Slot machines have been around for more than 100 years, but today’s high-tech marvels bear little resemblance to their cast iron predecessors. They have evolved over the years from penny machines with payouts of cigars and chewing gum to sophisticated electronic devices that are linked to million-dollar, progressive jackpots.
Since its inception in San Francisco in the 1890s, the slot machine’s game technology actually changed little until the last quarter of a century. In the recent past, significant advances have been made that are continuing to revolutionize the functions of the machines - and the entire gaming industry.
In the 1930s, the Jennings company developed the first electrically-operated jackpot bell machine. It was unique in that a motor activated the reel mechanism - rather than springs or inertia - and a button replaced the handle. So there it was: a one-armed bandit without the arm!
The Bally firm, 33 years later, introduced a free-spinning reel slot with an electrical bell using electromechanical circuitry and motorized hopper pay, making many variations possible.
The biggest change of the 1980s is regarded by many to be the evolution of the "stepper" slot, which uses a microprocessor to determine the outcome of the game, thus opening up larger possibilities for bigger jackpots, new games and more options for players.
A second key advancement enables machines to give "credits" instead of paying coins on every play. With credits, the game plays faster, betting is facilitated and casinos have alternatives to working with coins.
Once stepper machines made their way into the world, slot machines began producing impressive numbers. In the state of Nevada, for instance, 1983 slot revenues surpassed once-dominant table game revenues for the first time. By the end of the century, slot revenues accounted for nearly 65 percent and table games accounted for about 35 percent of the total gaming revenues in Nevada.
Another big wave broke upon the industry in the 1970s with the introduction of video poker. Players immediately took to the game because of its element of skill, as opposed to pure chance, found in reel slots.
In 1986, IGT introduced the MegaJackpot with its statewide Megabucks progressive slot system. This innovative combination of game machine and computer technology made it possible to pool the bets and jackpots of many machines in different casinos and cities across the state into one large collective prize. The resulting stellar jackpots have become very popular with players, and have been successful in stimulating a higher level of play for game machines overall.
Since the introduction of Megabucks, other games with big payoffs were introduced, including Quarters Deluxe, Nickels Deluxe, Wheel of Fortune, Totem Pole, Jeopardy, Elvis, Addams Family, Slotopoly and Nevada Nickels. The machines have denominations ranging from nickels and quarters to dollars and $5. Progressive jackpots also vary, from a low of about $200,000 up to more than $7 million.
Game machine evolution continued with the multi-game machine, which offers a variety of different games. With upgraded machine electronics, state-of-the-art video game machines now offer unparalleled choices to the player. From simulated spinning reels to multiple poker variations to video blackjack, the choices available to players are almost unlimited - and they’re all available within one machine. Players seeking variety no longer wander the floor.
The latest innovation to break onto the scene is the bonus game, which maintains game familiarity while enhancing the overall game experience with exciting bonus opportunities and player appeal. Bonuses add a totally new dimension to today’s gaming experience, combining multimedia features, digital stereo sound and interactive game play. Perhaps the first big bonus game was Monopoly, whose video screen changed once the proper symbols lined up on the game screen. Since the mid 1990s, other manufacturers have followed suit with games that take players to different levels of fun and excitement.
Finally, the games themselves have reached new levels. Current slot machines have themes or games based on other popular media such as TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie, The Addams Family, The Munsters and Wheel of Fortune.
The newest games are also marked by stellar graphics, stereo sound effects and sequence after sequence of fun. That’s probably why they’ve become so popular, as judged by the constant din of their high-decibel sound effects!
Slots took another step forward in 2007 with the introduction of "guaranteed play." This is a concept developed by IGT and gives players a specific number of spins on the slot (or hands of video poker) for a fixed price.
Beginning in 2008 and later, "server-based" slot machines will begin appearing on casino floors. The machines will all look the same and will be connected to a central server, which will determine the machine’s game content, denomination and other characteristics. The central server will also tailor promotions to specific players and will be capable of conducting casino-wide slot tournaments and other promotions.
This New Age of slots is expected to dramatically transform the way machines are perceived and how players interact with them. It truly will begin a Brave New World for slots.
Slot Machine Terminology
Bonus is a special feature of the particular game theme, which is activated when certain symbols appear in a winning combination. Bonuses vary depending upon the game. Some bonus rounds are a special session of free spins (the number of which is often based on the winning combination that triggers the bonus), often with a different or modified set of winning combinations as the main game, and often with winning credit values increased by a specific multiplier, which is prominently displayed as part of the bonus graphics and/or animation (which in many cases is of a slightly different design or color scheme from the main game). In other bonus rounds, the player is presented with several items on a screen from which to choose. As the player chooses items, a number of credits is revealed and awarded. Some bonuses use a mechanical device, such as a spinning wheel, that works in conjunction with the bonus to display the amount won. (Some machines feature two or more of these bonus styles as part of the same game.)
Candle is a light on top of the slot machine. It flashes to alert the operator that change is needed, hand pay is requested or a potential problem with the machine.
Carousel refers to a grouping of slot machines, usually in a circle or oval formation.
Coin hopper is a container where the coins that are immediately available for payouts are held. The hopper is a mechanical device that rotates coins into the coin tray when a player collects credits/coins (by pressing a “Cash Out” button). When a certain preset coin capacity is reached, a coin diverter automatically redirects, or “drops,” excess coins into a “drop bucket” or “drop box.” (Unused coin hoppers can still be found even on games that exclusively employ Ticket-In Ticket-Out technology, as a vestige.)
Credit meter is a visual LED display of the amount of money or credits on the machine. On video reel machines this is either a simulated LED display, or represented in a different font altogether, based on the design of the game graphics.
Drop bucket or drop box is a container located in a slot machine’s base where excess coins are diverted from the hopper. Typically, a drop bucket is used for low denomination slot machines and a drop box is used for high denomination slot machines. A drop box contains a hinged lid with one or more locks whereas a drop bucket does not contain a lid. The contents of drop buckets and drop boxes are collected and counted by the casino on a scheduled basis.
EGM is used as a shorthand for “Electronic Gaming Machine.”
Hand pay refers to a payout made by an attendant or at an exchange point (“cage”), rather than by the slot machine itself. A hand pay occurs when the amount of the payout exceeds the maximum amount that was preset by the slot machine’s operator. Usually, the maximum amount is set at the level where the operator must begin to deduct taxes. A hand pay could also be necessary as a result of a short pay.
Hopper fill slip is a document used to record the replenishments of the coin in the coin hopper after it becomes depleted as a result of making payouts to players. The slip indicates the amount of coin placed into the hoppers, as well as the signatures of the employees involved in the transaction, the slot machine number and the location and the date.
MEAL book (Machine entry authorization log) is a log of the employee’s entries into the machine
Low Level or Slant Top slot machines include a stool so the player has sitdown access. Stand Up or Upright slot machines are played while standing.
Optimal play is a payback percentage based on a gambler using the optimal strategy in a skill-based slot machine game.
Payline is line that crosses through one symbol on each reel, along which a winning combination is evaluated. Classic spinning reel machines usually have up to nine paylines, while video slot machines may have as many as one hundred. Paylines could be of various shapes (horizontal, vertical, oblique, triangular, trapeziodal, zigzag, etc.)
Rollup is the process of dramatizing a win by playing sounds while the meters count up to the amount that has been won.
Short pay refers to a partial payout made by a slot machine, which is less than the amount due to the player. This occurs if the coin hopper has been depleted as a result of making earlier payouts to players. The remaining amount due to the player is either paid as a hand pay or an attendant will come and refill the machine.
Taste is a reference to the small amount often paid out to keep a player seated and continuously betting. Only rarely will machines fail to pay out even the minimum placed bet over the course of several pulls.
Weight count is an American term, referring to the dollar amount of coins or tokens removed from a slot machine’s drop bucket or drop box and counted by the casino’s hard count team through the use of a weigh scale.