Take a stroll along the floors of land-based casinos and you’re almost guaranteed to find video poker machines adorning the gaming areas. That’s because video poker is still comfortably the second most popular game played in casinos after conventional slot machines.
It’s been a long road to popularity for video poker, which is now played on computerized gaming consoles taking up similar floor space to a slot machine.
The prospect of video poker was conceived in 1891
The origins of video poker begin in the late 19th century, when Sittman & Pitt devised a five-reel poker machine game. Each drum contained ten playing cards and when a coin was entered and the lever pulled, the drums would spin and the symbols land at random. This is similar to how video poker works today, with the randomized outcome of the cards dealt on-screen.
The earliest instances of the arcade-style consoles we see today for video poker were conceived in 1970 by a firm named Dale Electronics. This company pioneered the world’s first genuine video poker machine, which is still revered in the industry today and known as Poker-Matic.
The Poker-Matic machine was an instant hit up and down the iconic Las Vegas Strip. It was installed in almost every casino in Sin City, around the same time as the boom of Atari’s arcade video games; there is now a new Atari 2600+ set for release in November 2023. It provided inspiration for casino game distributors to pioneer new versions, with Bally Gaming’s Si Redd pitching the Video Poker concept to senior executives in the company’s Chicago headquarters. The pitch was unanimously rejected as executives weren’t keen on diverging from the slot machines that’d proven such a commercial hit through the years.
The birth of SIRCOMA
Bally Gaming’s loss was Si Redd’s own gain. Bally Gaming allowed Redd to forge ahead with the concept himself. He formed a company called Si Redd’s Coin Machines (SIRCOMA) and eventually secured a deal with Fortune Coin Company in nearby Reno to produce his visionary arcade-style video poker machines – which he then successfully patented.
By the turn of the 1980s, video poker had established itself as the most successful new game release on the floors of brick-and-mortar casinos in Vegas. The first version released to the mass market was called Draw Poker. Players needed to make a hand worth at least two pairs to win. Although it wasn’t named after the poker game, the hand rankings used in Draw Poker and future versions of video poker are based on Texas Hold’em poker, the most successful poker variant of all. That’s due largely to its simplistic game mechanics as well as players’ ability to utilize several theories and strategies to try and win.
Minor tweaks were made to Draw Poker’s gameplay, such as altering the lowest-ranking winnable hand to having a pair of jacks. Hence the popular Jacks or Better video poker games you’ll still find in casinos and online. SIRCOMA thrived off the back of the commercial success of their video poker machines, eventually going public and rebranding to International Gaming Technology (IGT), a brand that’s still synonymous with land-based casino gaming today.
The variations of video poker consoles in existence today
Deuces Wild is one of the longest-standing variants of video poker. It uses a single deck of 52 virtual playing cards. The twist in this game is that all four deuces (2s) act as “wild cards”. They can be worth any value you need to build a successful hand. The lowest hand you need to win is three-of-a-kind. Landing four wild deuces carries the second highest win behind a Royal Flush.
Tens or Better was also released to try and lower the barrier of entry to wins, requiring a pair of tens or better to win instead of jacks. Joker Poker is another fun twist which appeals to both beginner and experienced video poker players. The joker is live in this game and a wild symbol, which means it can be whatever card value you need it to be to help you win. The rub is that the lowest-value hand you need to win is increased to a pair of kings. There’s even video poker variants with progressive jackpots triggered when making a Royal Flush.
Online variants of video poker have emerged as the iGaming industry’s evolved, but there’s still nothing quite like the thrill of sitting down to a vintage arcade-style video poker console.