Pokies, if you’re in Australia and New Zealand, or slots if you’re in the United States, or even Fruit machines if you’re in the United Kingdom. All of these wonderful and colorful names all refer to slot machines in various styles and configurations. Whether you prefer to play slot games at your local casino, on vacation in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a myriad of other international casino resorts, or you prefer to just play instantly online, casino slot games remain the most popular gambling game in the world.
While most first-time slot players believe that slot machines are a relatively new invention, many are quite surprised to learn that today’s modern, hi-tech slot machines have modest (albeit innovative) beginnings.
The First Slot Machines – Mechanical Ingenuity in a Box
The very first slot machines began to appear in the US during the late 1800’s and, at first, were designed as simple coin-operated machines, dispensing sweets and other small and cheap items. These machines were known as ‘nickel in the slot’ machines, which was both a great name and a convenient and efficient way of instruction. All anyone had to do was simply insert a nickel into the slot provided and pull the lever to dispense the item.
Naturally, innovative minds saw the potential that this machine could provide as a simple game of chance and soon the first slot machines began to appear, complete with playing cards as symbols. The earliest of these machines did not pay out any cash prizes but rather tokens, which could be then exchanged for cigars or drinks, depending on where the machines were located.
However, it wasn’t until a man named Charles Fey put his mind to creating his very own slot machine, inspired by the nickel in slot vending machines that he had seen throughout San Francisco while doing his rounds as an employee of the California Electric Company. His first machine contained a simple three-wheel mechanism and was soon followed by his second invention, the famous 4 – 11 – 44 machine. The machine was so named for the combination that would provide the highest possible prize. The mechanics of the device were encased in a long and narrow, rather ornate cabinet and featured three concentric dials containing numbers that needed to line up in various combinations.
However, it wasn’t until 1896 that Fey really had his biggest and most innovative slot machine that would become the blueprint for every pokie in the future. The Liberty Bell was designed and made to last, featuring a cast iron cabinet with the now familiar three reels, although each of the three reels moved independently, initiated by a lever. Each reel contained ten symbols and this time Fey added additional symbols including horseshoes, bells, and stars. Again, creating the prototype for every slot machine to come.
Pokie Tech in the 20Th Century
Mechanical pokies remained largely unchanged for the first few decades of the 20th century up until 1964 when the world’s first electromechanical pokie was introduced. Bally, one of the oldest slot machine and gaming tech companies in the world, launched an innovative new pokie called Money Honey, which would go on to set a new standard in slots designs to come.
The electromechanical design featured reels that were completely operated by an electronic circuit, unlike slot machines up until that time which relied on a system of gears, springs, and levers. Interestingly, even though Bally’s breakthrough technology no longer required any mechanical means of triggering the reels, since this could now be done with a simple contact switch or button, Bally still shipped every machine with a lever to trigger the reels into spinning. The logic behind this was quite simple. Since the electromechanical format of this new game was so new to players, Bally didn’t want them to distrust the mechanics of the game. Adding the lever gave, at least on the surface, the feeling of the same traditional gameplay and action that everyone loved about ‘one-armed bandits’.
The seventies witnessed the next step in the tech evolution of the slot machine, when another Las Vegas slot machine and gaming company, the Fortune Coin Company, introduced the very first video slot in 1976. This new design moved the electromechanical system that Bally had created a bit further down the road. Mechanical elements were not completely replaced with a series of logic boards, which controlled the entire game. In the place of standard mechanical reels viewed through a small window, players could now view a representation of the reels on a video screen.
The digital representation of the game reels could be viewed on a 19-inch Sony Trinitron screen, fairly state of the art for the time. However, just as Bally had introduced an electromechanical machine to a fair amount of skepticism, the unveiling of the world’s first video slot met with its own fair share of skepticism. Not only had all the mechanical elements that practically defined what a slot machine is for the best part of a century disappeared, there weren’t even any actual reels to watch. However, Fortune Coin was smart enough to take a leaf out of Bally’s playbook and kept the mechanical lever, just to give everyone a small bit of solid ground to stand on.
Digital Marvels – Online and On the Go
The internet is possibly the greatest modern invention yet and has made a myriad of previously impossible things very much possible. We are now able to communicate with someone halfway around the world in the blink of an eye, live and in real time. Online casinos have made it possible for virtually anyone in the world to experience the excitement of playing pokies online and sheer nature of the virtual realm means that there are no obstacles to how an online slot should look and behave. Playing online exposes us to all sorts of new and exciting ideas including real 3D animation technology, VR (Virtual Reality) enabled slots gaming, and mobile gaming through HTML5 technology, allowing players to enjoy the exact same experience on the go as they would at home on their desktops.