online gambling, but there is still a massive industry for online casinos, and video poker makes up a crucial section of that industry.
And to think it all began nearly 130 years ago with a humble five-drum slot machine in Brooklyn…