Slots of love for machines and how they came to be
June 25, 2013 3:01 AM
by David Newstead
While you might think casinos in Las Vegas spend all their time trying to snag one “whale” on the baccarat tables, this isn’t where their bread and butter business lies. In fact, you’ll find that around 70% of the Las Vegas casino floor space is filled with just one type of game that has existed for over a hundred years.
For those who haven’t guessed yet, we’re talking about the slot machine, of course. Every day millions of dollars in dimes, nickels and quarters are pumped into their coin slots and almost as much is paid out as prizes, with that valuable little house edge of around 6% going into the pockets of the casino owners.
Believe it or not, the first slot was created as a poker game. Well-known gambling historian David G Schwartz claims a Brooklyn company sold the first poker playing machine in 1881. It used five reels, each with 10 cards, which were spun to create random poker hands.
The owner of the machine would hand-pay players based on the odds of any winning hand. Usually, these machines only paid for a pair of Jacks or better, which is where the term jackpot originates from.
It is thanks to this heritage that most slots in Las Vegas originally used a standard five-reel set up that featured the top royal cards from the deck.
It was in 1890’s poker-crazed San Francisco that these new machines really caught the imagination of the gaming public. When three German mechanics, including slot legend Charles Fey, decided to tinker with this idea, the first mechanised reel game was born in 1898 – The Card Bell.
Fey found it impossible to engineer a machine with five reels, so this first prototype of the one-armed bandit game was created using a three-reel arrangement that would come to dominate the early years of this industry.
It wasn’t until gambling licenses were granted in Las Vegas in 1931 – a year when slot machines reportedly made a staggering $25 million profit in New York – that these games began to appear around town. Believe it or not, the place to go to play these games was actually the Las Vegas Sweet Shoppe, which had a license for 17 machines – the largest selection available at the time.
The city that never sleeps had finally caught the reel virus, and from then on the fever was only going to get hotter.
A number of new inventions over the years paved the way for the slot’s dominance, including the development of the so-called bottomless hopper, first appearing on the Bally machine Money Honey. This allowed players to continuously churn through big wins, which for the first time ever were actually paid out by the machine as opposed to hand pay via an attendant.
IGT is one of the biggest gaming development companies in Las Vegas, with titles like Sex And The City, Ghostbusters and Siberian Storm under their belt. They’re also responsible for some of the biggest innovations in slot machine history.
When Bally engineer Inge Telnaes first devised the legendary virtual reel in the early 1980s, IGT was one of the companies that grabbed this processing ball of fun and ran with it as far as they possibly could. The result was the creation of the legendary Megabucks machine, the first ever wide-area network progressive slot the world had ever seen.
This system linked a number of game terminals together, syphoning a portion of every penny spent on the game into a huge, ever-growing jackpot, often in the region of several million dollars, all waiting to be won by one lucky player.
This was the first time in casino history the average Joe or Jane had a chance to stick a dollar in a game and walk away with a life-changing amount of money. Needless to say these progressive slot machines were a huge hit on the Nevada gaming scene, so much so that their jackpots began to run as a regular feature in the local press.
With the sharp rise in processing power other Las Vegas casino development companies began to jump on board the slot machine train. The next big innovation in the gaming industry was to come from WMS, which recently signed a deal in March 2013 with casino super-company Caesars Entertainment to bring their titles to an online audience in Nevada.
In the 1990s WMS came up with the game that is recognized as the first-ever slot to feature a second screen bonus round – Reel Em In. When players managed to hit the right combination of symbols on the slot’s base-game grid they got a chance to take part in a fishing contest unlike anything that had ever been seen on a slot machine at that time.
Needless to say, this was an instant hit with Las Vegas gamers who really took the game to heart, and you can still find a special version of it, Reel Em In – Big Bass Bucks, on casino floors today.
The slot machine craze is showing no signs of dissipating. In fact, as more and more people are visiting Las Vegas on an annual basis, the amount of floor space designated for these machines is growing, with traditional games like roulette, blackjack and craps being pushed out the door.
There is no other type of gambling that’s as fun and accessible as spinning the reels on one of the thousands of titles that endlessly blink into the warm Nevada nights, which all have the ability to put a rush and flutter into the hearts of even the most pious players.
AUTHOR BIO: David Newstead is a keen player of Las Vegas slot machines and makes a couple of trips to the Nevada gaming destination every year, where he enjoys researching the latest games for his numerous trade articles and his website, www.slotsonline.co.uk.
Contact us at Publisher@GamingToday.com.