The First Video Poker Machine
With the recent rollout of Synergy Table Games as Greektown’s newest (and world-exclusive) attraction, it’s safe to say that we’ve all had electronic table games on our mind here at Greektown Casino. And why not? It’s one of the fastest-developing and probably most-interesting areas of casino gaming around today, thanks to the fast developments in technology allowing for all-new gaming styles to come to the forefront.
But as with any development in technology, these machines didn’t exist in a vacuum, and there were plenty of advancements and iterations of table games along the way to get us to the point we’re at now. Perhaps the area of table gaming that has come the farthest is in the realm of video poker!
Video poker is a pretty common sight among casinos in Detroit (or anywhere, really). Easier to set up than a traditional poker table (and it certainly requires a lot less cards), more accessible to anyone new to the game, and a pretty convenient option all around, video poker is still a top choice among gamers even after all this time. But after all the exciting advancements in poker technology, where did the first video poker machine come from, and what was it like?
To get to the first-ever video poker machine, it’s important to understand why it was made (and who made it). Casino game manufacturers had been trying to find ways to make their games more technologically advanced for years. A company called Nevada Electronics introduced the precursor to the video poker machine in 1964, with a solid-state device called the “21” machine – imagine a cross between poker and a slot machine and you’ll be getting close.
Of course, a few years later we got the first major American video game boom starting with our old favorite Pong, and when that started to get big you saw plenty of other gaming companies stand up and take notice. Most notably among these were Bally, a world-renowned manufacturer of slot machines and pinball tables (as well as beloved 80s arcade games like BurgerTime and TRON) who employed a man named William “Si” Redd to act as a distributor.
Si had noticed the increasing popularity of early video games in bars wherever he went, and decided that Bally needed to get a piece of the action. Working with a Bally engineer, he would go on to develop video poker, blackjack, and keno games to try and pitch to the executives at Bally. Bally, however, initially passed on the idea, as they (like a lot of people in those days) thought the whole video game thing was just a fad. Si then went into business on his own to sell his video poker machines directly to interested casinos and gaming halls, and by 1981 his company, then renamed to International Game Technology (IGT), was going public with their first NASDAQ offering. IGT is still around to this day, continuing to innovate with new slot machines, casino technologies, and more.
The first video poker machine that Si and IGT produced would set the template for the machines to follow. Redd himself described the early machines and how they got so popular, mentioning how they differentiated themselves from other video card games by offering more options and more interaction; the rules of poker caused the machine to function almost closer to a slot machine thanks to the randomness of the hands you might receive, and the longer playtimes than the other card games caused players to get more invested in their games and stay on the machines longer.
And that’s the most impressive thing – despite all the technological advancements and developments that have gone into the electronic table games we have here at Greektown, they wouldn’t do much good if poker itself wasn’t so inherently fun and exciting to play. So why not take a trip on down to Greektown and find out just how far video poker has come in the last 40 years!
(Sorry we don’t have a picture of what the first video poker machine looked like – but if you can imagine a big wood-paneled TV with tons of buttons like your parents used to have at their house, you’re probably pretty close!)