The slots genre has been around for quite a long time at this point and it has become the most popular in the whole casino industry. At land-based casinos, slot machines take up most of the room on the gaming floor and the bulk of the gaming library at online gambling websites. In both land-based and online gambling, slots are at the top of the food chain and generate the majority of gambling revenues.
This is despite the fact that this is one of the newest game genres found in the industry, developed much later than blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, etc. So how did slots conquer the gambling industry and rise to become the dominant gaming genre? In this article, we will look over the evolution of slots through its century-long history and see how they have progressed from the first iteration to the latest version.
First Version of Slots
It all started at the end of the 19th century in Brooklyn, New York. Though it would not be exactly as we know the game now, Sittman and Pitt developed a machine with five reels that would spin and stop at random. The machine better resembled modern video poker than slots, with 50 playing card faces and the goal was to form some poker combination. Players would insert a nickel and spin the reels and receive a reward if the outcome proved sufficient.
The game was quite primitive judging by modern standards and since it was mostly featured in bars and drinking establishments, players would receive their rewards in the form of drinks, cigars, etc. Despite its shortcomings, the game would become a hit with the customer base and many establishments would include at least one.
Liberty Bell and Operator Bell
Though popular, the poker machine did some significant drawbacks. For example, poker had too many possible winning combinations for it to have a functioning payout mechanism and this impracticality was a real hurdle. To counteract this, changes needed to be made to the base functionality of the machine. As it happens, there was another inventor on the opposite end of the country who had just the solution.
Charles Fey developed his own version of the slot machine before the turn of the 20th century in San Francisco. His invention was the simple 3-reel game, featuring five different symbols – horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a bell. Named after the bell symbol, the ‘Liberty Bell’ machine was the first of its kind and all that came after it drew inspiration from it. The reduced number of symbols allowed the machine to easily payout by itself and it became the standard the genre.
After the Liberty Bell took the world by storm, the next notable addition to the slots scene was the Operator Bell. Created by the Mills Novelty Company with the contribution of Charles Fey, the Operator Bell would introduce some changes to the genre, though nowhere near as drastic as the Liberty Bell. The Operator Bell mostly included quality-of-life changes, making the experience more enjoyable. Moreover, it is thought that the Operator Bell is the first slot machine to include the fruit and BAR symbols that we now know and love. It is thought that about 30,000 of these machines were manufactured and sold.
Crackdown on Slots
As slots became a more and more common addition to bars and similar establishments, the more attention did they draw from the authorities around the same time as Prohibition. It was not long before the government came down hard on slot machines and their proprietors, with gambling bans issued in many states. Still, that deterred neither the player base nor the operators. Instead of offering cash rewards, manufacturers made it so that the machines would payout in food, gum, and other edibles. The only slot machines that paid out real money were in illegal drinking establishments, which did not care for the new laws, to begin with.
However, the supposed loophole in the gambling laws was not always effective. In Iowa, even slots that paid out in edibles were considered for all intents and purposes to be gambling and as such, banned from the public to use. Over time, Nevada would establish itself as a haven for gambling and it soon became one of the few places where players could enjoy proper gaming.
Bally Introduces the Money Honey
It would be decades before any significant changes came to the slots genre and the 1960s saw the introduction of the Money Honey by Bally. It was the first fully electromechanical slot, where the reels were operator solely by electricity. Despite the new changes, the manufacturer still kept some key features of the old machines, namely the lever. Another major feature of the Money Honey slots was the bottomless hopper, which meant that the machine could payout up to 500 coins at once. A significant improvement over the Liberty Bell, which could only give out up to $0.50 in nickels.
The large payout potential made Money Honey an instant hit with the player base and games of the same kind quickly gained traction in the gambling industry. As a result, future slots would also incorporate the same electromechanical principles as Money Honey.
First Video Slot Game
While the Money Honey was a remarkable improvement of the slots genre, the 1970s would bring about even larger changes. With computer technology becoming ever more advanced, it was only a matter of time before it became used in other industries. In 1976, the world was offered the first video slot machine, courtesy of Bally. This new game used a 19-inch display and it showed a broad range of colors.
Though still a prototype when it came out, the game was placed for trials in the Hilton Hotel and after which was put up for review by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. Several tweaks were made to make cheating harder and the slot was soon all over the Vegas Strip, quickly becoming popular and with more of the same type to follow.
With the passage of time, casino technology became more and more advanced. The land-based industry was thriving and many new slots came out for gamblers to enjoy. But there was a new form of gambling on the horizon and it would offer bettors a new and exciting prospect – Internet gambling.
As the Internet became a bigger factor in everyday life, companies tried to capitalize on this and soon a new online gambling industry emerged out of nowhere. Soon the first wave of online casinos hit the market and they offered novel ways for people to place wagers. The first online slots were made available to the public and players could not get enough of them. After only a few years, the industry had grown exponentially and it was on its way to become a global phenomenon. Gamblers could now enjoy top-quality slots from the comfort of their own home and the only requirement being a computer and an Internet connection.
Companies like Microgaming and WMS Technology were first to hit the scene and release the new online slots, with many more to follow. Not only did these games capture the feel of traditional slot machines, but they also pushed the gambling industry to new heights. Furthermore, with the physical space no longer being a factor, software providers had the opportunity to develop and offer many more unique games than any land-based establishment ever could.
The online slots quickly became more advanced and with more companies entering the casino software development scene, a fierce competition began between them. This, of course, worked fully in favor of players as they now had a plethora of games to pick and choose from. The online era saw many new themes and aesthetics being featured in slots, making the genre much more appealing to everyone. Moreover, the strong competition meant that the genre was advancing at breakneck speeds, introducing high-definition graphics and many more features to new games.
Internet Slots Additional TipsThe 2010s saw the rise of smartphones and tablets and gambling operators quickly jumped at the opportunity to capture the new market. Now, slots and other games could be played while on the go with complete ease, bringing many new gamblers into the fold.
Overall, the golden age of slots is currently upon us, with thousands of top-tier titles on the market and millions of gamblers all over the world playing on the Internet. Moreover, the online gambling industry keeps rising and new games are coming out on a weekly basis. There is no better time to be a gambler and a fan of slots. Companies like Microgaming, Playtech, NetEnt, Play’n GO, Yggdrasil, Pragmatic Play, etc. are all coming out with excellent games for us to enjoy.
The slots scene has come a long way since the fruit machines of the early 1900s and by the looks of things, it is only bound the get better. Who knows what the 2020s have in store, but we are sure that we are all excited to find out.