An Abridged History of Video Poker Machines

The history of video poker is deep and rich (in more ways than one). In this abridged version of the story, we’ll leave out the boring details, focusing only on the early history and a few other important aspects that helped shaped the live and online gambling world as we know it.

I should point out that the first poker machines and slot machines were invented in tandem. And that’s where our story begins…

Early History of Poker Machines

First Poker Machine Design by Sittman and Pitt CoThe very first poker machine was created by Brooklyn-based Sittman and Pitt Company in 1891. It was a simple, mechanical design, with playing cards attached to 5 rolling drums, 10 cards per drum. When played, the drums would roll around and stop at random, depicting a 5-card poker hand.

In 1898, Charles Fey, who had invented the first slot machine a few years earlier, made a huge step in the history of video poker. His version, the Card Bell, was nearly identical to the first, but was able to pay out coins to players when they won.

In 1901, Fey made another huge leap in video poker development by inventing a machine with a “Hold” option. Players could push a button below each drum to hold a card in place, then re-spin the drums to “Draw” new cards in place of those that weren’t held. Thus, Fey had created the very first 5-card poker machine with a draw feature.

Other companies, including Sittman & Pitt, began copying this design, and it remained in place for many decades.

It’s also worth noting that these early designs held only 50 cards, not 52. Most often, it was the 10 of Spades and Jack of Hearts that were missing. The majority of players never realized it, but this meant the odds of a Royal Flush were cut in half, being impossible to produce in spades or hearts.

History of Video Poker Machines

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the term “video poker” was established, essentially using a television screen to display electronically-generated cards.

First, Dale Electronics built the ‘Poker-Matic‘ in 1970, using a video screen to display the game. They were placed in every casino in Las Vegas, but didn’t catch on too well with players.

Early SIRCOMA Video Poker MachineA few years later, William “Si” Redd, a distributor for Bally’s, came up with a new version. He called it ‘Video Poker‘, and it was based on the popular game of Jacks or Better 5-card draw. He pitched the invention to Bally’s execs in Chicago, but they turned him down. They also let him walk out the door with the patent – a big mistake!

Mr. Redd immediately took his idea to Fortune Coin Company in Reno, and found them much more receptive. Together, they formed Si Redd’s Coin Machines (aka SIRCOMA) in 1978.

By 1981, his video poker games were the most fascinating addition to casinos in Las Vegas and beyond.

Recent History of Video Poker

The technology used to create video poker games has certainly advanced over the years, giving us access to cutting-edge, physical video poker machines, online video poker, and even mobile video poker games. But the real progression came by way of variations to the rules.

The old-fashioned draw poker games required players to achieve a hand of 2-pair or better to produce a win. SICOMA’s video poker machines allowed players to win with a single (but high ranking, Jacks or better) pair of cards. This resulted in the mass popularity early video poker machines failed to achieve.

Finally grasping the relationship between player advantages and popularity, many more variants were created over the past few decades. We now see games like Aces and Faces and Tens or Better, plus video poker variants with wild cards in the mix, like Deuces Wild and Joker Poker. There’s even multi-hand games where players can draw cards on a single hand to produce 5, 10, 20, 50 even 100 video poker hands all at once.

In wrapping up this history of video poker, it’s worth noting that Si Redd’s company, SIRCOMA, went public in 1981. When it did, Mr. Redd changed the name to International Game Technology, aka IGT. It’s known throughout the casino world as one of the largest and most successful gambling machine manufacturers in existence.

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