Slot machines are common in many parts of the world today, and while they have only been around for a little over a century, they have undergone significant technological changes during that time.
Here is a look at the most impactful innovations to arrive in the world of slots, starting from the early mechanical era and going right up to the digital age we now live in.
The earliest slot-style machines were based around playing cards, with poker hands determining the type of payout received. These proved quite complex to keep track of, leading inventor Charles Fey to come up with an alternative featuring 3 reels and 5 symbols.
These reels were spring-loaded and could spin freely once the lever was depressed, with a payout issued automatically if the punter managed to match the right symbols.
Automation made the now iconic Liberty Bell slot machines hugely popular with players and venue owners alike, facilitating their adoption across the US and eventually around the globe.
Arrival of electricity
Early slot machines were purely mechanical, meaning that they could function without the need for power, but were fundamentally limited in the functionalities they could offer because of this.
It was not until the early 1960s that the first electro-mechanical hybrid slot was introduced, with casino firm Bally being behind the development of this seminal machine.
Aside from allowing machines to offer more complex, electrified features and functions, as well as improved aesthetics and audio capabilities, the dawning of this period in the slot market meant that the famed, side-mounted lever used to operate old mechanical slots was rendered redundant. Some machines and even modern mobile slots still adopt this design, but it is purely a retro choice rather than a practical necessity.
Video screen integration
By the mid-1970s, technology had advanced to the point that even the idea of slots with partly mechanized innards was becoming outdated.
After a variety of prototypes and concept models were produced, the first slot with a video display at its heart was introduced to Las Vegas in 1978, courtesy of Fortune Coin Co, a company which would eventually be snapped up by IGT.
The 1980s saw video slots take off in a big way, with video poker machines also appearing around the same time.
While these now-ancient machines look very rough around the edges and simplistic by modern standards, they were cutting edge at the time and hinted at what the future of the market would hold.
Online casino era dawns
The arrival of the World Wide Web in the 1990s brought about a digital revolution in which all sorts of services were shifted over to the interconnected ecosystem of the internet, while their land-based, bricks and mortar equivalents suddenly seemed very old hat.
This was certainly true of slot machines, and it was operator InterCasino that led the charge with its initial offering of a limited selection of browser-based games back in 1996.
In the coming years, the online casino industry would balloon and the number of slots available would eventually number in the tens of thousands, while reputable operators would also become increasingly common.
Mobile play emerges
It is only in the past decade that playing slot machines on the move has become a possibility, with the rise of smartphones and tablets allowing app developers to adapt online casino experiences for portable devices.
Current games may feature stunning graphics, impressive bonus modes and all the other bells and whistles you might expect, but they still rely on the innovations made in earlier periods to deliver consistent fun to players.
Please play responsibly. For more information and advice visit www.begambleaware.org
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