The history and evolution of slot machines

By Ioana Nuțulescu updated:

The gambling industry, as we know it, is thriving in the modern world. Especially slots, which have a long history behind them. Our not-so-distant ancestors relied on slot machines as a form of entertainment and stress-relieving tool. Nowadays, they are an integrated part of popular culture, being widely spread across the world. To get a better understanding of this game-changing phenomenon, we shall explore the following:

The inner workings of slot machines

Although it seems quite complex, the mechanism behind a slot machine is not that complicated. Back in the day, mechanical slot machines worked on a configuration of gears and levers. Later, technological advancement allowed the introduction of electrical machines that work on similar principles but have more sophisticated systems.

The standard layout features a screen displaying three or more reels, each containing certain symbols, that spin when the game is activated. To make the reels spin, one had to pull a lever. Eventually, the lever has been replaced with a button. When the reels stop spinning, the machine pays out according to the pattern of symbols displayed on the screen.

Far from the elaborate themes and designs of today, traditional slot machines displayed only five symbols: diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and bells. They also included currency detectors to validate certain payment methods such as cash, coins, vouchers, tokens or tickets.

The inner workings of slot machines

How did everything begin?

1891-1899

Let’s dive back into the history, down to the roots of slot machines. Their origins can be traced back to the 19th century when their ‘relative’ was born. In 1891, a New York-based company, called Sittman and Pitt, developed the first gambling machine. This could be found in bars and was actually based upon Poker, as it lined up random cards across five drums. The downside was that the machine didn’t have a direct payout mechanism. Winnings were usually non-monetary, being granted at the bar in the form of free drinks and cigars. And that’s how it all started!

Fast forward a few years, somewhere between 1894 and 1899, Charles August Fey, a San Francisco mechanic, created the first slot machine with an automatic payout mechanism. Despite similar technologies being used in previous gambling devices, Fey’s coin-operated machine is considered the first real slot machine. He replaced the drums with three reels and the Poker cards with five symbols. One of these was a bell, which also inspired him to name the machine “Liberty Bell.”

Once they became more and more popular, the devices were banned in California, but the demand increased in other states. You guessed it right! One of these states was Nevada. And that’s probably how Las Vegas gained the title of ‘gambling capital of the world’.

How did everything begin?

Source

The evolution of slot machines

1907-1976

Due to Liberty Bell’s increased popularity, the slot-machine manufacturer Herbert Mills started the mass production of a replica in 1907. And by 1908, most cigar stores, saloons, brothels and barber shops were equipped with one of these devices.

The same manufacturer has later produced a similar machine called “Operator Bell.” This came with an additional feature, consisting of a gum-vending attachment. Because the gum was fruit-flavoured, symbols like lemons, cherries, oranges and plums were placed on the reels. Later, this widely recognized set of symbols started to be used by other companies such as Watling, Jennings and Pace, and it remained popular until today.

In the early 1930s, Mills made a series of adjustments to their originals models, which revolutionized the industry. As slot machines were pretty noisy at that time, the company implemented a technology that made them much quieter. Then, it gradually started to introduce themed slots and the ‘double jackpot’ feature.

After several decades of technological progress, in 1963, Bally created the first fully electromechanical slot machine. It was called “Money Honey” and was able to automatically payout up to 500 coins. As it enjoyed plenty of success, it is believed to have led to an increase in the number of electronic games.

Not long after that, a ground-breaking invention was just around the corner, the first video slot machine. It was developed in 1976 by the Las-Vegas-based company Fortune Coin. The machine’s display was a 19-inch Sony Trinitron colour receiver, with functions operated by logic boards.

The first production units were displayed at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. After some modifications, the machines were approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. Eventually, they were introduced everywhere on the Las Vegas Strip and in downtown casinos. Two years later, IGT acquired Fortune Coin along with its video slot-machine technology.

The evolution of slot machines

Source

A 2018 study published by Harvard University shows that most gamblers prefer slots over other casino games. Also, according to Statista, 38% of Canadian punters state that they always play on slot machines when visiting a casino.

So why do players choose slots in favour of gambling forms with much more complex structures, like Poker or Blackjack? The answer is simple! Unlike those traditional games, slot machines do not require any gambling knowledge. There are no specific strategies, tactics or hidden patterns involved. Therefore, anyone can try them out.

In addition to that, a research conducted in 1948 by Burrhus Frederic Skinner shows that operant responses are strengthened by reinforcement. The study was based upon Ivan Pavlov’s discovery regarding reward stimuli that can be driven through conditioning.

But what does this mean in a gambling context? Well, it means that winnings generated as a result of a playing decision enhance the punter’s level of adrenaline, which determines him to play again, in order to receive additional rewards. In other words, the more times one wins (regardless of the amount won), the more he will be motivated to play.

Are regular slot machines going downhill?

Over the years, RNG (Random Number Generator) systems have been embedded in the microprocessors of slot machines to guarantee that the game’s outcome is completely random. And that isn’t the only novelty that has been happening since the launch of video slots. In 1993 the idea of online slots was conceived. However, they were fully implemented a year after.

The online versions use similar RNG technology as their land-based counterparts to ensure fair play. Some might even say that the online mechanism is much more advanced. But one thing is certain, online slots are taking over the gambling industry, becoming more prevalent amongst players of all ages. More than that, due to rapid technological advancement, slots can now be played on mobile devices.

These on-the-go products come with ground-breaking graphics and offer just the same features as their desktop versions. Sure, the invention of online slots has definitely taken the world by storm, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that traditional slot machines will become extinct. Anyways, who knows what the future might hold?

Are regular slot machines going downhill?

Free slots online

Those who are hesitant about joining the online gambling environment might have to reconsider their decision. Players who think that they could never give up traditional slot machines might change their mind after trying out free slots online. These were designed to help gamblers get accustomed to the game without spending any real money. So why not try them out?

With that many games and providers on the market, the possibilities are endless. Top-notch companies like IGT, Netent, Microgaming and Eyecon are launching new titles every month. There are already hundreds of products with different themes, RTPs and special features for every possible taste. So, you won’t have to search a lot until finding something to your liking. Some free slots online worth trying are Wolf Run, Fluffy Favourites, Starburst and Golden Goddess. And there is always more to explore!

To end this, we would highly recommend checking out a few online slots to decide for yourself whether you prefer them over traditional slot machines or not. And if you do find them appealing, you can start your journey in the online gambling environment by claiming a welcome bonus from one of our casinos. Take your time to carefully analyze every option! After all, it doesn’t matter what site or game you choose, as long as it fits your preferences.  

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