The video poker machine is one of the more recent additions to the casino floor. It was first introduced to Nevada casinos in the 1970’s and has since exploded to the point where it is ubiquitous in casinos everywhere. The game has since become one of the most popular games online as well. Video poker has grown from a basic ‘Jacks or Better’ game to encompass countless varieties in a multitude of denominations. Even in an industry where video based slot machines that place as much of an emphasis on entertainment as gaming functionality video poker maintains a strong presence in both land based and online casinos.

Although the first video poker machines in their current form were introduced in the 1970’s the general concept is nothing new. The poker metaphor has been used by slot machines and pinball machines for decades. In fact, the first mechanical video poker games date back to the late 1800’s. They enjoyed some popularity during the early part of the 20th century but the technology just wasn’t there to make them a viable game on a large scale. Pinball machines have used poker themes since their early days and they have remained popular all the way through today.


My most accounts the first video poker machine was released in 1891 by the Brooklyn based Sittman and Pitt Company. This game had more in common with a slot machine than a modern video poker machine. It had five reels each with ten different playing cards. The player would insert a coin and pull the handle to make the drums spin. Once they stopped the five spots would form a poker hand. . This machine contained five drums each having ten different playing cards. Once a coin was inserted and the handle pulled, the drums would spin. Each drum would eventually stop on a card making up the final poker hand. Several years later the man known as the ‘father of the slot machine’, Charles Fey, created a game called ‘Card Bell’. It was similar in many ways to it’s predecessor but could automatically pay out cash prizes of up to 20 coins for a royal flush.

Fey further refined this concept in 1901 with a new game called ‘Skill Draw’ which used the ‘hold’ feature for the first time. After the first spin a player could hold one or more cards and then ‘draw’ by re-spinning the reels in hopes of improving the hand. Technically, this was the first 5 card draw poker machine. Not long after, Sittman and Pitt began to make machines with their version of the ‘draw’ feature. These games became extremely popular to the point where the manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand. These games became commonplace in liquor stores and cigar shops all over the United States.


Most players cared little about things like ‘odds’ and ‘expected value’ at that point and the design of the games reflected just how un-savvy the gambling public was. These games were purportedly based on a 52 card deck but actually had only 50 cards. Typically, the ten of spades and jack of hearts were eliminated. Players didn’t realize that it was impossible to make a royal flush in spades or hearts.

The popularity of these games was interesting in that gambling was illegal virtually everywhere in the United States. As has been the case at various points throughout history winning players were compensated ‘under the table’, typically with non-cash rewards like cigars, cigarettes, drinks, etc. This practice remains commonplace in certain jurisdictions even today–Japanese pachinko parlors, for example, offer prizes that players can exchange for cash at third party ‘brokers’ nearby.