I’ve written about all kinds of posts about retro gaming here on this blog, including my favorites among the old-school games and that time I took a trip to the Doncaster Video Game Market. One of the retro gaming areas I haven’t covered yet, however, and one which isn’t covered that often on many retro gaming sites, is that of retro casino games. Growing up in good old Blighty, fruit machines and slot machines were a staple of amusement arcades and pubs, and poker and roulette had a mysterious allure popularized by movies like Maverick and Casino. Consequently, casino and gambling themes did make their way into video games for consoles like the SNES and even the Atari Lynx.
Today’s casino games are a significant part of a dedicated online gambling industry, and you can play real-money games from dedicated online casino platforms, which offer extra incentives like money-saving bonus codes and offers. There are even champion poker players who spend their entire career playing games online but talking about these would take up a whole other post. As it is, here’s a look at some of the retro casino games released in the console heyday as well as some surprising occurrences in titles you wouldn’t usually associate with chips and roulette wheels.
From the house of Nintendo, 1993’s Vegas Stakes is one of those quintessential gambling video games. It has a basic storyline — players dispatch to Las Vegas with $1,000 in the bank, charged with turning that into $10 million by playing the casino games that are available within the game — but it does an excellent job of transposing the typical casino experience into video game format.
You can learn to play five casino games in total: blackjack, poker, roulette, craps and slot machines, all in five different casinos to play. Little things along the way keep the action engaging, such as only being able to play in the fifth casino after earning $100,000 in prize money and having to adjust your wagers according to the casinos in which you play. The SNES version of the game includes a multiplayer mode, which also adds to the action.
It’s an imaginative title, I know, but when you make it past that, this is quite a decent casino gaming simulator for its time. Released all the way back in 1992, Lynx Casino, unlike most of the other gambling games released during that time, gives players a streamlined casino gaming experience, meaning that you can develop some effective card playing skills. You can look at this one as sort of a predecessor for today’s online casinos.
Players can enjoy five games, including video draw poker, and the authentic rules and odds for each game apply, so it feels “true to life.” Interestingly, this game also features statistic tracking. So, after each session, players can analyze their performance and identify those areas needing a bit more improvement, making it popular with casual players and pros alike.
Casino Kid 1 & 2
Another NES casino special, this duo of games was one of the rare, gambling-themed offerings to also have a storied plot. The oldest game on this list, as it released in 1989, Casino Kid 1, follows the adventures of a teenager who is on a mission to become the top gambler in the city of Lost Wages (the Japanese version, $1,000,000 Kid: Maboroshi no Teiou Hen, bases the game in Vegas itself). While there’s all manner of things wrong with that sentence, let’s ignore it for now and focus on the enjoyable gameplay!
Casino Kid needs to take on the most experienced hustlers in the casino, chatting up waitresses as he does so to get some gaming tips. In contrast to the other games I’ve featured in this post, you can only choose to play two casino games in the first version — poker and blackjack — and roulette come with Casino Kid 2. In the follow-up, Casino Kid is even more ambitious. Not content with being the champion of Lost Wages, he also wants to become the number one gambler in the world.
Interestingly, the Japanese version of the game (Casino Kid 2 never released in Japan) contained a lot more content than the version released internationally. Japanese players could choose to visit other places such as New York after paying the airfare, slots came with the games to play, and a free mode meant that players could experiment with and develop their gambling strategies.
Here are the retro games that I’ve found in which casino themes make a surprise guest appearance:
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Mega Drive) – The Casino Night Zone is jam-packed with casino and gambling imagery, including slot machines and even a pinball machine.
- Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) – This one is of the earliest appearances of a slot machine in a U.S.-released video game.
- Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64) – After the Batty Barrel Bandit section, a bonus slot machine reveals in which players need to line up four reels to win some tasty fruit.