The first video slot machine – that is, the first slot machine with virtual, or simulated, reels displayed on a video monitor, rather than physical, mechanical reels – was invented by Walt Fraley in 1975. The so-called ‘Fortune Coin’ was a rudimentary, three-reel video slot machine, with primitive graphics by modern standards, but nonetheless marked the start of the era of video slot machines.
Fast forward four decades or so and it’s fair to say that video has revolutionised the slot machine industry, both on and offline. The first online slot, dubbed ‘Fantastic Sevens’, appeared in 1995 and although, like Fortune Coin, it was based on a classic, three-reel design, it represented another step forward in the evolution of slot machine graphics. Subsequent demand for online slots went hand-in-hand with the availability of increasingly powerful, mobile devices, which allowed game designers to push creative boundaries.
Landmark releases in the history of slot machine graphics include Gonzo’s Quest (2011), which features reels that drop, or tumble, into place, rather than spinning, and Jack and the Beanstalk (2013), which features smooth, three-dimensional animations throughout but, in particular, a sophisticated, cutscene introduction, which was once the preserve of video game releases. Indeed, the modern online slot is, effectively, a video game, with attractive, state-of-the-art graphics designed to enhance the interactive elements of game play.
Of course, advancements in slot machine graphics do not stand still. The power of augmented, or virtual, reality has yet to be fully harnessed by game designers but, in the meantime, lavish visual effects are the order of the day. Inevitably, what is aesthetically pleasing, and what is not, in terms of slot machine graphics boils down to personal taste. However, in recent years, releases such as ‘1429 Uncharted Seas’, ‘Arctic Valor’, ‘Raging Rex’, ‘Ted’ and ‘Warlords: Crystals of Power’, to name but a handful, have all significantly raised the bar for the creativity, impact and standard of slot machine graphics in the future.
The term ‘slot machine’ is actually a contraction of ‘nickel-in-the-slot machine’ and was originally used to describe any coin-operated machine, including vending machines. However, the invention of the first modern slot machine – in the sense of a coin-operated gambling device, which also paid out in coins – is credited to Bavarian-born American inventor Charles Fey in 1895. His so-called ‘Liberty Bell’ machine featured three mechanical reels activated by pulling a lever and offered a ‘jackpot’ of fifty cents, which was paid out into a trough at the bottom of the machine.
Fast forward nearly seven decades and the next step in the evolution of the modern slot machine came in 1963, with the appearance of the first fully electro-mechanical slot machine, known as ‘Money Honey’. Manufactured by Bally Technologies, Money Honey was still, essentially, a mechanical device, but an electrically-operated coin hopper made for larger, more spectacular payouts, while flashing electronic lights added to the allure of playing.
The first video slot machine – that is, the first to employ a microprocessor, random number generator and video screen, rather than physical, mechanical reels – was made available to casinos in 1975. However, the so-called ‘Fortune Coin’ machine, invented by Walt Fraley, was not well received by sceptical gamblers and the following year Fraley sold out to International Game Technology, who used the machine as the basis for several new games.
Last, but by no means least, in the evolution of the slot machine came the online slot, which was made possible by the invention of the World Wide Web, by British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in 1989. The first online casino, ‘Gaming Club’ by Microgaming, launched in 1995 and included a rudimentary, three-reel online slot called ‘Fantastic Sevens’. Three years later, Microgaming also launched the first wide area progressive jackpot online slot, known as ‘Cash Splash’.
Named after a World War I German howitzer, the now-retired Big Bertha was, for many years, a fixture of Bally’s Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Manufactured by Bally Manufacturing Co., at a reported cost of $150,000, Big Bertha was a novelty item, intended to dominate the casino floor and draw attention to slot machines. Measuring nearly eight feet tall and five feet wide, with three huge reels driven by a five horsepower electric motor and 20” chain wheels, Big Bertha certainly succeeded in that respect.
Despite the undoubted success of Big Bertha, the pioneering ‘super slot’ was superseded, in the Fifties, by an even bigger machine known, unsurprisingly, as Super Big Bertha. Similarly expensive to manufacture, Super Big Bertha measured over eight tall and six-and-a-half feet wide and featured eight reels with twenty stops apiece.
Elsewhere on the Las Vegas Strip, at the Wynn Casino, the so-called ‘Microspin’ owes its name to the fact that it is based on the Microsoft Windows operating system, rather than anything to do with its size. Indeed, Microspin stands nine feet high and for a period, in the late Nineties, had the distinction of being the tallest slot machine in the world.
Still in Las Vegas, but away from the Strip, in Downtown, Four Queens Casino was home to a gargantuan slot machine known, unsurprisingly, as the ‘Queen’s Machine’. The Queen’s Machine measures ten feet tall and nine feet wide and, in its heyday, had the distinction of being the largest slot machine in the world. It was large enough, in fact, to accommodate six, seated players, who wagered on each spin via individual betting stations.
Several hundred miles northwest of the Las Vegas Strip, in Lake Tahoe, the now-defunct Barney’s Casino was, in its time, home to another celebrated, mechanical monster, which went by the name of ‘Big Irish Luck’. As the name suggests, Big Irish Luck featured four-clover and shamrock symbols, among others, on its five gigantic, Irish-themed reels.