Today, no casino would be complete without a slot machine, the flashing lights, noises and clatter of coins that accompany a win are synonymous with the excitement and fun of the casino.
Slot machine games have also become hugely popular online and on mobiles, with a seemingly endless supply of fun and big jackpots. The slot machine feels like a classic that has been around forever but is, in fact, a relative newcomer to the casino game stable.
Even though there plenty of classic casino games that have been played way long before slots, nowadays this game has numerous fans. As gaming developers work hard on creating exciting slot variations with multiple paylines, special symbols and advanced bets, the game is on top of the list of many casino aficionados.
How and When Slot Machines Emerged
The first slot machines were developed by the Sitman & Pitt company of Brooklyn, New York in 1891. These machines were based on the game of poker and consisted of 5 reels of cards. Players would put in a nickel, pull a lever and then they would be presented with a poker hand. The strength of the hand determined whether a prize was won. The machines became very popular in the bars of New York at the time. There was no automatic payout available but a winner would claim his or her prize from the barman. Prizes were usually a cigar or free drink.
Due to the complexity of winning hand combinations in poker, making these ‘poker slot machines’ pay out a prize automatically was impossible with the technology available at the time. It fell to a man called Charles Fey to come up with a solution to this problem. Fey, a German immigrant to the US who had settled in San Francisco, realised that by replacing the poker cards with a simpler arrangement of symbols, and reducing the number of barrels from 5 to 3, the winning combinations could be made smaller, and automatic payout from the machine made possible.
Fey’s original machine used 5 symbols; diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and a liberty bell, a row of liberty bells giving the player the highest jackpot. Fey’s machine was a huge success, and he was soon working extra hours to make enough machines to meet demand. Due to the handle on the side of the machine and their habit of taking your money, Fey’s machines quickly earned the moniker ‘one-armed bandits’.
In 1907 Fey decided to team up with another company, the Mills Novelty Company, and together they evolved new and improved versions of Fey’s machine. They also negotiated a deal with a chewing gum company, the Bell Fruit Gum Company. As part of the deal, the Mills Novelty Company agreed to replace some of the game’s symbols with pictures showing the fruit flavours of the chewing gum. This is where the cherry, watermelon, oranges and apple symbols come from. The machines paid out prizes of flavoured chewing gum, sidestepping the gambling regulations at the time, hence why slot machines are called fruit machines!
The 1930s and 40s saw the popularity of slot machines grow as the Vegas casinos installed them with a view to providing entertainment on the side of the traditional games such as blackjack and roulette. The appeal of the slots was underestimated and the revenue from the machines soon topped the money being taken from the tables.
The machines being played in the casinos of the 40s weren’t hugely different from Fey’s original version. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the electrification of the machines moved them further towards the modern game. The first electromagnetic game was called the ‘Money Honey’ and the incorporation of electric components meant that it could showcase the flashing lights and blaring acoustics that we now associate so strongly with slot machines.
Slot machines have continued to evolve with the times. The 80s saw the slots move into the computer era with the first video screen games arriving in casinos. This technology opened up the possibilities of more imaginative, themed games and also meant that more than one game could be played on the same console.
The arrival of the internet heralded a new age for slot machines. Although they had always been popular in casinos, the internet opened up a much bigger, global market. There are now a huge variety of online slot games available, with jackpots going into the millions. Games vary from those based on blockbuster films and TV shows, to fun themed games and the classic fruit machine-style games, with slots such as Rainbow Riches and Cleopatra becoming “famous” in their own right. Mobile slot games, offered by most of the best online casino sites, are another area of massive growth giving people access to a world of exciting slot machine fun from their mobile phone.
The slot machine has evolved with the times, but what has remained constant is the buzz, excitement and the possibility of hitting that jackpot.
Specifics of Slots
You might think that there is nothing complicated about playing slots. Although the objective of the game may be pretty straightforward, there are several terms you must be well aware of so that you can enjoy a fruitful spinning adventure.
Slots can be divided into several categories and if you play online, you will notice that many virtual casinos have sorted their slot options in a few groups. As the first slot machines were utilising only 3 reels, they have remained as a staple example for classic slots. This is why, if you want to test your luck on games inspired by what started the slots popularity, you should opt for classic ones. Usually, 3-reel slots have a single payline and utilise several low-value and higher-paying symbols.
As online gambling has become quite popular, players have the chance to play a lot more innovative slots. Video slots typically include more paylines, special symbols and bonus rounds. Of course, their bets are usually higher but you can also rack up much bigger payouts. The first video slot which included a second-screen bonus feature was Reel’Em In by WMS Industries Inc. Whenever the bonus round was triggered, a completely new window with the bonus game would appear on the screen. Thanks to Reel’Em In, slots gained a lot more popularity at casinos.
Some players prefer classic slots as they are pretty easy to understand and since there are no special symbols, multiple paylines or bonus rounds, the size of bets is quite lower compared to the one required to play video slots.
Evolutions of Slot Symbols
As it was mentioned earlier, the first symbols that were used by Charles Fey for slot machines were the card suits of heart, diamond and spade along with a horseshoe and a liberty bell. These symbols, later on, evolved in cherries, melon, orange and apple which inspired the name fruit machines. The fifth symbol of these classic slots would be the word ‘BAR’.
As slot machines evolved into one of the most popular and entertaining games at gambling facilities, the symbols began to evolve and change. As newer slot machines were using computer graphics, players started spinning reels with symbols such as crowns, gems, clovers, stars and 7s which represented the number that a lot of gamblers consider lucky.
Nowadays, online casinos offer interactive players an abundance of slot variations which have different symbols. As gaming developers work on creating games inspired by comics, TV series or movies, the symbols they use are often related to the theme of the slot. What is more, video slots often use wilds and scatters. Those a special slot symbols that can help players to form winning combinations and trigger the bonus features that the games offer.
How Online Slots Became Popular
In the mid-1990s online casinos have become quite popular and this sparked a whole new era for slot lovers. At first, virtual casinos used to offer only variations of classic table games. Soon, however, slots were also added to the gaming library of numerous gambling websites. As it is the case with land-based casinos, slots soon surpassed table games in popularity.
In the beginning, virtual slots resembled their land-based variants as they would utilise the same number of reels and their symbols were the same players used to see at brick-and-mortar casinos. With the development of the gaming industry, however, slots have started to improve as well.
Gaming developers started creating slots with multiple reels and paylines, special symbols, bonus features and massive jackpots. Although players can still find slots inspired by classic fruit machines, video slots definitely have a bigger presence in the gaming libraries of web-based casinos.
As for the progressive slots, they have become so popular that their prize pools are constantly increasing thanks to the interest that players are showing. The first progressive slot was Cash Splash and it was powered by Microgaming. Compared to the millions that some modern progressive slots offer nowadays, the jackpot of Cash Splash was rather small. However, it sparked a slot variety which is now extremely popular at numerous online casinos.
The biggest win on a progressive slot was hit on October 2015 by the UK player Jon Heywood on Mega Moolah which was created by Microgaming. The jackpot the Jon swept was £13,213,838.68 which is a truly life-changing prize.
How Gambling Regulations Affected Slot Machines
As it was mentioned earlier, the Mills Novelty Company decide to award players with gum, instead of money as a way to abide by the 1909 law that forbade slot machines to award winners with cash. Later on, changes in gambling laws are what led to slot machines being available only at illegal speakeasies. This, however, certainly did not stop the game from gaining a massive popularity.
In 1930 the Mills Novelty Company decided to remove the bell from their slot machines and this is the reason why many people started calling them “Silent Bells”. Around the same time, the company has come up with the idea of a double jackpot. This gave players the chance to win two jackpots consecutively.
Back in 1931, Nevada was the only state in the US that legalized gambling. This has led to the launching of numerous casinos in Las Vegas and an increase in the state’s population. In 1940s slots have become pretty famous in casinos and the famous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who is considered one of the founders of the Las Vegas Strip, proved that slot machines can bring casinos major profits. This has further established the popularity of the game in the 1940s.
In the 1950s the slot machines started accepting larger amounts of coins which meant that lucky players would have the chance to sweep better payouts. More coins also meant a better profit for casinos. During the same time, slot machines like Big Bertha and Super Big Bertha appeared. They had 8 reels and 20 symbols which made the possibility of hitting the jackpot 1 in 25 billion. Needless to say, these slots did not last long.
The evolution of slot machines continued with the first electro-mechanical slot Money Honey in 1963. The company that launched the innovative slot machines was Bally Technologies and in the next several years it even added more improvements such as multiple coin play and several paylines. As electromechanical slots machines started replacing the manual ones, by 1968, 94% of the slots market in Las Vegas was owned by Bally Technologies.
The slots development of Bally Technologies did not end there. In the 1970s they still had a great influence on the gambling industry as they introduced the dollar slot machine, the random number generator and video screens. Bally Technologies enjoyed a great success during that period and in 1975 it was the first gaming company that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
During the next decade, computerized slot machines were introduced to casino players. Although at first, people were sceptical about the randomness of these games, as there were no physical reels that could be seen spinning, it took no time for video slots to become very popular. Since machines that accepted dollar bills have also become common at casinos, players enjoyed the convenience of not carrying coins every time they want to play or look for a change once they run out of coins. The change from coins to bills led to an increase in the potential payouts for players and the profits for casinos. It was also during the 1980s that slot machines started offering bonuses that could boost the winnings of players.
Throughout the years, slot machines continue to gain more popularity and some estimations show that the US owes 70% of its gambling revenue to slot machines. This only proves the sweeping influence of the casino game.
As online casinos started appearing, many gambling fans opted for playing in the comfort of their own homes. Although classic table games were the first available gaming options at web-based casinos, in no time, slots overtook the majority of the interactive gaming scene. Nowadays, software developers create slots with fun themes, special symbols and numerous ways to win some extra cash. Even after several decades, slots still remain a very popular game both at land-based and virtual casinos.
What started as a simple way to entertain people back in the days, have now become one of the most popular casino games in the entire world. Slot machines started with just 3 reels and 5 symbols and throughout the years evolved into games with numerous paylines, multiple reels and additional features that can boost one’s bankroll. Nowadays, the game is well represented both at brick-and-mortar and web-based casinos and fans of the game have numerous exciting options to choose from.