History of Slots: From Fruit Machines to Online Casino Games

history of slots a row of slot machines

Slot machines are defined by the spinning reels on the front of the machine, but that wasn’t always the casino. Before 1900, any vending machine was considered a slot machine. That makes sense when you think about it because all vending machines have a slot for coins. Usage of the phrase to refer to gambling machines with spinning reels became prevalent during the 20th century.

In this page, we will take a journey through the history of slots, exploring their origins, developments, and the rise of online casino games designs and mechanics. We cover everything from Charles Fey and the Liberty Bell up to the present day, with its menagerie of complex games like 243 ways and other online options like live dealers.

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The Liberty Bell: Inventor, Charles Fey

The first machine a modern gambling audience would recognize as a slot machine was the Liberty Bell, which was invented by Charles Fey in 1895. This mechanical device featured three spinning reels with various symbols, including horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and the Liberty Bell. Operating the Liberty Bell machine requires players to insert a nickel and pull a lever to set the reels in motion. If the reels aligned to display three Liberty Bells, the player would win the grand prize of 50 cents.

The Liberty Bell was an instant success, and Fey’s invention quickly spread to saloons and bars across San Francisco. Fey was just a car mechanic working out of a small shop, and demand for the Liberty Bell was enough to keep him busy all the time. He refused to sell the rights to his machine to larger gambling supply manufacturers. Fey went on to invent a draw poker machine, a precursor of sorts to our modern video poker games, in 1901. His business model was simple enough with both machines. Saloon owners would rent the machines in exchange for 50% of the profits.

From Liberty to Knock-Offs and Newer Slots

As demand for slot machines grew, other inventors began to create their own versions of slot machines, introducing new features and symbols. Herbert Mills created a knockoff of the Liberty Bell machine called The Operator Bell. This was the first slot machine to use the now-ubiquitous fruit symbols on their game.

These early slot machine games were entirely mechanical in nature, with metal hoops making up the reels, and a lever that sets the reels in motion. Various symbols were painted onto the metal reels, and the jackpots were paid out in coins into a hopper. You could only win a jackpot if you lined up three of the same symbol in a row across the center of the front of the machine.

In 1909, the government outlawed slot machines for money. Clever slot machine owners responded by offering non-monetary prizes such as fruit-flavored candies and chewing gum. In fact, one of the most common symbols on modern slot machines is the bar symbol, which was originally the symbol for winning sticks of chewing gum.

Electronic Gambling

In the early 20th century, slot machines underwent significant developments. The introduction of the “fruit machine” in the early 1900s replaced the traditional symbols with fruit symbols, such as cherries and lemons. These machines were often found in candy stores and gum shops, and instead of cash prizes, players would receive chewing gum or candy corresponding to the symbols they landed on.

By the 1960s, electromechanical slot machines were introduced, replacing the purely mechanical ones. These new machines featured electrically-powered components, such as lights and sound effects, adding to the excitement of gameplay. The introduction of the Random Number Generator (RNG) in the 1980s revolutionized slot machines, making them more fair and unpredictable.

Slot machines remained mechanical in nature until 1964, when Bally Manufacturing (the maker of Quick Hits) invented the first electronic slot machine. This game was called Money Honey. Instead of using springs, the game used electronic parts. They also added sounds and lights. Most importantly, they offered players the chance to wager multiple coins per spin.

In 1975, Walt Fraley invented a game called “The Fortune Coin”, which featured a video with virtual reels. Three years later, William Redd and International Game Technology bought the Fortune Coin Company. IGT remains the largest and most popular manufacturer of slot machine games today.

Multiple Paylines

In 1980, IGT made the most significant change to slot machine games in history. They increased the number of paylines. The new computer-powered machines with multiple paylines made it possible to offer unheard of jackpots, along with a higher hit frequency than ever before.

Video slots became incredibly popular. Before the 1980s, slot machines might take up 20% of a casino’s floor space, and this was mostly a concession to the wives of the serious gamblers. A decade later, most casinos generated 70% or more of their revenue from electronic gaming machines.

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Newer Innovations

One of the most significant innovations since the 1980s is the progressive jackpot. Games with progressive jackpots use a tiny percentage of each wager to build a massive, constantly-growing jackpot. These were initially single machines, but with the rise in computer technology, casinos and gaming manufacturers started linking multiple machines’ jackpots. These shared jackpots could grow even faster because multiple players were contributing to the jackpot at the same time. The most famous of these games is the MegaJackpots wide area progressive, which regularly offers jackpots in excess of $10 million.

Bonus games and features also became popular on machines throughout the last few decades. These bonuses might be as simple as a single symbol which acts as a multiplier to a small jackpot. They might be as complicated as an entire video game that’s triggered when certain symbols or combinations of symbols hit the screen. You’ll have a hard time finding a modern slot machine game that doesn’t feature some kind of bonus symbol or game.

Scatter symbols are also a relatively new development. These are symbols which trigger payouts regardless of where on the screen they land. They don’t have to be on a payline. Features like scatter symbols and bonus games are effective in attracting more players who are willing to wager higher stakes.

One of the most recent developments in the slot machine industry is the growing popularity of 243 ways games. These games dispense with the paylines entirely. Every possible payline from left to right is, in effect, activated, so on any given spin, there are 243 different ways to win. When symbols appear on the screen from left to right, no matter where on the reel stop, they trigger a winner.

The Rise of Online Casino Games

With the advent of the internet in the 1990s, the casino industry underwent a massive transformation. Online casinos emerged, offering players the convenience of playing their favorite casino games from the comfort of their homes. Slot machines quickly became one of the most popular attractions in online casinos, leading to the development of various online slot designs and mechanics.

Online casino slots now come in a wide variety of themes, ranging from classic fruit machines to elaborate video slots based on popular movies, TV shows, or video games. The introduction of advanced graphics, animations, and sound effects has enhanced the overall gaming experience, making online slots even more engaging and immersive.

Furthermore, online casino slots have introduced innovative mechanics, such as multiple paylines, bonus rounds, progressive jackpots, and interactive features. These advancements have not only increased the entertainment value but also provided players with more opportunities to win big.

Newcomers now have access to information about online casino games in the form of online casino slot game guides, strategies, tips, and pointers. Whenever they see a casino game that seems fun, they can open a browser and search that game’s rules and mechanics to get their feet in the door. Once they’ve figured out how to play that online casino game, they can look for more advanced tactics to maximize the earnings from their bets.

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Increases in Time on Machine

Casinos and slot machine manufacturers have determined scientifically that the best predictor of how profitable a slots game will be is a statistic called “time on machine”. They’ve increased players’ average times on machine by offering more frequent (but smaller) wins. Since a player is often wagering on multiple paylines, it’s not unusual for a player to win something on almost every spin. Even though that win is smaller than the amount wagered, the player receives the same stimulus-response, and eventually, a state of flow is achieved.

The Future

As technology continues to advance, the future of slot machines looks promising. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are already being explored, aiming to create a more immersive and interactive slot gaming experience. Players may soon be able to step into a virtual casino and interact with the slot machines as if they were in a physical establishment.

Additionally, the integration of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies into online casinos may revolutionize the way slot machines operate. Blockchain-based slot machines could offer provably fair gameplay, transparent transactions, and enhanced security.

In conclusion, the history of slots is a testament to human ingenuity and the ever-evolving nature of the casino industry. From the simple mechanical Liberty Bell to the complex and visually stunning online slots of today, slot machines have captivated players for over a century. With advancements in technology, the future of slot machines holds even more excitement and possibilities.

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