The Evolution of Slot Machine Technology

The Evolution of Slot Machine Technology

by October 30, 2020

Slot machines have been around for well over a century, and in this time the technology powering them has changed significantly, to the point that the players of the earliest examples would undoubtedly be mystified by modern equivalents.

Here is a look at this impressive evolution in a little more detail, giving you an insight into the achievements of successive generations of slot machine designers and engineers.


Mechanical beginnings

While today websites like host all-digital slots that can be played from any location using a smartphone, in the late 19th century when the first games of this kind were created, their operation was entirely mechanical.

Interestingly it was a company in New York City which built the first product which we would recognize as a slot machine, although it was unsurprisingly primitive in terms of its operation. Players would pull a lever, and five drums within the machine would rotate to reveal a randomized poker hand.

If the player got lucky, their hand would win them a prize, which of course the proprietor of the establishment in which the machine was housed would have to hand over. This generated demand for a new type of machine in which payouts could be automated, which eventually inspired inventor Charles Fey to step into the fray with his own automatic slot machine, made up with 3 reels rather than 5.

Initially, the biggest payout available was just 50¢, although as mechanical slot machines grew in popularity and the decades passed, larger jackpots became more commonplace.


Electronic overhaul

Once established, mechanical slot machines spread like wildfire, gaining a foothold not only across North America but also in many other parts of the world.

However, for a long time their advancement stagnated, and it was not until the 1960s that the first model to make full use of an electromechanical design was introduced. This in turn helped to further propel the popularity of slot games into the stratosphere, while also having the effect of rendering the side-mounted levers used to spin the reels entirely redundant.

By the mid-1970s, computerization had increased to the point that video slots began to emerge, with integrated colour displays replacing the spinning reels of the past. Early analogue units would eventually be superseded by those with digital screens after this technology entered play in the first decade of the 21st century, and the digitization of slots also opened up the potential for a wealth of bonus games and extra features not possible to implement previously.


Online expansion

Arguably the most significant boost to the profile of slot machines was made possible thanks to the dawn of the internet era, as the physical limitations of land-based games were entirely overcome once the first casino sites began to emerge in the 1990s.

While initial restrictions on web-based gambling activities in many parts of the world prevented the industry from growing as swiftly as might otherwise have been possible, today it is far more accepted and legislation is easing in many areas.

Modern online slots have gone from operating on now-outmoded technologies like Flash to taking advantage of the latest HTML5-powered underpinnings and cloud hosting, allowing them to run on a wide range of devices and deliver compelling interactive experiences in almost any context.

The growth of online slots has been equally significant in helping the gaming industry expand, with revenue growth being reported in many markets and player numbers always rising.

Land-based slots machines and their online counterparts are able to coexist because they cater to different needs, and although the technologies they use are somewhat distinct, they still seek to scratch the same itch for the people that play them.