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New breed of slots continue to evolve

Jul 23, 2002 3:45 AM

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. In 2002, the pendulum continues to swing in the direction of slots.

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. The new machines gave players decision-making options that regular slots didn’t offer, and their impact took the industry by surprise. Pioneered by International Game Technology (IGT) and its founder Si Redd, video poker machines would eventually become the machine of choice for local players in Las Vegas.

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, IGT has led the field in offering other wide-area progressive slot systems, which can be found in casinos throughout Nevada. They include 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.

Also in the 1980s, players began seeing more and more buttons and panel options on both slots and video poker machines. The new trend apparently proved an attraction to younger players, who developed their skills on arcade and home electronic games.

In addition, the appearance of dollar and higher-denomination games also influenced the industry. By early 1990, casinos were not only offering $1, but $5, $25, $100 and even $500 games as well!

Game machine evolution continues into the current decade. The multi-game machine makes switching between games and challenge levels as easy as the touch of a finger. 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 (21), 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.

Finally, the games themselves have reached new levels of excitement. 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!