Charles Fey invented the first slot machine way back in 1895. He went on to perfect his initial innovation in 1907, when he teamed with Mills Novelty Company who manufactured the “Mills Liberty Bell.” The Liberty Bell featured a cast iron case and originally had cast iron feet with toes. In later models the toes were scrapped and replaced with ornate decorated feet.
The machine’s reel strips depicted playing cards the king, queen, and jack. The machine also originally had a bell that rang when you hit a winning combination, but this was also scrapped. The initial concept, however, was not lost because now-a-days, modern slots have a bell that ring as an indicator that a player has just hit the jackpot.
This “Liberty Bell” is the primary predecessor to all modern American slot machines as its basic design continues to be used in mechanical gaming devices today. The simple mechanical devices with three old-style reels holding 20 symbols have evolved into microprocessor-controlled devices with up to five spinning reels holding hundreds of symbols.
In 1910, the Mills Novelty Company introduced a slight variation to the Liberty Bell and called it the Operator Bell. This machine had a gooseneck coin entry and featured the now famous fruit symbols, which are still used in many of today’s slot machines. These cast iron slots are heavy, weighing over 100 pounds. Over 30,000 of these machines were made.
The era of cast iron machines ended in 1915, when Mills introduced slot machines with less expensive wood cabinets. In the early 1930s, the Mills Novelty Company made a number of additional changes to its line of slot machines that revolutionized the industry.
First, it designed its machines to be much quieter. That’s why its 1930s machines are referred to as the “silent bell”. Then it introduced a double jackpot that assured players that one could win twice in quick succession.
To make its machines memorable and enticing to players, Mills introduced a series of cabinet designs that were striking and colorful, each with its own theme. The first in early 1931 was the Lion Head. In late 1931, it was the War Eagle and the Roman Head, and in 1933, it was the Castle Front.
It was during the 1930’s that slot machines began to become very popular across America, and in the late 40’s Bugsy Siegel added machines to his Flamingo Hilton hotel in Las Vegas. Originally installed as a way to entertain the wives and girlfriends of high rollers, revenue from the slot machines soon matched that of the table games. By the 1990’s slots had taken over and now account for over two-thirds of casino revenue in the United States.
There are basically two kinds of slot machines: flat tops or straight slots, and progressives. These slots are essentially the same, but for one feature: flat tops will pay the winner a predetermined amount printed on the machine cabinet/screen, whereas progressive slots have a jackpot that grows by a percentage of each coin played. You will often see a rolling dollar amount above these progressive machines displaying a very high figure. Oftentimes a number of progressive machines feed into one jackpot where any machine in the group can win, and the jackpot grows into an higher amount.
Since the quarter and dollar machines are most popular, they can be found in many areas on the casino floor. Nickel machines can still be found in small pockets, depending on the casino. For the high-rolling player, casinos have instituted $5, $25, and $100 machines segregated to special VIP areas.
Slot machines today are designed to create hysteria of sorts … the coin catch pans along with the coins are specifically designed to make a larger and life sound so that players are always hearing the sound of a win. Often times casinos place machines that hit more often near the payoff booth so that when a player is exchanging their coins they are bombarded with others winning – thus they may have the urge to keep playing.
The most common machines have three reels, but casinos do offer machines with four or five. When it comes to the odds of winning what is most important are the number of reels a machine has, and how many symbols are displayed on each reel. Essentially, the greater the number of reels and symbols, the harder it is to hit the jackpot or any other winning combination.
The number of symbols on each reel is programmed into the computer that operates the slot machine, and the actual number of symbols depends on the size of the jackpot that the machine offers. The reason for the programmed symbols is to make the jackpot rare enough that the machine will generate enough money to pay for the jackpot and yield a profit for the casino. Most machines are set to pay out anywhere from 83 to 98 percent of the coins that are played in the course of a pay cycle.
On average, machines operate on a two or three coin maximum. When it comes to multiple coin playing machines, there are subtle variations. With some machines, the number of coins played is proportional to the payoff, and with others, the payoff is more than proportional. Some machines don’t even pay a jackpot on one coin, and the three-coin jackpot often pays 150% of a two-coin win. In this case it is best to play the maximum number of coins.
When players hit one of the smaller winning combination they will be paid automatically by the machine. The larger jackpots however, will be paid out directly by a casino employee who is notified by a light on the top of the machine.