When you think about it, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer tenacity of a humble slot machine. Since the very dawn of casino gaming as we know it, slots have played one of the most important roles in the entire industry. Even today, slots continue to attract more customers and generate more money for businesses worldwide than any other casino game.
Back in the day, the first slot machines to emerge came from the factory of the New York-based Sittman and Pitt company way back in 1891. The game that ran on this rudimentary machine would today look like a video poker game to us. Nothing like the kinds of pokies that are on the market right now, but something that would nonetheless pave the way for an outright revolution.
That first poker game dealt out 50 cards across five drums where players paid a nickel per round in hope of a payout when a poker hand lined up. There was no Jack of Spades or Jack of Hearts, which helped give the House the edge. Payouts involved cigarettes or free drinks at the bar. There was no such thing as a cash prize – some of the earlier slots even handed out candy or bubble gum for lining up a winning combination.
The Origins of the Slot Machine Bell Symbol
In case you’d ever wondered why almost every slot machine features a bell, it’s actually a pretty interesting story. The bell symbol goes all the way back to a machine Charles Fey designed at the end of the 19th century, which allowed for automatic payments. It replaced the drum with reels and featured five symbols: hearts, diamonds, horseshoes, spades and the bell symbol.
The biggest payout was for three bells. The bell was based on the famous Liberty Bell, and Fey named the machine after it. Unfortunately, however, despite the gaming machine’s popularity, he never bothered to apply for a patent and as such his designs were copied by other slot machine manufacturers that came after.
Why Are They Called Fruit Machines?
Prohibition has always played a role in steering the future of the casino gaming industry. Slot machines were banned in some countries at the beginning of the 20th century, but they still persisted. Cash prizes weren’t allowed so fruit symbols were introduced and prizes of chewing gum or sweets were paid out corresponding to the winning symbol. It was around this time the BAR symbol was introduced, which was based on the logo of the Bell-Fruit Company.
But why have slots endured relatively unchanged in design and popularity for the last 128 years? More importantly, why is it that slots continue to be the most popular casino games by a significant margin worldwide?
Simplicity in Design
The answer to the whole thing is relatively simple…quite literally. The unique appeal of slot machines lies in two important things:
- The potential for prizes
With the first of these, slots always have been and always will be simple enough for anyone to enjoy them. The fact that there’s pretty much zero skill involved only adds to the appeal of these machines. No experience necessary, no research required and nothing intimidating for newcomers. You simply throw in your money, hit the button and try your luck.
In addition, almost everyone who plays slot machines has the intention of winning a prize. Even in instances where the odds are astronomical, there’s still a chance of pocketing a payout. It’s the classic ‘you have to be in it to win it’ scenario, whereby playing opens the door to possible prizes. You may be fundamentally aware of the fact that the odds are stacked against you, but it’s still exciting to think you might (occasionally) beat the house.
How Slots Crossed Over to Online Gaming
These first slot machines remained largely unchanged in their general design and gameplay for generations. That is, until the introduction of the internet and the crossover to online casinos. To start with, online casinos concentrated on the traditional casino games like roulette and blackjack, but online slots quickly became as popular as they were in land-based casinos. Three reels became five and the number of symbols increased too. As computer programming advanced, new types of games with unusual themes, layouts, structure and bonus features emerged – for instance, Microgaming’s Cash Splash.
An online casino will almost always have something for everyone. Whether you’re an aficionado of the traditional fruit machine or you prefer to look for bonus features on the latest five-reel slot, it’s all right there for the taking.
Likewise, whether you’re a novice or you’ve been spinning the reels for years, it’s all fantastically accessible. Again, the appeal of online slots being tied to the simplicity of the whole thing.
Bigger and Better Prizes
While the overall gameplay remains similar, the prize structures have increased massively. Progressive jackpot prizes now exist, worth over £1 million for a single spin. The odds of winning such a prize being about the same as those of winning the lottery, but still – a chance that is worth taking. And you can play on thousands of themed reels, such as those based on Gladiators or even snooker in Ronnie O’Sullivan Sporting Legend.
Needless to say, the sheer scope and variety of what’s on the table right now is extraordinary.
The reason slot machines have managed to remain so popular since their arrival is largely because they are easy to learn. Online slots in particular, compared to games of skill like blackjack, baccarat or poker, need little prior knowledge to play. Slots have been fun to play since the first poker machine and Fey’s Liberty Bell machine hit the bars of America over a hundred years ago – and with over 2000 different slots to play, they aren’t letting up in popularity either.
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