Slot machines have come a long way since their earliest incarnations at the end of the 19th century. Whether playing on the casino floor, for free or real money online, understanding a bit of the who, why and what of slots only helps enhance an already brilliant experience.

When it comes to slot machines, the allure is real. Slots are tempting. Slots are fun. Slots are easy. Anyone can play. Assuming you’re over 18, all it takes is putting a coin in the slot and one pull of the lever, press of the button or click of the mouse to change your life forever. So what’s not to love about slots, right?

But how much do you really know about slot machines, where they come from, what makes them tick and all the different ways to play?

The history of slots

It was the end of the 19th century that saw the first, early manifestations of what today we’d think of as a slot machine. They were, however, quite a bit different back then. They were novelty items, for example, pair of tin horses racing each other if a customer put a penny in the slot. Placed in saloons across America, the proprietor would encourage patrons to bet on the outcome of the race, with winners paid in beer, whiskey or cigars.

The first incarnation of the slot machine as we know it today came about thanks to a German immigrant by the name of Charles August Fey. After moving to San Francisco in the 1880s, Fey was a bit of a tinkerer and ran an electronics shop in his basement in which he likes to play with mechanics. In time, he would invent a simple machine. It consisted of a series of reels, five in all: a Liberty Bell, diamond, heart, club and spade, that could be made to spin after inserting a penny and pulling a lever (keep in mind that five of a kind elicited a prize).

After installing his machine in a number of local saloons, Fey was overwhelmed by the response. People simply loved it, and so he dedicated himself to making them full-time.

Unfortunately for Fey, gambling wasn’t legal in those days, so it was impossible to patent his machine and its popularity soon attracted imitators. Perhaps the most famous of the lot and a company that pushed slots firmly into the public eye and imagination were the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, who made a similar machine to Fey’s using fruit symbols instead of cards. To duck anti-gambling laws winning customers was paid out in fruit candies if they spun five of the same fruit. And thus today’s modern “fruit machine slots” were born.

Technology aids growth and fairness

It wasn’t long before advances in technology began to effect slot machines. By the 1960s, the simple weights and measures system used by Fey in his early machines were replaced with a more complicated system of electro mechanics, allowing casinos, as gambling began to be legalized in certain states, to better control the odds and profit more from the machines.

By the time the computer age came on the scene, slot machines had significantly evolved, largely into video and online slot machines that used something called a random number generator (RNG), essentially an algorithm that makes sure each spin is statistically a completely independent event.

Today’s endless variations

The rise of video slots on brick and mortar casino floors and online slots that you can play on your computer, laptop, tablet or mobile device via a downloaded program or an active online casino dramatically increased the number of variations of the traditional slot machine.

No longer limited to spinning fruit symbols, slots makers were able to create 3-reel, 5-reel, 6-reel and 3D versions of their games, with wild and scatter symbols and features including slots with extra spins, bonus rounds and prize multipliers.

Jackpots were common, with later versions of certain machines deploying what’s known as a progressive jackpot. Progressive jackpot slot machines set aside a small percentage of each amount wagered to increase the overall jackpot. With many progressive slots machines linked together and people playing the same slot online, progressive slot jackpots regularly hit a life changing six figures or more.

Manufacturers were also able to design slots games employing themes from across the spectrum of imagery and popular culture. Slots games soon began to appear based on blockbuster Hollywood movies such as James Bond’s Casino Royale, Ace Venture Pet Detective or Ghostbusters, celebrities, the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson or Jimi Hendrix. From pirates to orcs and elves, space adventures to undersea worlds the spectrum of today’s slots is like the universe itself, ever expanding outward in space and time.

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