VIDEO POKER ENTERS THE MODERN ERA

Video poker machines have been a common sight in casinos since the 1970’s but many players don’t realize that machines using the same basic concept date back to the late 1800’s. These early video poker machines had more in common with slot machines than their modern counterpart but introduced poker hands as a method of grading winning spins. In addition, the first machines that offered a ‘draw’ feature where the player could drop weak cards and draw to improve the hand date back to 1901.

At some point in the early decades of the 20th century the popularity of these prototypical video poker machines died out. One problem was that gambling was illegal virtually everywhere in the United States. Payouts were made ‘under the table’ and this proved to be cumbersome for players and store owners alike. During the ‘Roaring 20’s’, gambling became a target of Federal law enforcement which also made operating these machines much more difficult. After the early video poker machines released during the early 1900’s the industry became dormant until the 1970’s.

TECHNOLOGY CREATES NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Interesting, video poker wasn’t an immediate hit in casinos. The first machines were released in 1970 by Dale Electronics under the ‘Pokermatic’ name. They were initially popular with casino operators and for a time could be found in just about every property in Nevada. It physically resembled modern video poker machines but didn’t catch on with players. Dale Electronics was primarily an arcade game manufacturer–the ‘Pokermatic’ game would be one of only two casino games released by the company. Dale Electronics would also release a pioneering ‘video craps’ game in 1974 called ‘Auto Craps’ which didn’t gain a lot of traction either. Both the video poker and craps games were clearly ahead of their time by several years.

By the mid 1970’s, technology had started to catch up with the ambitious designs of game manufacturers. The video poker era really began in the mid 1970’s when a slot machine distributor named Si Redd pitched slot machine/pinball powerhouse Bally Manufacturing with a new type of casino game. Bally had a good deal of respect for Redd–he’s credited with many slot machine innovations during this time–but decided to take a pass on his ‘draw poker’ concept not wanting to deviate from the product mix that had made them a ton of money. They let Redd patent the draw poker concept and within a few months he’d brokered a deal with Fortune Coin Company in Reno to form Si Redd’s Coin Machines (or SIRCOMA for short) and manufacture his ‘patented’ draw poker machines. They began to show up on casino floors toward the end of the 1970’s and while they weren’t an immediate hit they began to slowly but surely catch on with players. This steady growth continued and by the early 1980’s video poker was a very popular casino game.

VIDEO POKER HITS THE BIG TIME

As you’ve probably guessed, Redd was on his way to becoming a very wealthy man. In 1982, he took SIRCOMA public with a new name: International Gaming Technologies or IGT. IGT remains one of the biggest players in the gaming industry with a market cap of $4.95 billion. Redd’s original ‘Draw Poker’ game has many similarities to its modern day counterpart. One early innovation was a change in the pay structure. The first versions of the game paid on two pairs or higher. Early on, Redd decided to change the game to pay out on a pair of ‘Jacks or Better’ and that’s when the game really began to catch on with players. Video poker was a pioneering game and would inspire the first video slot machines.

With the endless advances in technology have come an explosion of innovation in video poker. The early machines could only accommodate one variation of the game (Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Jokers Wild) and only one denomination. If casino managers wanted to change the product mix on their floors it required a good deal of effort–best case scenario they could ‘swap out’ the interior components of each game. In most cases, however, it required physically removing machines and hauling in new machines to replace them.

Today that is no longer the case. Technology allows machines that offer dozens of video poker variations along with slot and keno games at a variety of denominations. Many let the player choose the game and denomination they want to play while others let the casino change games in a flash from a central server.