Other than the overwhelming number of slot machines that make up the majority of a casino’s gaming menu, video poker is perhaps the most popular option for recreational players. The game is easy to learn, provides players with decision-making abilities that ordinary slots don’t, and offers the tantalizing prospect of a jackpot payout when you catch the perfect combination of cards.
While you’d be hard-pressed to find a casino bar in the gambling areas today that’s not ringed by video poker machines, the game nearly failed to get off the ground upon its inception in the mid-1970s.
Back then the focus for developers like Bally Gaming was expanding their selection of lucrative slot machines, which appealed directly to casual visitors who might not be familiar with the rules and play associated with traditional card games. So when William “Si” Redd pitched a new game called “Video Poker” to Bally Gaming executives 40 years ago, his innovation was quickly shot down as straying too far from the mainstream.
Like most visionaries though, Redd was unfazed by the rejection. When he eventually parted ways with Bally Gaming a few years later, Redd retained the patent for video poker, and he quickly went to work breathing life into his idea. Partnering with the Fortune Coin Company out of Reno, Redd formed Si Redd’s Coin Company (SIRCOMA) and mass production of the first video poker machines began in earnest.
Like any new addition, video poker machines were initially slow to attract patrons, but by 1981 the game had skyrocketed in popularity – becoming the most sought after destination for gamblers looking for an enjoyable entertainment experience.
The widespread adoption of video poker by casual players in the 1980s was based on the game’s interactive and individual nature. Simply put players who found themselves intimidated or uncomfortable trying their hand at table games felt more relaxed and in control while playing video poker.
Utilizing technology that was similar to televisions of the era, Redd’s original video poker machines offered “Draw Poker” on interactive screens, allowing players to discard any of their original five cards.
After being dealt replacements, players hoped to make a minimum poker hand of two pair, with payouts escalating on a sliding scale for each subsequent hand through to the elusive Royal Flush. For just a quarter per hand, gamblers clicked away kept their fingers crossed that the 10-J-Q-K-A of identical suits would flash across their virtual felt.
When the minimum requirement for a winning hand was lowered to “Jacks or Better” – meaning a player need only make one pair of jacks or better to earn their wager back – Redd’s video poker machine skyrocketed in popularity across the country. Redd took SIRCOMA public in 1981, changing the company’s name to International Gaming Technology (IGT), and in the years after he played an active role in expanding video poker.
By adding variants like “Deuces Wild,” “Bonus Poker,” and “Double-Double Bonus,” IGT managed to market video poker to an increasingly diverse audience, transforming video poker from an extension of slot machines into the foundation of a casino’s gaming floor plan.
Today, video poker machines can be found in every casino on the Las Vegas Strip, in addition to countless local casinos throughout the country and in online casinos as well. In Nevada there are even video poker bars that serve drinks and house a dozen or so machines, offering improved odds while catering to the local crowd.
Proving that Si Redd was a man of true vision, even slot machines themselves have been transformed by the advent of video poker, and today “pulling the lever” on a slot really means tapping away at a video touchscreen designed to emulate Redd’s original “Draw Poker” layout.