When it comes to gaming technology, it doesn’t get much more iconic than the slot machine. Whether you know it as a one-armed bandit or a fruit machine, there’s no denying the long-lasting cultural impact that the humble slot machine has nurtured. But how exactly did the slot machine come about? And what does the future look like? Let’s step back in time and revisit the evolution of slot gaming technology.
The World’s First Slot Machines
The very first machine which bore any resemblance to the modern slot machine dates back all the way to 1891 in Brooklyn, New York. Two men by the names of Sittman and Pitt created a gambling machine based around the game of poker. The machine contained five rollers, with 10 cards affixed to each. Players would insert a nickel, pull the lever to spin the rollers — and hope for the best. The aim was to find winning poker hands (pair, full house, and so on), and if so, win a prize. There was no way for the machines to pay out, so winners were often given free drinks or other items specific to the venue. Despite being over 100 years old, it’s easy to see similarities between this machine and modern slots. But without automatic payouts, there was clearly still work to be done — and it was a man called Charles Fey who answered the call. Based in San Francisco, he developed a machine with three rollers showing five symbols each. This machine was the first time the famous Liberty Bell icon was ever used in a slot machine. The smart thing about his machine was that it could pay out real cash when winning combinations were detected — and it was a big hit.
The Rise Of Electromechanical Slot Machines
With the status quo well established, it wasn’t until 1964 when the first electromechanical slot machines appeared. Developed by American company Bally, the name of this slot machine was the “Money Honey” and it had many benefits over the existing slot machine systems. One of the most important of these was the fact that the machine no longer relied on rolls of coins for payouts and instead featured a large hopper which could be filled with coins. This led to the unmistakable sound of the “big win”, when the machine seemingly never stops spitting out coins. The Money Honey was a real turning point for slot machine technology, using a combination of a motor and a solenoid to stop the reels from spinning. The electromechanical machines from this era also didn’t require as much force to pull the lever (think of these like power steering in a car), so the play experience was more pleasant.
Going Modern With Video Slot Machines
Of course, the digital era was never too far away, and for slot machines this meant a jump from the physical world to the digital one. In 1976, a company called Fortune Coin Co. developed the first video slot machine. It featured a 19-inch screen — which was essentially a modified television — and a fully developed circuit board for the actual logic of the game itself. It’s worth noting that it took a couple of years to perfect this technology, because some tech-savvy users found ways to “hack” the machines and cheat their way to big payouts. Once video slots were made widely available, they captured the public’s imagination and very little changed until the 21st century, when a little thing called the internet transformed slot machine gaming once again.
The Internet Era, Online Slots, and The Future
The rise of the internet is perhaps the largest cultural shift humankind has ever seen, so it’s no surprise that the world of gaming came along for the ride. As the internet became a household fixture, so too did the availability of online slots built on web applications. Just like live casino games, these digital slot machines can be played alongside others in an online space. There are also no restrictions in terms of time or place – making online slots the most accessible form of the classic one-armed bandit. Of course, without the draw of the flashing lights and appealing aesthetic of the physical machine, gaming developers have invested a lot of time into making online slots as enjoyable as possible — and much of this comes down to convenience. In the 21st century, it’s now an everyday occurrence to see someone take out their smartphone and have a quick spin on the slots. Just think of how mind-blowing that would’ve been for those early slot makers in Brooklyn. So where will slot machines go from here? With more and more VR headsets hitting the market every year, it now seems like just a matter of time before virtual reality slot machines are an everyday sight.
So, there you have it: the complete history of slot machines. It’s been quite a journey, while at the same time, the design itself has remained remarkably similar. Perhaps that goes to show that the slot machine truly is a timeless design.