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Slot Technology – Underneath the Game
You're sitting in a space-age cocoon staring at 3-D images and flashing bars spinning across the screen in front of you. Above the screen, videos play and images dance across the display. You are not in a futuristic spaceship traveling through the galaxy. It’s much closer to home — you're in one of the new generations of slot machines that are invading gaming floors across the country.
Easy To Play
What began as a diversion from the main gaming attractions of poker and blackjack has become the number one source of income for casinos. Slot machines were great for casual players who had no interest in traditional games. Simply drop your nickel in the slot, pull the lever, and watch with anticipation as the wheels spin. It didn't take a lot of money and anyone could play. The simplicity and fun of slot machines made them a huge success.
The original mechanical versions were eventually replaced by electronic versions and then computerized models. The new generation of computerized machines has taken 3-D imagery, pop culture references and storytelling to unprecedented heights. Far removed from the futuristic look of today’s space-age machines, the original slot machine was a lesson in simplicity. Put in your nickel, pull the lever and three wheels would spin in front of you. One at a time, they would stop. If they all lined up, you were a winner, and the machine would automatically provide the payout.
The Liberty Bell
In 1895, a car mechanic named Charles Fey invented the original slot machine called the Liberty Bell. The spinning graphics included hearts, spades, diamonds and Liberty Bells with the iconic crack in the side. Players who were lucky enough to get three Liberty Bells in a row were rewarded with a payout of a whopping fifty cents.
Mr. Fey was a prolific inventor. He created the first draw poker machine as well as the internal mechanics that help detect counterfeit coins and slugs. His machines were hugely popular, and he could barely keep up with the demand. Manufacturers wanted to license his creations, but he refused. Soon the competition knocked off his designs. In 1907, one fellow named Herbert Mills began to produce the first slot machines featuring fruit symbols — the familiar plums, cherries and lemons.
The symbols were painted on round metal hoops situated on a metal bar. When a player dropped the coins, it released the brake on a lever on the side of the machine. When they pulled the lever, the "reels" spun around. They stopped one at a time in succession. If all three were the same, the player won a payout, which typically fell into a tray at the bottom of the front of the machine. The reason they stopped one at time was to increase the suspense.
Electric gaming machines first entered casinos in the early 1930s, including most popular games such as poker, roulette and dice. However, it wasn't until 1975 that the very first electronic slot machines appeared on the scene. The electric version copied the functionality of the mechanical machines, but substituted motors and solenoids to spin the reels and stop them in order. Electronics also provided more elaborate sound systems and impressive light displays, as well as the convenience of using a bank card instead of coins.
The competition to create the latest, greatest slot machine marvel has led game manufacturers to compete with the world’s largest computer game companies for graphic designer and computer programmer talent. These wunderkinds create immersive games that tap pop culture for themes such as TV shows like "Ellen" and "Mad Men."
Highly-advanced computer programs allow incredible on-screen imagery. For example, one popular machine called the Sphinx features 3-D graphics that seem to float above the screen itself. Players don't have to wear 3-D glasses. Instead, a miniscule camera tracks eye movements and changes the position of the graphics automatically.
Along with advances in the machines themselves, manufacturers now employ storytelling aspects that lead players through plotlines and story arcs. New characters and themes are introduced as game play continues, adding an additional layer of interest and involvement. In addition, payouts now come in a wide variety of variations with multiple possibilities based on a plethora of odds and jackpots.
A New Generation
Interestingly, despite all of the glitz of the new machines, many of them still adhere to the spinning graphics model that has been consistent in slot machines from the very beginning. This is partly due to consumer interest, but also has a lot to do with the fact that slot machines are heavily regulated. They must follow strict rules and regulations just to get licensed.
Despite these challenges, it's clear that slot machines are becoming more like the computer and video games of today, including wildly popular titles such as “Angry Birds.” Manufacturers are evolving their games to garner the interest of a new generation of players who grew up in the age of computer video games. Charles Fey would be proud that his invention has come such a long way from the original Liberty Bell.