No modern day gambling institution would be complete without a few slot machines scattered around the casino floor. Today, slot machines represent the epitome of the land casino: the jingle of the coins falling into the winner’s tray and the flashing lights which illuminate when a jackpot is won is every gambler’s dream.
Slot machines, also known as ‘one armed bandits’ or ‘fruit machines’, are traditionally coin-operated and have three or more reels that revolve when a lever is pulled. Players win when certain symbols or shapes on the reels stop in a specific order or pattern. Two types of slot machines are commonly found in casinos – straight slots and progressive slots. Straight slots pay out a set amount every time, while progressive slots pay out depending on the amount of money deposited into the machine.
Slot machines are one of the most modern games in the casino ensemble and only appeared on the scene about 120 years ago. Since their invention they have developed into one of the major choices of casino play both at land casinos and in the online gaming world. Over the past decade, hundreds of online casino sites have dedicated their game playing solely to slots.
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While many other casino games have disputable roots, slot machines are the youngest of the games and their history can therefore be clearly traced back. Brooklyn, New York was the location for the development of the first slot machine in 1891 when Sittman and Pitt Company designed a gambling machine that is considered by many to be the predecessor to the modern day version.
This first slot machine contained five drums which held fifty card faces, and was based on the game of poker – the poker combinations determined the payout. The fifty symbols were divided between the five drums and the wheels would spin when a player placed a nickel in the slot and pulled down on the lever. The display at the end of the spin would determine whether the player won or not.
These early machines, however, did not make actual cash payouts. Generally the prizes would be in the form of goods from the bar in which the machine was located and would also depend on the quality of the hand displayed on the drums. The prizes probably took the form of a drink from the bar, a packet of cigarettes or a cigar.
These machines were extremely popular and within a short period of time nearly every bar in the city was hosting one. In order to further increase the odds for the house, two cards were occasionally removed from the deck – the Ten of Spades and the Jack of Hearts. The drums could also be moved around in order to further decrease the player’s winning potential.
The Father of Slot Machines
Charles Fey is undoubtedly the Father of Slot Machines. Fey was a German immigrant to the United States and settled in New Jersey and then later in California. Fey was diagnosed with TB in his twenties and the doctors only gave him one year to live. Not only did Fey prove them totally wrong, he also managed to become a legend in the gambling world and lived to a healthy age.
In the late 1880's Fey developed what was known as the modern day slot machine. Fey created the first machine which was named Liberty Bell from his workshop in San Francisco in 1887. In size, Liberty Bell was slightly smaller than today’s slot machines, but the content was basically the same – 3 reels and 20 symbols which worked in the same manner as the current version.
The popularity of the Liberty Bell was enormous and fast-spreading. Soon Fey was mass producing the machines and had to work intense overtime in his workshop to meet the demands of the orders. The machine featured symbols such as bells, horseshoes, stars and the symbols found on cards – hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. The machines were programmed to accept 5 cent coins and the payouts would depend on the results displayed on the spun reels – 2 coins for hitting the 2 horseshoes and up to as many as 20 coins for hitting three bells. Of course, there were many other variations in between.
Fey was not only a creator but also a very clever entrepreneur. Capitalizing on the success of his creation, Fey decided to rent out the machines to gambling venues at a 50% commission rate. Fey flatly refused to sell the manufacturing and distribution rights to anyone even though he was approached by several gambling manufacturers.
From Liberty Bell to Operator Bell
In 1907 Fey finally decided to team up with the Mills Novelty Company and they produced their own version of the original Liberty Bell known as the Mills Liberty Bell. This machine was set in a cast iron case and also had cast iron feet with toes. (Later models got rid of the toes and replaced them with decorative feet.) The reel strips within the machine displayed the playing card symbols of King, Queen and Jack. The machine also had a bell that rang when a player hit a winning combination but this was later removed from the machine. The basic design of this machine is still used today on all modern slot machines.
In 1910 the Mills Novelty Company streamlined the Liberty Bell and introduced a slightly lighter weight version to the extremely popular machine, and renamed it Operator Bell. The changes in the machine included a gooseneck coin deposit slot and also featured fruit symbols on the reels. These cast iron machines, however, were still quite heavy and weighed over 100 pounds. This did not stop the spread of their popularity and within a short period of time, over 30,000 were produced.
In 1915, Mills decided that the cast iron machines were simply too heavy and possibly expensive to produce and began moving into alternative options for covering and decorating the slot machines. The wood cabinets were introduced and these worked out much less expensive and easier to assemble than the cast iron versions.
1930s – Changes in the Industry
In the 1930s Mills Novelty Company made a number of changes to its slot machine ensemble and it is said that these changes revolutionized the industry and pushed slot machines into the forefront of the gambling world. Mills first decided to make the machines into much quieter creatures. The bell was removed from the slot machines and machines from this era are often referred to as Silent Bells.
Mills also introduced the double jackpot which was a method developed to give the players an opportunity of winning a jackpot twice in a row, in quick succession.
Mills also changed the aesthetics of the slot machines and introduced a series of cabinet designs intended to make the machines’ exterior more colorful and attractive. Themes were given to the new cabinets with grandiose names to evoke a feeling of power and prestige: Lion Head in early 1931; War Eagle and Roman Head in later 1931 and Castle Front in 1933.
1940s – Spread of Popularity
During the 1930s the potential ‘fame’ of slot machines was being realized and by the early 1940s their incredible reputation was unquestionable. Top notch gambling institutions were scrambling to add slot machines into their casino games selection after Bugsy Siegel placed the machines in his Las Vegas Flamingo Hilton.
The slot machines were originally placed to entertain the women – wives and girlfriends – while the men got involved in the ‘heavy’ gambling. However, much to everyone’s surprise, revenue from slot machines soon topped those of regular table games in the casino.
Until the 1950s, most slot machines were mechanical, but the end of this decade saw the development of electro-mechanical machines. This period was the peak of slot machines popularity with the introduction of machines such as Big Bertha. Big Bertha, and later the Super Big Bertha, were super large machines that cost over $150,000 to produce but were powered by a five horse powered motor. This machine had eight reels with 20 symbols per reel and only offered 80% payback to players. The highlight of the Big Bertha series of machines was that they accepted larger denominations of coins, increasing player payout amounts, but also the casinos’ potential profits. The odds of hitting the jackpot on a Big Bertha machine were only one in 25 billion!
Bally Manufacturing introduced another electro-mechanical machine in 1964 called Money Honey. This was the first machine that actually moved away from Fey’s original slot machine design. The inside of the machine was totally changed with the springs and levers being replaced by electrical components. On the outside, however, the changes were all cosmetic. The use of electricity allowed the player to experience exciting noises and flashing lights during play and especially following a win. The electro-mechanical machines also meant multiple coin play and higher jackpots.
Bally Manufacturing continued to spearhead the development of slot machines and launched the Dollar Slot Machine in the mid 1970s. Casinos began rearranging their floor set up and allowed more prominent places for the slot machines, which they noted as being responsible for an increasing percentage of their gambling profits. Casinos now placed slot machines in carousals and geared casino floor traffic towards their attractive bigger jackpots being offered.
The start of the 1980s saw the birth of the computerized era of slot machines. Sircoma, a new company in the field, produced a video poker slot machine which caused a sensation in the industry. At first many players were wary of the video aspect of the machine, as they felt that they could not fully trust the fact that they could not see the reels spinning. These apprehensions soon disappeared when the success of the machine became apparent.
The computerized era also meant that players were presented with a wider range of choices and options. Machines now accepted bills so players no longer needed small change in order to play. Ultimately this meant that players could spend longer at the machine and less time in money changing queues.
Other machines were developed which allowed a player to choose from a selection of games from the same machine. These slot machines were becoming an all-inclusive gambling destination and which meant that players did not need to walk around the casino floor looking for different games. Bonus features were also added which enabled a player to have a chance to win more money, besides the already staggering jackpot prizes that most of the slot machines offered.
Today, slot machines make up about 30% of an average casino’s profits. Slot machines have moved back into the noisy era that was discarded in the 1930s in order to create a quasi hysteria when a player wins big. Slot machines generally include very flashy lights and attractive casings in order to make them even more attractive. The coin trays at the bottom are almost always made from metal and are very large in order to catch all the coins that fall out during a win. The machines that generally provide more frequent wins are strategically placed in highly visible spots on the casino floor in order to further attract the crowds.
These days, slot machines use random number generators which are pre-programmed and correspond to patterns of symbols on the reels. Generally slot machines accept a maximum of two or three coins but some multiple coin playing machines offer a range of options. In some machines, the number of coins paid out is proportional to the number of coins deposited. Some will not even pay a jackpot if only one coin is deposited. It is often best to play the maximum number of coins in order to increase the chances of winning.
Many machines are also moving away from actually accepting coins and the industry is becoming a cashless zone. When players hit one of the smaller winning combinations they are usually paid out automatically from the machine. The larger jackpots are paid out directly by an authorized casino employee who is informed of the winning by a light above the machine.
As popular as slots are in the land casino world, they are even more popular in the wonderful world of online casinos. Since online casinos took the world by storm a little over a decade ago, the gambling world has not been the same. Games that were previously limited to gambling institutions, bars and casinos suddenly became available to anyone and everyone who was legally and technologically able to access them online.
The computerized route that slot machines were following in the late 1990s split into the land casinos version and the online version. Online casino software providers were quick to develop a wide range of slot machines for hundreds of different sites.
Slot machines offering progressive slots and straight slots are now common on over 2000 online casino sites. Most of these slot games present superb jackpot prizes and highly attractive bonus features that make them the highlight of any online casino visit. It is not uncommon to find players becoming instant multi-millionaires by depositing as little as a few dollars.
Hundreds of online casino sites have dedicated their gaming only to slot machines and focus on the excitement and thrill of this great game. What better way to become an instant millionaire than by logging onto an online slot casino, having a few spins of the slots reels and winning the jackpot? If you are yet to discover the thrills of online casinos and especially slots, now is the time!
Posted by Denise Marie
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