Slot machines are often associated with bright colors, flashing lights and the familiar sound of coins falling down on you, while a fun video sequence is taking you from one screen to another. But the popular casino game has not always looked that way – on the contrary, in their early days, slots were very different and over the years, they went through many changes and developments.
Today, they are played by millions of people around the world who dream of winning big and hitting the jackpot. While in North America, they are commonly known as slot machines, the British tend to call them fruit machines. In Australia, these automatic games are known as pokies, an interesting term that originates from “poker machines”. But is the connection between poker an slots and how did slot machines come into existence in the first place?
The origins of slots could be traced back to the invention of the first gaming machines at the end of the 19th century. Strange as it may sound, they were based on poker. In 1891, Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York, developed a gaming machine with five drums and 50 card faces, which would randomly come out when you pull the lever. If the cards formed a winning poker hand, players would receive free cigars and drinks.
Although the game was incredibly popular in bars and other establishments, it was too complicated and had no payout mechanism. Something much simpler with less winning combinations was the solution and soon, it was delivered by mechanic and inventor Charles Fey. His “Liberty Bell Slot Machine” had only three reels and five symbols, instead of the original 50 – diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes, and the Liberty Bell. Whenever three bells appeared in a row, the automatic payout mechanism would give winners 10 nickels.
Other manufacturers created their own versions of the gaming machines, including one particular type which paid out chewing gum in different fruit flavors. Each flavor was represented as a symbol of a fruit on the reels and this is where the term fruit machines came from.
Slot Machines in the XX Century
According to history, the first slot machines continued to develop in the United States, with every manufacturer introducing something new and better. Fruit symbols were first used in 1909 in Industry Novelty Company, while the well-known today Bar symbol appeared in 1910. A machine created by the Mills Novelty Company featured an image of a chewing gum pack, which was eventually simplified and became known as the Bar symbol. In 1916, the first jackpot was introduced by the same company and once the player hit the right combination, all coins in the machine would pour out.
However, states started to pass legislation prohibiting slot machines and by the 1950’s, gambling was banned everywhere except for Nevada. Restrictions outside the United States loosened and governments worldwide started legalizing slots. In 1963, the first electromechanical slot machines were developed by Chicago-based company Bally. The side lever was still present and it continued to be widely used even in the 1970’s when video slot machines started to emerge. The first one was created in 1976 by the Las Vegas company Fortune Coin Co., which used a 19-inch Sony Trinitron color receiver as a display. Only two years later, the technology along with the company itself was purchased by International Gaming Technology (IGT)
Progressive jackpot networks appeared in the mid-1980’s when the electronic systems of the slot machines were connected. A fraction of each bet from all networked machines went to a shared jackpot and once a lucky player hit a certain combination, the full amount of the jackpot would be paid out.
The Rise of Online Slots
The 1990’s brought a real revolution in the world of gambling thanks to the rapid growth of a strange invention called the World Wide Web. Later known as the Internet, it allowed instant communication on a truly global scale. In 1994, an Isle of Man-based company called Microgaming gave the world the first online casino by developing complex software. It all started with only roulette and blackjack games, but soon virtual slots were added and over the next couple of decades, slots with all kinds of configurations were created.