Slot machines have been in North American casinos since the 1930s and by the 1960’s had carved out their own niche. By the 1970’s, slots had exploded in popularity to the point where it became essentially a 50/50 split of floor space between them and table games which had long been dominant in the casino. In the mid-1970’s, TV-like video monitors had come down in price and improved in quality. Slots quickly jumped on board the bandwagon and despite some initial resistance ‘video slots’ became the norm. It wasn’t long before the slots would have company—the video poker machine.
Keep in mind that this was decades removed from the immersive and interactive slot machines of today. At the time, the majority of slot machines were traditional reel slots or video representations of traditional reel slots. Aside from the theming, aesthetics and pay structure there was little to differentiate one from another. Gameplay was similar and the overall experience on every slot machine had one clear commonality—once a coin was inserted there was nothing the player could to influence the outcome. The outcome was also electromagnetically and ultimately computer controlled and completely random. This meant that there was no real strategy involved—there were myths and superstitions but a player’s skill or experience level just didn’t matter.
ENTER THE VIDEO POKER MACHINE
Video poker machines appeared on casino floors very quietly with no fanfare whatsoever. They were part of an early attempt create a machine based version of other casino games like blackjack and roulette. Like most of the original ‘video casino’ games, the first video poker machines failed to gain traction with players. Things would be different starting in 1979 when a company called Si Redd’s Coin Machines and trading under the name SIRCOMA introduced a game called ‘Draw Poker’. The game was a hit, the company later re-branded as International Gaming Technologies (IGT) and the ‘Draw Poker’ gameplay format has been the foundation for every video poker game released since.
Video poker slowly introduced new variations first with wild cards (‘Jokers Wild’ and ‘Deuces Wild’) and later with variations to the pay table and game play itself. In the 1980’s, video poker exploded and at one point looked like it would render the traditional slot machine irrelevant. Interestingly, while slot machines have reached a point where they have little in common with the traditional three reel machine video poker has maintained much of its original identity. Instead of turning the experience into a multimedia extravaganza, video poker manufacturers have used the improvements in digital technology to introduce innovations like ‘multi-line’ play where players can deal up to 100 hands at once. Even today, most video poker machines have an very traditional rule set (‘Jacks or Better’, ‘Jokers Wild’, ‘Deuces Wild’ or ‘Bonus Poker’) as its foundation.
A GREAT GAME FOR BETTORS
Players have stayed loyal to video poker for several significant reasons. It can be a more cerebral game than the slot machine. You can mindlessly press buttons if you want but you can also implement actual strategies both in terms of machine selection and gameplay. With proper play strategy video poker offers some of the most player friendly odds of any casino game. There’s also a common contextual framework to the games—52 cards in a deck. A player can always calculate the odds of drawing a certain card in video poker. With a slot machine, there’s never any way of figuring the ‘true odds’ of hitting a winning hand.
Video poker has become a staple of online casinos for the same reasons and for the fact that it translates from a land based casino almost perfectly. For most people, they’ll have a much easier time finding a ‘player friendly’ rule set with favorable odds online. Players in the major cities of Nevada (Las Vegas, Reno) can still choose from a decent variety of games but just about everywhere else you’ll find better paying, more enjoyable games online than at any casino in your area.