Written by Mike Fields, our partner at Action Gaming.
The below article was featured in the 49th issue of the Inside Straight.
We are often asked how in the world we keep coming up with new video poker ideas. After all, with only
52 cards that can form 2.6M five-card combinations, just how many ways can you deal cards? The answer
is not simple. We’ve seen success beyond our wildest imaginations, failed miserably, had some so-so
games, and rewritten “the rules” altogether. Video poker has become a casino staple, an incredibly
valuable portfolio of games that generate billions of dollars for casinos throughout the world.
Let’s take a journey through the history of video poker, shall we?
Si Redd – The Father of Video Poker
IGT was built on video poker. Back in 1979, Si Redd and Sircoma (the former company that later became IGT)
introduced its very first game patent — a single-game family video poker title called Fortune 1 Draw Poker.
Two pair or better. In a red box. By 1981, video poker became the most popular new addition in casinos,
and IGT introduced the concept of video poker bundling with its release of Game King® multi-game.
The debut of game families also created specific player types, similar to wine drinkers. Some people
like to drink Zinfandel, some like Cabernet and some like Rosé. If we were to translate volatility to
intensity, a Zinfandel would be Triple Double Bonus Poker® game, Cabernet would be a Double Double
Bonus Poker® game and Jacks or Better would be the equivalent of a Rosé. The video poker industry
cruised along unchanged for many years, until Action Gaming’s Ernie Moody and Triple Play™ Poker came along.
Changing an Industry
There are a few times in the world of gaming when we can point to a single event that changed the industry forever.
One such event was IGT’s introduction of multi-million dollar wide area progressives like the Megabucks® progressive to the
spinning-reel machine. Another was the previously mentioned introduction of the Triple Play Poker™ poker game. The journey was
hardly smooth. Ernie struggled for a number of years, being rejected by nearly every supplier and many operators.
He turned down offers of employment that would require him to surrender his beloved invention because he had a
steadfast belief in his game, which proved to be spot-on.
Finally, in 1997, Bob Bittman, an Executive Vice President at IGT at the time, agreed to give this “multiple hand poker” a shot.
Overnight, the Triple Play™ phenomenon took on a life of its own. We were barely able to burn EPROMs fast enough to
meet the increasing demand. One of the first installations was at Sunset Station, where we set out to install a
single bank of games. From the first day of installation, there were long lines and fights broke out between
normally respectable older women. Nothing like this had ever been seen before! TJ Matthews, former CEO of IGT
once expressed, “We were all trying to figure out how to get
one extra coin out of players. Ernie’s invention was able
to get ten.”
The obvious product extensions followed, such as Five Play®, Ten Play™, Fifty Play Draw Poker™ and Hundred Play Draw
Poker® games, but we did not stop video poker game development there. One of the first innovative break-from-the-norm
games we successfully brought to market was the Spin Poker™ game. What made this game different was the blend of slots
with video poker, which made for a compelling game that to this day has a large fan base nearly twenty years later.
The original nine-line version was later complemented by a 20-line version, which has continuously seen a healthy player following.
Learning From Our Mistakes
Not every game was a hit, like our first attempt at introducing a fifth Ace to a game. We took the Five Ace Jackpot
payout out of the paytable, which proved to be a bad idea. We learned that players may not know how to play perfect
strategy, but they do know what a low-paying Full House/Flush looks like. We tried licensed video poker game themes.
Both proved too gimmicky for our hardcore players, and taught us valuable lessons about how and when to use branding.
Progress - Changing the Formula
Action Gaming and IGT always believed players are inclined to try out and enjoy new gaming concepts. We knew people
wanted entertainment and a chance to win—we just didn’t know how to pay for it without taking it from the paytable.
In 2002, we developed a game based on a new patent which used a sixth coin to fund the bonus, which became Super
Times Pay Poker® game. The rest is history. Super Times Pay Poker® game was, and still is, a phenomenal success
and it proved that if a feature was compelling and occurred frequently enough, players would pay for it. We used
the same coin formula for several games, but then everything went out the window with the next big title: Ultimate X Poker® game.
The great concept behind Ultimate X Poker® game was earning multipliers on winning hands, where the multipliers are
awarded on the next hand. The challenge was to fund this bonus feature properly, meaning being able to charge five
extra coins per hand. We were convinced that this was a bonus players would be happy to fund. As a result, Ultimate X
Poker® game still is the fastest growing game we have ever developed.
From there, we tried to appeal to the “Elusive Millennial.” We introduced two video poker games, both heavy on animation and humor.
Tap House Poker® and Barnyard Poker® games were created as crossovers from video slots and catered towards the less die-hard video
poker players and more toward entertainment seeking gamers.
Still, if we continue to relearn one thing, it is that video poker players are set in their ways, superstitious, and know what they like.
Getting them to try new stuff isn’t entirely easy, and takes time. Video poker games are often “sleepers,” and as such operators need to
give new games a little more time to be discovered. Ultimate X Poker® game, for example, only had six games out after 90 days of being
available for sale. Look at it now!
The Present: Cultivating the Product Line
Highly Anticipated New Releases