Since the history of time, humans have gathered together to work, to protect one another, and to have fun. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that suggests that our earliest ancestors played games of chance.
Counters, dice, cards, and other signs of gaming have been traced back throughout history and on every continent, wherever people spent time together. Like humans, games can be traced back through time using their ancestors to follow their story, and even games that seem incredibly modern, such as the super-popular slot machine, have a history that adds context to the games we know today.
The oldest machine that was anything like the slot machines we see all over the world today was more like a game of single-player poker. There were the reels that we have become familiar with, but each was covered in playing cards.
Most games had five reels with ten cards on each, for a total of fifty cards. To increase the house edge, the ten of spades and jack of hearts were usually removed to lower the chances of getting the highest value hands.
These machines were popular, but the mechanical nature of the game only extended to the spinning of the reels. The actual prizes had to be paid out by the staff of whichever establishment they were playing in, meaning that they varied greatly in value depending on what was available, from more free spins to free cigarettes and drinks.
The origins of the slot machine
These early slot machines proved so popular that they were in huge demand, but they represented something of a double-edged sword for bar owners. Although they brought in customers, the staff were having to spend a lot of time checking the reels and making payouts, which did mar their appeal somewhat.
This is where a key figure in the history of slots comes in. In Bavaria in 1862 – a boy named August Fey was born. As a child, he took an interest in the farming machinery he saw around him as the industrialisation of farming changed the way food was produced before his very eyes.
As a young man, he was enterprising and at the age of twenty-three, he left his hometown first for France, then the UK, before settling in the US. Once he arrived, August, now known as Charles to avoid the nickname ‘Gus’, embarked on a career as a machinist at the California Electric Works.
Charles was fascinated by the poker machines and felt sure that there would be mileage in a version that could pay out automatically. He and two friends, Theodor Holtz and Gustav Schultze, worked together to create a machine that was entirely automated.
Schultze actually came up with a working design, but Fey improved on it, creating a prototype of a machine called the ‘Liberty Bell’ that included features that are still popular such as the staggered stop that adds to the suspense of the spin. Gone were the playing cards, and in their place a selection of symbols, many of which are still in use in slot machines today and including the Liberty Bell the machine was named after.
The modern slot machine
With no need to do anything other than empty the profits out of the machines, the popularity of slot machines soared and became first a national, then a global craze. So much so that the earliest games designers created a video version of a slot machine in 1976, by a company based in Las Vegas.
When video gaming became popular in the 1980s and arcade culture began to take hold in the 1990s, the opportunity for traditional games to go digital presented itself. With a history of being rendered in video form, it was no surprise that slots were among the first and the most popular of the traditional casino games to find fans among the next generation of gamers who appreciated the fast-paced appeal of slots amongst the best of other technology.
When the internet made it possible to play online, slots once again proved a favourite among gamers that were embracing the new technology. Online betting sites and casinos were proliferating and more and more players were opting for the ease and convenience of online slots when going to brick-and-mortar casinos wasn’t practical.
The history of smartphones stems back to 1992 where IBM announced their first smartphone. Since then, smartphones have developed immensely, with technology allowing mobiles to not only be used for communication but also for entertainment purposes.
Gaming apps are among the most popular apps on a smartphone device contributing to the global demand for more on-the-go gaming. For Apple, the iPhone 6 became its best seller of all time and the IOS helped provide the groundwork for apps we know and love today. The popularity of slots apps demonstrates the universal appeal of the game, and the number of players worldwide continues to grow.
Technology has played a huge role in the growth of slot machine gaming and it is important that providers keep updated with the latest technology trends to remain competitive within the market.
From the earliest days of the rudimentary poker machines to the online casinos that use artificial intelligence, superfast streaming technology, and all the other cutting-edge technology available, slots have proved their appeal and earned multiple generations of fans.