Slots Evolution and Their Impact on the Gambling Industry

Casinos are designed to entice and influence visitor’s behavior and there is no better example of that than slot machines. Along with layout and other key elements that go into the strategic planning of gambling spaces, slots have played a major role in the tremendous success traditional casinos and virtual casinos have enjoyed over the years. The rather plain but alluring, old-style, mechanical slot machines more than earned their nickname, one-armed bandit, and the new, state-of-the-art slots found in brick-and-mortar and online casinos have carried on the tradition brilliantly.

Evolution of the Slot Machine

These game-of-chance machines have come a long way since 1894 when San Francisco mechanic Charles Fey, known as the “Thomas Edison of slots,”  built his first coin-operated gambling machine. It didn’t take long before the Bavarian-born inventor improved upon that first model, building the “Card Bell,” in 1898. And while it was a far cry from today’s online casino real money slots, it was the very first 3-reel slot machine with automatic cash payouts. The lever/arm on the side of the machine set the reels, and magic, in motion, when pulled down, with playing card suits lining up to form poker hands.

Fey had even more success a year later, introducing the “Liberty Bell,” which added bells and horseshoes to the card suits that were imprinted on the reels.

Electromechanical Slot

Fast forward to 1964, when the first fully electromechanical slot machines, “Money Honey,” were produced by the Bally Manufacturing Co. The device’s inner workings made this particular model the first to feature a bottomless hopper and the ability to pay out up to 500 coins automatically, without the assistance of an attendant. However, due to quality concerns and the cost of replacing their entire inventory of machines at once, Nevada casino owners were reluctant to invest in the new slots. For the first few years, production remained limited, and sales of the Money Honey machine were largely made overseas.

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That lull would not last for long though and just four years after production of the electromechanical slots began, Bally’s enjoyed the distinction of producing 94 percent of all the machines sold in Nevada. By March 1969, that success led to the company becoming the very first publicly traded coin-operated manufacturer. The machine’s popularity also led to electronic games becoming increasingly predominant, with the side arm soon becoming a much smaller version of what it once was.

Video Slot

The evolution continued and in 1976, the first video slot was developed by the Fortune haha777 Coin Co. based in Las Vegas and manufactured in Southern California. The prototype consisted of a 19-inch Sony Triniton color receiver that was modified and used for the display while logic boards were used for all the machine functions. The display screen was then mounted in a slot-machine cabinet. The first games produced were rolled out at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, and once modified to protect against cheating the video slot was given the green light to go statewide by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. Electric slot machines took off after that and were money-makers for casinos all over the strip and Downtown.

Just two years later, Fortune Coin along with its video-slot technology was acquired by International Gaming Technology (IGT), which was founded as A-1 Supply in 1975, before changing its name to Sircoma in 1978, and then IGT in 1981.

New Era of Gaming

The advent of the video slot changed the industry, and by 1986, progressive jackpots were introduced in large casinos. The wildly popular Megabucks was the first progressive slot machine and was developed by IGT. Another first (in America) and turning point in the history of slots came in 1996 when “Reel ’em In! was released by WMS Industries Inc., which in 2016 was merged into Scientific Games. It was the Nevada-based electronic gaming and amusement manufacturers’ first hit casino slot machine and was significant because it was the industry’s first video slot to feature a bonus round on a second screen, where the bonus game played out on a separate screen when the bonus round commenced.

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These innovative features along with others were key in the sustained growth of slot machines in the gambling industry, so much so that they accounted for a considerable portion of a casino’s revenue and took up a good deal of the available gaming floor.

Online & Mobile Slots

The era of online casinos began in the 1990s, and with it, virtual slots. There is some debate as to whether the first online casino was created in 1994, however, it is clear that the first major online casino was established via a collaboration between Cryptologic and Microgaming, both pioneers in the industry in their own right. Microgaming also developed the first online progressive jackpot slot, Cash Splash, in 1998.

Mobile slots arrived in 2005 when Pub Fruity launched. The Java casino game featured 3 reels, 3 rows and 1 payline and was designed to resemble a classic pub fruit machine. Mobile gambling really took off when Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, and in July 2008, the App Store. The latter allowed developers to create and market games directly to users.  Google’s Android Market opened for business just three months later in October 2008. Around the same time, downloadable games were starting to be offered by casino websites. Users could download the file directly from the online casino site, make deposits and play mobile-friendly slots.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention one of the true trailblazers in the industry, in this abridged history of slot machines and virtual slots.

Megaways Explodes on the Scene

Established in 2011, Australian casino software developer Big Time Gaming (BTG) has made a massive impact on the iGaming industry since it introduced its Megaways game engine in 2016. With their 117,649 ways to win, Megaways slots changed the entire market and since its inception, the random reel modifier has been licensed to a large number of industry-leading game developers. BTG was acquired by Swedish iGaming innovator and one of the world’s most prominent developers of live-dealer online casino games, Evolution Gaming Group, in 2021.

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Ever Changing Market

iGaming will continue to evolve as technological advances such as 5G, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and software providers jockey for their position in the global online gambling market, which was worth a staggering USD 63.53 billion in 2022. This is good news for all of us players, as competition between software providers and their amped-up efforts to create state-of-the-art products, means more immersive and exciting games. So, buckle up and get ready for the crazy ride that is the future of iGaming!