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Evolution of Slots

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Driving force behind the evolution
Mechanical slots
Electromechanical machines
Modern computerized slots

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Slots came a long way from Charles Fey’s basement on Market Street into shiny palaces of modern casinos. Their design went through many changes along the way. The driving force behind slots evolution, as it was usually the case in the history, was number 5 in the great 7 – GREED. Out of control casinos’ greed was always pushing them toward the ultimate goal of ever increasing profits. Only two roads led to that dream – constant increase of the number of customers and making the process of robbing them more effective. Improved efficiency means taking more money from a player in the same period of time. To increase a flow of customers casinos had to be creative and come up regularly with the new ways to make slots more attractive. Let’s see how the evolution of slots design conformed to the requirements of efficiency and attractiveness of slot machines.

Machines of the early days of Charles Fey and Herbert Mills look like mechanical simpletons for a modern player – primitive contraptions with shafts, gears, bearings, wheels etc. inside them. They could accept only one coin and 25 coins was a big jackpot. 10-20 symbols sat on each reels. Mobsters running casinos were not rocket scientists but figured fast anyway that if a machine could accept few coins instead of one, the take from every player could double or triple, making machine more efficient and profitable. Technology was pushed and in 1950 we saw an appearance of multipliers, multi-liners and by-your-pay machines. Electricity found its way inside machine providing flashing lights, noisemakers, coin meters etc. Spinning reels mechanism was still mechanical. Larger variety of machines with an added by electricity glitz increased slots attractiveness for a gaming public. Era of electromechanical machines lasted to the end of 1980s.

Jackpot is the biggest bait a machine has for a player. Electromechanical machines pushed jackpots up to $300. Players wanted more. Casinos tried to meet their demand without losing profits. The way to do it was to increase a number of reels from 3 to 4 and a number of symbols from 20 to 22 on each reel. 20 symbols meant that on electromechanical machines the total number of all possible combinations was 20x20x20=8000 combinations. Thus, your probability to hit a jackpot on electromechanical machine was 1 in 8000 for an average series of 8000 spins. It did not mean that you would be guaranteed a jackpot if you sat through the next 8000 pulls. If you played a huge number of spins in hundreds of thousands or more and counted how man jackpots you had, then you would see that one jackpot was covered by an average series of 8000 spins.

Addition of a 4th reel and changing a number of symbols from 20 to 22 increased a total number of combinations from 8000 to 22x22x22x22=234256. By the time you hit a jackpot on a 4-reel 22 symbols machines, another player could hit on the average 29 jackpots on 3 reels 20 symbols machine. If 3-reel machine’s jackpot was $300, then casino could put an $8000 jackpot on a 4 reels machine and still have an additional profit doing that. Players, however, understood the bad odds of the 4-reel monsters and declared a boycott by sticking to a traditional format of 3 reels 20 symbols machine.

Casinos faced a big question: how to offer a bigger jackpot to players keeping an old look of 3 reels and 20 symbols? The solution came with computerized machines. Microprocessor program performs all functions of a computerized slot machine including spinning the reels by sending signals to stepper motors. The part of the program called RNG - Random Number Generator – chooses 3 numbers at random from a huge range of numbers (4 billions or so). Every number corresponds to a specific symbol. In result, 3 symbol combination is chosen by a program even before the reels stop spinning instead of being a result of the reels coming to a stop of their rotational movement. Thus, a machine can still show 20 physical symbols marking 20 stop positions on a reel, but in reality it can have 64 or more “virtual” computer-determined stops on every reel due, simply put, to the fact that every symbol out of 20 on a reel can represent many different numbers chosen by RNG. This way it became possible to offer new huge jackpots to players on traditionally looking machines of electromechanical era. Attractiveness of slots made a qualitative jump. Now, we are in a new era of slots that look like slots, but actually are computers in disguise.

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