Full history of casino slots

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Have you ever wondered what is the story behind modern casino slots? Have you ever wondered how was the world before the various 2D, 3D, animated and licensed games that dominate the world of casino games these days? What was really the early life of casino and online casino? We are taking a few steps back to look at the creation of casino games, the foundation of the first slots, the philosophy behind them and the situation in the present time.

Birth of casino slots

The element of luck and gambling has been present on the planet since the very early stages of human civilisation. But it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the first automatic gambling machine, the “One Arm Bandit” was created in San Francisco. The person behind its creation was Charles Fey who came up with the idea of a machine that will spin a number of symbols over 3 reels and pay out to winners on certain winning combinations. The initial 5 symbols featured were a horseshoe, a diamond, a spade, a heart and a bell. The highest winning combination was comprised out of 3 Liberty Bells, hence the game was called Liberty Bell Machine. However, another name became popular very quickly: the “One Armed Bandit”. And this is because of the game design where a switch on the right hand on the game would trigger the spin. The logic behind the game was very simple and it had nothing to do with today’s modern slots.

The game became very quickly popular among mainly the male population of the United States and could be found across a number of states and locations that mainly men could access it. This doesn’t mean of course that women couldn’t play but with the majority of machines installed in shops like barber shops and prostitute houses, women often had to stay away.

Apart from Liberty Bell and One Arm Bandit, the game was also given another two names: Slot Machines (due to the slot that existed at the front and facilitated coin deposit) and Fruit Machine (since in later versions after the prototype, constructors loved using fruit symbols in the different reels). For over a hundred years there was an absolute domination of these machines in the casino world. The growth of casino cities like Las Vegas and later Atlantic City and Macao required huge investment on games on behalf of massive land based casinos. And profit brings innovation. Well, in most cases.

Large casino groups spent a lot of money on improving, modernizing and delivering slots that are more attractive to the players. In the years after World War II and especially after Las Vegas was established as the World’s capital of gambling, 3 reel bandits gradually gave their turn to themed slots, that include graphics from famous stories or legends, music, multiple reels and pay lines. And then of course, the biggest innovation of them all, the Jackpot.

The new era – Early casino slots & video slots

The new reality for slots that was created after the games became part of an overall huge system of casino franchises was even more profitable for casino operators. And it meant that more money was spent on research and development. It was prominent that new additions to a casino portfolio and new features in existing games were very popular since they enhance player experience and also renew interest for players that might otherwise feel like not playing in a game that they have already lost enough money with. In 1963 Bally made the discovery that changed the world of slots for ever: The electronic slot, a machine that could operate without assistance by a human, could pay multiple lines and also hand out the winnings to the lucky player without him having to talk to a cashier.

Developments after that moment weren’t really rapid. In the years to follow Bally’s discovery, the world moved slowly to the modern Video Slot, in the format we know it these days. First, casinos slowly decommissioned One Armed bandits, simply because the new game format was more popular and players preferred to press buttons on the new machines rather than pulling the “arm” of the bandit. Some machines kept the original design and maintained the switch on the side but that was mainly done for design purposes and to resemble players that this new system stems from the good old days.

For 13 years the world was preparing for the final revolution, the one that gave casino slots the last twist towards their complete domination in casinos. And the one that changed casino history for ever. In 1976, a group of game engineers in Vegas, probably working on behalf of a casino group, developed the first real Video Slot. Powered by a small PC unit and displayed on a 19 inch screen by SONY, this game was positioned in Las Vegas Hilton and it was the first video slot in history used commercially. What followed this is pretty much known. Reception from players was enthousiastic and companies realised that the new game was here to stay. The possibilities to build on player volumes and profits for casinos were endless, so investment increased even further and the race was soon brought to the next level: that of internet casinos

The online casino era

The end of 1990’s signified the birth of online casinos. A new phenomenon that allowed punters from all over the world to play casino from the comfort of their house. The first casinos offered the basic games and graphics to players. Hence casino enthusiasts would still prefer travelling to their nearest land based casino so that they enjoy some top quality games.

But this didn’t last long. Increase in Internet speed and especially the establishment of DSL and VDSL lines in the years that followed the launch of the first online casinos meant that players could start enjoying more games and more profits by playing from home. This is when the first Games Design Studios for online casinos were founded. Organisations like Microgaming, NetEntertainment and Playtech realized that there is a brand new market out there, eager to play from home if the casino games offered online can compete with the experience offered at land based venues.

Shortly after online casinos were launched, these games providers started being busy adding new games to their clients rooms on a monthly and sometimes on weekly basis. Competition became fierce and soon a good online casino couldn’t expect to be competitive in the market if it didn’t host at least a couple of hundred of games. In the years 2004 – 2009, the years of the DSL revolution across the world, online casinos became extremely popular. To the extent that in some markets land based casinos and the business groups behind them started feeling threatened by this new trend. But the admirable event is that both sides kept extending their gaming portfolios and slots were once again the area of focus.

Market regulation and slots

In the late 2000’s some countries decided to change their gaming laws and in some cases there were specific provisions on slots. Each country is a unique case. There are many factors that can influence these decisions but they are usually a result of pressure received by the offline casinos. Due to their long existence and their connections to local business groups, offline casinos have in some cases dictated that online casinos can’t offer slots to their players or if they do offer slots then they need to fulfill certain criteria. In the example of Italy for example, online casinos launched in 2009 but without slots. Italian players could enjoy all their favourite table games but no fruit machines. The Italian government, probably under the pressure of the management of the state own lottery and some casinos, passed a law that banned slots. This was only lifted 5 years later, when in late 2015 online casinos in Italy were allowed to offer such games.

Current online slot landscape globally

After years of uncertainty and regulatory instability, all sides can finally catch up with the rapid developments in the years 2002-2010 and proceed with more innovation and modernization of the game. Slots have established themselves as the most crucial part in any online casino. Thus the companies that focus on creating and delivering them have multiplied in number. Apart from the big 3 that we mentioned in the previous chapter, there are countless other designer studios which deliver products that are many times of equal quality to the games of the big 3. Betsoft, Elk Studios, William Interactive, Ash Gaming, NextGen, iSoftbet, WMS are amongt the smaller but non negligible studios that work with a number of important casinos.

Let’s not forget also that huge names of this industry which originally built games for land based casinos also saw the opportunity and started designing games for online rooms. Names such as GTech and Novomatica starred in the expansion of slots in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and now they realise that their revenues can be increased further by simply doing what they know best: build slots but not for brick n mortar casinos.

Online Slots in 2017

By looking back in 1976, when the first video slot was created, no one would believe that 40 years later the battle would have spread in areas such as jackpots and 3D animation.

Many things have changed in this period but the there are still 2 basic principles that remain unchained: a) players are still after the big money (and most times they prefer the money to a super advanced slot) b) the basic function of fruit machines remain the same regardless if players punt on their laptops, their mobile phones or at a land based casino.

Yes, there are some impressive games out there. The use of animation, Dolby Surround sound FX and 3D graphics have offered us all a number of games which look as if they are coming from the future. However, no player can resist a few spins on an old fashioned simple fruit slot. And of course no player can stay untouched in front of a massive jackpot. It seems that the industry has finally found out its equilibrium. Game designers focus on both game attractiveness and big jackpots. In the last couple of years we have seen a number of great titles published and also multi million dollar jackpots paid out to lucky players. The latest trend, slots branded after famous movies, artists, TV shows or stories isn’t really a deviation from the global slot trend. It is part of the game.

 

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