Video Poker is so much a part of the casino experience now, but until the 1970’s casinos had basically table games and traditional reel type slot machines. Whereas slot machines are purely based on chance, Video Poker machines involve skill and strategy and are ideal for those who enjoy Poker, but not necessarily playing with others. They are immensely popular today.
The First Poker Machines
The very first ancestor of Video Poker machines really had more in common with a slot machine. It was released in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt Company in Brooklyn in the United States. It had 5 reels each with 10 cards. A coin was inserted, and a handle pulled, and when the drums stopped spinning, the five cards showing formed a Poker hand.
A few years later, a man named Charles Fey invented a similar machine called the “Card Bell”. The main difference was that it could automatically pay out cash prizes for a royal flush. In 1901 he further refined the concept with a game called “Skill Draw”. After the first spin, a player was able to hold one or more cards and draw by spinning again to hopefully improve his hand. The draw feature meant players were now able to influence the outcome of the game, rather than the game being only based on luck.
Sittman and Pitt then made their version of a game with a draw option and these became extremely popular. They were mostly illegal but appeared all over in liquor stores and cigar shops. To circumvent the legality, prizes were paid out in non-cash prizes such as cigars or cooldrinks.
Many players didn’t realise that although the game was naturally based on a 52-card deck, the machines had only 50 cards, therefore making it impossible to achieve a royal flush in tow out of the four suits.
The Advent Of Computers And Video
In the mid-1970’s personal computers entered our lives and the gambling industry. The first Video Poker machine called Poker-Matic, was similar to the television screens of the time, just attached to a central processing unit. It was widely installed in Las Vegas casinos, but didn’t take off as players seemed reluctant to trust a machine without seeing the reels spinning.
Si Redd a distributor working for the Bally Distributing Company proposed a game called Video Poker to the executives who didn’t take the idea on board. They let him keep the patent and he took his idea to the Fortune Coin Company in Reno. Together they formed the company Sircoma and rolled out mass production of the machines.
By 1979 the game Draw Poker became was distributed across the United States and by 1980 the company became internationally successful, changing its name to International Game Technology.
The 1980’s saw huge growth in Video Poker due to its wide range of betting options, wide availability, higher payout and lower variance and the screen and draw feature.
In time, as technology advanced, the addition of touchscreen made the game even more popular bringing us to where we are today.