The History of Video Poker

Video poker machines are available in thousands of local casinos and gambling establishments around the world and in hundreds of other places online. It seems like they have been around forever, just like slot machines.

While slot machines have been around for well over 100 years, video poker machines are less than 40 years old.

How Video Poker Machines Work

Want to understand the history of video poker games?

It helps to understand how the machines work.

The complicated nature of the game delayed the introduction of the modern day video poker games until the 1970s.

Video poker machines are based on a deck of cards like those used in regular poker games. Some games have wild cards or jokers, but they’re all based on poker.

Hand rankings follow standard poker rules:

The royal flush is the best possible hand, and not even having a pair is the worst possible hand.

Games with wild cards introduce the possibility of having five of a kind, which rank above a royal flush. Pay tables are displayed on every machine and / or screen so you can quickly see the rank of hands for the particular game you play.

Here is a simplified version of how video poker machines work:

This game uses a standard 52 card deck of playing cards.

The 52 cards are randomly shuffled, and five of the cards are displayed for the player to see. The player may keep as many of the five cards as she wants and discard the others. The discards are replaced by new cards drawn from the original 52 card deck.

Only 47 cards are left in the deck after the first five cards are dealt, and the replacements come from these 47 cards.

In other words, you can’t get two of the same card, like two aces of spades, in the same hand.

If you could design a machine to use an actual deck of cards and complete the actions listed above, video poker machines would use real cards.

But they don’t have to because computers make it easier to operate and more user friendly for the players.

Video poker machines use computer chips to control the cards and inner workings of the game play and video technology to display the results onto a screen for the players to see.

Using a standard deck of playing cards, the computer assigns a number to each of the 52 different cards.

For example, the ace of spades may be number 0 and the two of spades may be number 1, and the three of spades may be assigned the number 2, all the way through the king of clubs assigned the number 51. The 52 numbers, ranging from 0 through 51, are randomly chosen when a player starts to play.

All 52 cards are placed in a random order at the start of the hand and cards are taken from the top of the virtual deck. In a game with five cards, the first five cards are displayed from the top of the virtual stack.

Once the player decides which cards to discard, the replacement cards are displayed from the stack of remaining cards.

When the final hand is completed, the computer compares the hand to the payout chart to see if the player has completed a hand high enough to win. If they have, the computer credits the player’s balance with the correct winning amount and waits until the next hand is started.

When the next hand starts, the 52 numbers representing the cards are randomly shuffled and placed in a new stack or deck.

Many believe the issue with creating video poker machines before the use of computers was the difficulty in shuffling and displaying the cards. While this would create a challenge, the more difficult issue was attaching the cards displayed to the pay tables and assigning proper pay outs.

The other issue was there were no easy ways to deal with replacing discarded cards with new ones from the remaining cards. Think about how this could be handled, and you’ll quickly see why the computer was the launching point for the video poker machine industry.

The closest thing you could build before the use of computers would be a poker game along the following lines. It would have four reels, each with 13 symbols. Each reel would hold all 13 cards of the same suit.

At the beginning of each game all four reels would spin and stop on one of the 13 places. The player could lock in any of the four reels and re-spin the others.

Prizes could be paid out for four of a kind, three of a kind, pairs and straights.

Compare this simplified machine with what you can play in today’s casinos.

Much like old slot machines that had actual reels inside of the cabinet instead of just displayed on a screen, the cabinet would have had to have been too large to hold all of the mechanisms required to build a video poker machine like we have today.

The First Video Poker Machines

When you start researching the dates of significant introductions in the history of video poker, you’ll see many vague dates like the “mid 70s” or “late 1970s”. You may also find links to machines introduced in bars in the 1890’s.

I’ve tried to present a clear picture of all of these dates and their importance below.

I also explain why video poker really wasn’t launched until 1979.

A company called Sittman and Pitt built gaming machines starting in the late 1800s. These machines were much like the simple machine described above, with drums holding cards.

Prizes were usually drinks or cigars. The machine had to be kept on the bar because the bar keeper or owner had to see the results and pay out any wins.

These machines aren’t anything like what we use today.

The next big development in gaming happened in 1898 when Charles Fey created the first slot machine. It was called the Liberty Bell and worked much like the machines Sittman and Pitt produced except it used symbols instead of cards.

In 1901, Fey introduced a skill draw game that allowed players to hold one or more of the reels and re-spin the others. This is the earliest example of a game where you can hold a reel or reels.

Nothing of importance happened for the next 70 years in video poker development.

Once computers started being used for commercial applications in the early 1970s, modern video poker type machines quickly started being developed. These early machine were quite primitive in comparison to today’s machines, but they were light years ahead of anything produced before.

Dale Electronics introduced a machine called the Poker Matic video poker game in the 1970’s and some credit it with the birth of modern video poker. These machines were placed in casinos in either 1970 or 1971.

The true birth of the modern video poker machines happened in 1979, when Si Redd launched the game Draw Poker.

People credit Si Redd (and not Dale Electronics) with the birth of modern video poker has to do with how huge IGT (Redd’s company) became in the gambling world. Redd single handedly fueled the explosion of popularity in video poker in the early 1980s. The machines produced by Dale Electronics failed to gain much of a following.

Si Redd worked for Bally and pitched his idea for Draw Poker to their executives. Bally decided against it, and Redd ended up with the patent when he sold his distribution company. He established a company called SIRCOMA in conjunction with a company called Fortune Coin Company.

SIRCOMA stood for Si Redd’s Coin Machines.

Soon after, Redd took the company public under the name of International Game Technology, or IGT. (IGT became one of the biggest names in the gambling market, partially because of their popular video poker games.)

Redd’s original draw poker game had a low paying hand of two pair. They changed this to a low paying hand of a pair of jacks or better. The better odds of hitting a small win increased the popularity of the game.

This was the first version of the popular Jacks or Better video poker variation.

These early video poker machines lacked the advanced video graphics that today’s machines have but the internal workings haven’t changed much. Of course there are hundreds of video poker varieties and thousands of different pay tables, but they’re all still based on the basic computer concepts discussed above.

Online Video Poker

When online casinos started popping up in the 1990s they started including popular video poker games just like the ones you could find in the land based casinos.

Popular games like Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild are just as popular online as they are in local casinos.

Modern Video Poker

New versions of video poker games are introduced all the time, but many of them seem to fade quickly like many other fads. Players tend to gravitate back to the games they know.

This is because once the novelty of a new game wears off; the players don’t really know the best way to play.

Casinos love it when players don’t know how to play the optimum strategy for new games.

Here’s why:

Players make more mistakes, and the casinos make more money.

One thing the casinos have done, both online and off, to increase the play on popular video poker games is make them available in more than one hand.

Here’s an example:

Some machines let you play 5, 10, 52 or 100 hands of Jacks or Better or Deuces Wild at the same time.

You still start with a single five card hand, but when you choose which cards to keep and which ones to discard, your held cards are held in all of the hands. Each hand is dealt from its own deck of cards, so you end up with different hands.

For example, if you hold three sevens in a 10 hand Jacks or Better game, you’ll receive two new cards to go with your sevens in each of the 10 hands.

You might get a fourth seven in one hand and a pair of threes in another and nothing in the other eight hands. Every hand will have a one out of 47 chance of drawing the last seven from the remaining cards.

Always check the pay table on multi hand video poker games. Many places that offer the best pay tables for single hand games reduce the table pay out on multi hand games. I see this on Jacks or Better often, when a 9 / 6 machine is reduced to an 8 / 5 pay table when you go from a single hand to multiple hands.


Depending on how you want to view history, video poker has been around for over 120 years or less than 40. It doesn’t really matter in the end, but we wouldn’t have the advanced video poker games and graphics that we have today without the early companies like Dale Electronics and SIRCOMA and people like Si Redd.

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