Video poker still has a place on many casino floors today. You can find a solid variety of video poker machines in online and land-based casinos.
However, video poker has definitely seen better days. It’s no longer the major hit that it was in the 1990s and before. Furthermore, it doesn’t offer the same number of high-paying machines as it once did.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if the video poker scene is dead. I’m going to discuss the history of this game, including its boom years, along with if it’s now on its way out of casinos.
The Rise of Video Poker
After starting his career in the jukebox industry, William “Si” Redd switched gears and got into gaming. His company worked under Bally Manufacturing and was eventually bought out by Bally.
The latter had pioneered video poker. However, Bally didn’t have much success with these machines and, as a result, failed to see much potential.
Redd, meanwhile, had a different vision and bought the rights to video poker from Bally. He launched Si Redd Coin Machines (SIRCOMA) and began producing a Draw Poker machine.
Draw Poker became the first real money video poker game to truly take off. It was a hit in the early 1980s and inspired SIRCOMA to begin producing more variations.
Thanks to the success of video poker, Redd quickly expanded his company and changed the name to International Game Technology (IGT). He wanted a name that better represented the company’s proposed audience. Today, IGT is one of the biggest names in both video poker and slot machines.
Why Video Poker First Became Popular
Up until the mid-1970s, all machine-based casino gaming revolved around slots. Back then, many gamblers loved the simplicity and big prizes involved with slot machines.
However, there was an in-between crowd that existed at the time too. This crowd was intimidated by table games, but also not thrilled with the skill-based play involved with slot machines.
Video poker offered a nice medium between the two extremes. It allowed gamblers to play another machine-based game besides slots.
Eventually, video poker became more than just the skill-based version of slots. Some variations that IGT released allowed players to actually gain an edge over the house.
The best games for beating the casino at the time included:
- Draw Till U Win – 103.20% RTP
- Deuces Wild – 100.76%
- Joker Wild (Kings or Better) – 100.65%
- 10/7 Double Bonus – 100.17%
- 10/6 Double Double Bonus – 100.07%
Draw Till U Win isn’t available today. However, you can still find full-pay Deuces Wild, 10/7 Double Bonus, and 10/6 Double Double Bonus in certain Las Vegas casinos.
Getting back to the subject, some gamblers began seeking out video poker for the edge that it could provide them. Assuming one used perfect video poker strategy, they could earn a decent amount of money from these games.
After all, some full-pay Deuces Wild machines featured a dollar coin denomination (instead of quarters today). Here’s a look at how much one could stand to win from such a machine:
- A gambler uses perfect strategy on full-pay Deuces Wild (100.76% RTP).
- They play five coins worth $1 in each hand.
- They play 800 hands per hour.
- 800 x 5 x 0.0076 = $30.40 in hourly winnings
Even games that don’t offer a long-term edge, such as 9/6 Jacks or Better, could still provide profits when including VIP rewards. If one found a 0.5% comp rate and played 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54% RTP) perfectly, they earned theoretical profits.
The skill-based play, high RTP, and solid VIP rewards all combined to make video poker a hit throughout the 1980s and 90s. It never quite usurped slot machines as the game of choice, but it was at least close to slots regarding popularity.
Stagnation & Lack of Innovation
Slot machines are just as popular today as they were several decades ago. The main reason why is that developers have been good about keeping up with innovative slots features.
They no longer roll out classic three-reel slots with fruit symbols. Instead, they produce games with high-quality graphics and many features.
To be fair, IGT has produced some inventive variations. Hot Roll, for example, gives you a chance to roll virtual dice to obtain a win multiplier ranging from 1x to 6x.
IGT also produces multi-hand machines. These games allow you to play anywhere from 3 to 100 hands in each round.
As for the look and feel of video poker, though, nothing has really changed. Each variation still feels like it’s stuck in the 1980s.
Video Slots Zoom Past Video Poker
Classic slot machines were still popular well into the 1970s. However, developers reached a point where they couldn’t do much more with the mechanical setup.
They couldn’t add 20 paylines or throw in exciting animations due to the mechanical reels. The advent of video slot machines in the seventies solved this problem.
A video slot runs on computer technology rather than mechanics. It allows game providers to program a wide range of formats and bonus features.
Megaways is a perfect example of what developers can do today. The Megaways engine sees each reel hold a random number of symbols.
A common setup includes every reel holding between two and seven symbols. Whenever all of the reels are at max height, 117,649 ways are possible (7x7x7x7x7x7).
Of course, it took a while to get from a five-reel, 10-payline slot to Megaways. But the continuous improvements on video slots have made them vastly superior to video poker machines.
These two types of gaming were relatively close in the 1990s. However, developments have helped video slots attain a much higher popularity level ever since the 2000s.
+EV Machines Become Fewer and Fewer
Video poker holds a major advantage of or any type of casino game by offering positive expected value (+EV). Assuming you choose a machine that offers over 100% payback and use correct strategy, you’ll be enjoying +EV on all of your wagers.
Of course, it takes quite a while to realize profits due to volatility. Specifically, a royal flush only comes around once every 40,000 hands on average.
But the point is that you can win guaranteed profits with certain variations over time. The same can’t be said about any other casino games unless you’re using advantage play (e.g. card counting).
Unfortunately, the number of +EV machines has reduced drastically in recent years. You can only find beatable video poker in Nevada.
You’ll need to visit Las Vegas if you want a decent selection of +EV games in one place. Even at this, you’ll mostly find 10/7 Double Bonus and 10/6 Double Double Bonus machines.
The days when you could easily find full-pay Deuces Wild with dollar coin denominations are long since gone. At best, you’ll find full-pay Deuces Wild with quarter coin denominations at a few Vegas casinos.
Where Is Video Poker at Today?
Video poker isn’t technically dead if you look at the numbers. Many land-based and online casinos still offer a nice variety of games.
You can regularly find Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Double Bonus, and Double Double Bonus machines. You may also locate some more-obscure variations as well.
The downside, though, is that many of these same games offer lower pay tables. Rather than 9/6 Jacks or Better, for example, you’ll find 9/5 (98.45% RTP) or 8/6 (98.39%) pay tables.
But gamblers’ collective knowledge keeps increasing year after year. Eventually, enough players are going to catch on that these machines pay less and boycott them.
For now, though, video poker still remains a worthy alternative to slot machines. It’s not anywhere near as popular as slots from an overall perspective, but it still gets players into seats.
Will Video Poker Disappear from Casinos?
Gambling history is littered with games that were once popular and fell from grace. Faro, which was by far the most-popular gambling game in the mid-1800s, is no longer found in any casino.
Of course, video poker is nowhere near as old as Faro nor some of the other games that have disappeared from casinos. But it does have a history that spans well over four decades.
Only casino table games are able to survive without evolving much. Even then, though, blackjack, roulette, and baccarat have undergone slight improvements to retain their popularity.
Video poker has seen almost no graphical development in its 4+ decades. This fact is surprisingly when considering that developers have all the tools they need to revamp this game.
I don’t think that video poker is in danger of completely exiting casinos within the next decade or two. If it remains the same, though, it could very well be out by the late 2030s or early 2040s.
Video poker isn’t truly dead yet. You can still easily find these machines on any North American casino floor and at numerous gaming sites.
Enough people still like this skill-based alternative to slot machines to keep it alive. But how much longer can video poker keep going without any serious innovation?
These machines still look like they did in the 1970s and 80s. Meanwhile, the look of video slots has changed dramatically over the years.
Perhaps video poker can hang on for a couple more decades with its current appearance. Eventually, though, it will need to offer some entertaining graphics, animations, and features to stay relevant.