For over a century slot machines have delighted gamblers on every continent except Antarctica. With simple gameplay, quick action, and potentially huge payouts, it's easy to see why casinos dedicate so much space to slot machines. Yet these enchanting wonders have come a long way over the years. Although the object of the game remains the same, today's games are infinitely more captivating. It's worth retracing history's steps to better understand everybody's favourite casino game.
Slot machines certainly weren't the first mechanical gambling game. The nineteenth century was a breeding ground for inventors and gambling was already a national pastime in America, especially on the frontier. In 1891, poker machines were introduced to many bars across the USA. These machines looked a lot like slots, featuring five cylinders adorned with traditional playing cards. Bar patrons could insert a coin and spin the reels. The interesting part is that the machine was unable to determine if a hand was a winner or pay out any applicable winnings. Instead, the barkeep would be responsible for awarding prizes. Many of these games were to some extend rigged since it was possible to remove playing cards from the machine to fix the odds.
Although today's slot machines rely on a spin button, which triggers a computer to rotate the reels, the gameplay used to be far more mechanical. Players used to spin the reels by pulling a lever at the side of the machine to set off the game's gears. In fact, the first slot machines were affectionately known as one arm bandits, which is a tribute to the arm or lever and a critique of the large house edge. First released to the public in 1894 by inventor and mechanic Charles Fey, the original slot machines lacked an automatic payout mechanism.
Two years later Charles Fey perfected his creation and released the famous Liberty Bell slot machine. The game featured three reels adorned with horseshoes, hearts, spades, diamonds, and bells. More importantly the machine would pay out automatically. Players would typically win 10 coins by landing three bells.
Liberty Bell slots spread like wildfire across the USA. It wasn't uncommon to find them in bars, cigar shops, and dens of iniquity. They even spawned plenty of copy cats that shamelessly used the same symbols. Once gambling was outlawed across America, games became more creative. In 1912 the Bell-Fruit Gum Company created a game featuring apples, watermelons, oranges, cherries, and bars. These machines actually paid out gum to circumvent prohibitions on gambling.
Slot machines and other gambling games continued to be popular despite prohibition. Yet they really started to thrive in the 40s and 50s when the appeared on the floors of luxurious Las Vegas casinos.
Slot machines relied on the same primitive technology until the 1960s when electromechanical slots were born. Bally's released its famous Money Honey in 1963, which paid a 500-coin jackpot. More importantly, it curbed cheating, which was a huge problem up until this point.
Advances in technology also helped to bring slot machines across the pond. In the 1960s games of chance were prohibited by law. As a result, manufactures came up with a brilliant workaround. They simply added interactive features, which allowed these fruit machines to qualify as games of skill. These fruit machines quickly became popular in pubs across the United Kingdom.
Whether you play online or at a live casino, today's slots are fully computer controlled. Yet the first video slot didn't appear until 1976. The Fortune Coin Company, which was acquired by current gambling titan IGT in 1978, fashioned a machine out of a colour TV and arcade game computer processors. Just like video games from that era, the quality of the games evolved rather quickly. Two decades later, games had multiple screens, bonus features, and even a choice of games on a single machine. Computers also made it possible to play using banknotes rather than coins, which is far more convenient if you like high stakes and hate counting.
Multi-line slots also first gained popularity in the 90s. Rather than being limited to just a few paylines, video slots let you win dozens of different ways. You can get paid if you land a winning combination arranged diagonally or in all sorts of wacky shapes and patterns.
There's nothing better than having a shot at winning millions. Why win a handful of nickels when today's casinos let you play for awe-inspiring progressive jackpot? Although progressive slots were available in Las Vegas during the 1980s, it wasn't until the 1990s when modern networking technology made massive jackpots possible. Thanks to the invention of powerful services and wireless connections, it's now possible for casinos across the globe to contribute to the same ballooning jackpot.
By the mid-1990s the internet started to make its way into homes. Although Britons and Americans relied on dial-up modems to access primitive browsers, the bandwidth was sufficient for early casino games. By 1996 there were a few sites offering online slots to players in the United Kingdom yet it wasn't until 1998 that things got truly interesting. That's when Microgaming released its Cash Splash game, the world's first progressive jackpot game. The game is still offered in 2018, although there are much more lucrative slots now.
Online slots really started to thrive in 2006 when the United Kingdom passed ground-breaking gambling legislation. The government opted to not only legalise online gambling, but they chose to licence and regulate sites to protect the public. This means players have more choice than ever before. Britons can now enjoy slots at dozens of award-winning sites at any hour of the day or night. Many internet casinos offer 500 games or more. It's easy to find titles for every taste and budget. Players can even access free games and play on their mobile phone. No matter where you enjoy fruit machines, we're sure Charles Fey would be proud.