History of The Slot Machine
The humble slot machine, also known as the “fruit machine” or “one-armed bandit,” has an interesting history that goes back to the 19th century. Slot machines have evolved over the years leaving behind memorable eras of gambling. Slot machines have inspired many gambling trends and have also been at the receiving end of many societal movements.
The modern-day video slot was a simple mechanical machine until very recently. In more than 200 years of the slot-machine evolution, online slots have been around for just a little over 20 years. Interestingly, slots machines have been very adaptive to technology and it mastered various avatars to suit the needs of gamblers.
The Origin of Slots: 1891, New York.
The origin of the modern UK slots machine is forever etched in the East Coast of the US, in the city of Brooklyn, New York. A novel product was launched by a company named Sittman & Pitt in 1891, which was the earliest prototype of the slot machine as we know it today. Based on poker, the machine was operated by a lever and rotating drums. There were 5 drums/reels in total, each containing 10 cards. The house edge was the absence of two cards from the lot- the ten of spades and the jack of hearts. However, the machine didn’t pay out in cash. For a bet of a nickel, one could win free beer, drinks or cigars.
The Electro Mechanisation of Slots: 1895, California.
The Sittman & Pitt Poker Machine became very popular in bars and pubs. It also attracted the attention of Charles Augustus Fey, a German mechanic working in California. Having worked for Western Electric (then called California Electric Works), Fey went on to open his own company that made electrical equipment for cars. His friend and business partner Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze created the first automated payout slot machine, nicknamed the Horseshoe Slot Machine. Fey improved upon his design and placed the new machine in a saloon in San Francisco. It was the first litmus test of the slot machine and it passed the popularity experiment with flying colors. The response was so great that Charles abandoned his mechanical workshop and started to manufacture slot machines. The machine had three reels and six symbols; horseshoe, spade, heart, diamond, star and a cracked Liberty Bell. For a single nickel bet, one could win the highest jackpot of 50 cents, equal to 500 nickels.
The Growing Popularity of the Liberty Bell: 1897-1900, California
Over the next few years, slot machines of Charles Fey were flooded all across the city and were nicknamed the “Nickle in the Slot Lottery.” In a notable gauge of public perception, the Daily News published an article on the new machine titled, “Fifteen Hundred Swindling Machines in One City.” The growing popularity also attracted the attention of Society for the Suppression of Vice, which was against the concept of gambling. Charles Fey remarkably named his creation the Liberty Bell, to symbolize the American values of freedom of trade and fair business practice. The original Liberty Bell Slot Machine is currently preserved at Liberty Belle saloon in Reno, Nevada as a relic of the industrial world.
The Mass-Scale Production of Slot Machines: 1907- 1940’s, USA.
Charley Fey refused to sell his patent of the Liberty Bell Slot Machine. However, newer variations came into the market, with the first being launched in 1907 by Mills Novelty Company in Chicago, Illinois. However, the US Government, in 1909, banned the use of money in slot machines. A new reward was popularized-fruit-flavored candies and chewing gums.
Mills Novelty Company produced three popular variants of the Liberty Bell; Mills Liberty Bell, followed by the Operator Bell and Silent Bell. The Operator Bell was the most successful among the three and was favored for its unique neck coin entry system and the fruit symbols. The Operator Bell was the first slot machine to have the classic fruit symbols, which would inspire future trends and open up a whole new genre of slot machines. A noise-less variation of the Operator Bell was also developed during the later stages of the 1920s and branded as the Silent Bell. Within a span of 20 years, the Mills Novelty Company produced more than 30,000 slot machines. By early 1940s, slots started to appear in famous hotels and holiday destinations. The revenue from slot machines soon matched up with that of tables games by the mid-1940s. With popularity touching astronomical heights, a new age of slot games was dawning with technology at its core.
The Electronic Age of Slot Machines: 1964-1975, USA.
Bally Manufacturing, an American company, was one of the early pioneers of slot and pinball machines. The rise of Bally Manufacturing coincided with the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The main clients of Bally’s slot machines were hotels of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. In 1964, Bally created a watershed machine, Money Honey, which would change the fate of slot games forever. It offered the first progressive jackpots. It offered 82.5% payout and new features like Special Multipliers and Double Ups. Another novel slot machine, Twenty-One Machine, was invented by Nevada Electronics and it had seating arrangements for up to 4 players.
The Age of Video Slots and Globalization of Slot Machines: 1975, USA and Europe.
The next big push for the world of gambling came in 1975, under the aegis of Fortune Coin Company, which introduced the world’s first video slot machine. However, the initial response to video slots was tepid. It was in 1978 when Fortune Coin Company was sold off to IGT (International Gaming Technology), that video slots became a popular entertainment option. One of the most popular slot games during this period was Party Casino. IGT acquired the company, Electronic Data Technologies to integrate its slot machines with advanced progressive jackpots. In doing so, it created one of the earliest local jackpot networks through the game Megabucks, which was introduced in 1992.
The Formalization of the Slots Industry: 1990-onwards; North America, Europe, and Australia.
The gambling industry was slowly entering the digital age and it started to consolidate itself, giving rise to Fortune 500 companies with international operations. Apart from the US and Europe, new gambling markets opened up in South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, and Canada. This gave birth to big corporations that invested heavily in the development of next-generation slots. Various game companies were acquired by slot manufacturers to introduce new features like bonus games, real money bets, linked progressives, classic slots, casino games, progressive jackpots, etc. For the first time, much attention was given to details like graphics, sound, and gamification in slot machines. IGT also made history by introducing multiple paylines in its video slot games. New companies like Microgaming, NetEnt, Elk Studios and Amaya were formed to ride the digital wave of casino games. In 1996, the first two-screen slot machine was introduced. In a single decade, from 1990-2000, the destiny of slot machines underwent tremendous technological change. One interesting statistics encapsulates the impact of slots very well. In 1977, the average percentage of slot machines in casinos was 20% of the floor space; by 2002, the percentage of slots in casinos increased to about 70% of the floor space.
Stepping into the 21st Century
Slot machines have found a golden age in the 21st century. A rapid evolution from video slots to online slots made the classic slot machine accessible to all. With revenues from slots touching record highs, gambling legislation was relaxed and new hotspots of online gambling mushroomed in Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, etc. Game development hubs also started to appear in Sweden, Germany, and the UK.
The new online slot sites started to offer mega jackpots within millions at stake. New concepts like Scatter and Wild symbols made its debut in the 21st-century slot market. Another big revolution is game algorithms, that churns out interesting gamification models. Slot games started to appear with as many as 243 paylines in 5 reels. Interesting concepts of progressive wins are offered by prominent game developers. Players are also given regular bonuses to try out slot games for free.
As a whole, the slots industry has started to shift to an online/digital base. Punters no longer have to travel to brick-and-mortar casinos to wager in their favorite slots. They can do so from the comfort of their homes, with bets appearing under their fingertips. Payments are transferred through the internet and a whole new level of convenience is offered to millennial gamblers.
The Next Generation of Slots
The next generation of UK slots undoubtedly belongs to online platforms with key focus on mobile slots. Traditional companies are shifting their focus to the desktop and mobile gambling markets. More and more companies are also developing casino games in HTML5 technology, enabling mobile gaming. This is a big boost to the industry and players from every walk of life are enjoying the beauty of slot machines.
Graphics in slot games have also evolved a lot in recent years. Slot games and video games are slowly converging towards each other and new concepts of mission-based slot games, slots with storylines and gamification features are being developed by top game providers. The next generation slots can also be played through Virtual-Reality googles.