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A Bitcasino guide: The history of slot machines

A Bitcasino guide: The history of slot machines


Slot machines: entertainment that’s more than a century old

You can take almost anything: houses, cars, computers – people even. How they look and operate is much different today from how it was more than 100 years ago, but of course the basic concept behind all those things remains the same.

A similar notion can be applied to slot machines, a form of entertainment that dates back to the 19th century. The simple mechanics of slots is the same as it was all those years ago: you enter your stake money in the slot, pull the reels, and wait to see if a winning combination of symbols lands on the payline.

However, of course, the advent of the internet means that the possibilities for slot machines are almost endless, and that’s why this sub-section of casino gaming continues to grow in popularity.

From humble beginnings, the slot machine is now a thing of incredible technical wizardry. 

And yet its two basic premises – to deliver adrenaline-filled entertainment while providing the chance to win huge jackpot prizes – remain the same.

Here’s our ode to this giant of the casino.

In the beginning

If we head back to the late 1800s, it is there that we find the first ever slot machine in all its raw and yet bizarrely aesthetically pleasing glory.

Charles Vey, an electrical engineer in San Francisco, was the man responsible. He took the classic Horseshoe slot machine design, which paid out winners in tickets, and tweaked it to deliver coins instead.

His game, Liberty Bell, was the blueprint for the land-based slot machines that would follow in the next 100 years. The idea was simple: players were looking to align three of the bell symbols on the payline, with a prize of five cents up for grabs.

Vey managed to get his Liberty Bell slot installed in saloons across San Francisco, but because gambling was still illegal at the time, he was unable to patent his idea, and was thus powerless to stop others from ripping off his ideas.

And so a burgeoning new industry was born.

Incidentally, you can check out the original Liberty Bell slot machine in all its glory at the Liberty Belle Saloon in Nevada, the spiritual home of slot gaming.

Reel-y popular

With inventors and engineers free to create their own slot games without fear of prosecution for copyright infringement, it wasn’t long before new machines were being produced.

There was also a real appetite from the public, for whom gambling was very much not on the menu in far more conservative times than we enjoy today.

The US government was not sold on the idea of slots, however, and it encouraged the states where the games were popular to outlaw them.

In the end, a law was passed that prevented players from winning cash prizes – in most cases, this meant that gamers won the real-world equivalent of the symbols on their reels!

Needless to say, the excitement of winning a candy bar or a piece of fruit was not quite as alluring, but this is where the origin of the phrase “fruit machine” comes from.

Another colloquialism for a slot machine – the “one-armed bandit” – was also born at this time. Slot machines in the first half of the 1900s were operated by pulling a lever, which would set the reels in motion.

It was during this time that Las Vegas became a hotbed of casino action. Generally run by Mafiosi and attracting the stars of the day, from Frank Sinatra to Liberace, Vegas was the number one gaming resort in the world, with slot machines playing a key part in its growth.

The Electric Age

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the classic mechanical design of slot machines was replaced by something altogether more modern.

A development company called Bally, which as you may know is still producing online slots to this day, built a pioneering slot game named Money Honey.

This was the first machine to incorporate electric elements, and the addition of extra power ensured that the game offered a range of benefits over the traditional pulley-based system.

For instance, Money Honey could deliver prizes of up to 500 coins in a matter of seconds, and this was an increasingly attractive feature for casinos looking to attract new players to the bright lights of Sin City.

It wasn’t long after this that the first slot machine to incorporate video technology came along. The Fortune Coin Company developed a prototype that utilised a 19-inch screen – back then, this was humongous, and it was trialled to great effect in the Las Vegas Hilton.

This exciting new tech offered a range of benefits, allowing punters to stake bigger sums of money and win bigger jackpots, with their coin buckets filled in the blink of an eye.

Any concerns of machines being rigged, which had dogged slots during the first half of the 20th century, were eliminated by the creation of the random number generator, which ensured that each spin of the reels was completely unpredictable and impossible to manipulate.

These versions of slot machines would rule the roost for the best part of the next 50 years, until a bold new world in technology came along with a bang.

The Internet Age

It would be fair to say that, in the early days at least, not everybody was sold on the idea of the internet! It was slow, expensive, and for people in certain towns and cities, not even available.

However, there were a few innovative-minded entrepreneurs and developers who realised the potential of the World Wide Web early on, and that’s when they began developing slots and casino games to be used in an online setting.

The first online casinos emerged in the 1990s, and almost immediately these gained massive exposure and popularity. Gamers could play their favourite titles at home on their computers (remember, smartphones weren’t a “thing” at this point) whenever they wanted, rather than having to travel to a land-based casino.

As more and more people headed online to play slots, developers were able to build unique titles with bonus features, special symbols and much more besides.

In 2014, Bitcasino was born. Our aim was to deliver a first-class gaming experience to people who wanted to use their bitcoin wallet as a payment method – followed latterly by cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Litecoin.

Happily, we’re still going strong to this very day, with an eclectic slot game library that reflects the changing needs of our players.

We’ve come a long way since Liberty Bell, and the future of slot machines promises to be just as exciting!

How do slot games work?

Back in the days of Liberty Bell, the mechanics of a slot machine were easy to understand.

The arm activated the reels, which would come to a halt after a random number of spins, as determined by a mechanism inside the machine. If you were lucky enough to win, the coin dispenser would click into life and dish out your prize accordingly.

Of course, these days, things are a tad more complex.

Built using a phalanx of code, online slot games are essentially governed by the algorithm that has been programmed into them. This dictates how often you win via the Return to Player (RTP) rate, which dictates how much you can expect to win and lose in a theoretical gaming session.

Naturally, you can play a slot game and walk away with tons of profit or lose all of your stake money – the RTP is simply to be used as a guide to explain a game’s volatility and variance.

In theory, nefarious game developers could program their titles so that players never win, or at least never take home a serious jackpot payout.

Such concerns led to the creation of the random number generator (RNG), which is a clever piece of software that ensures that all slots are perfectly fair and unbiased. The RNG is an industry standard, so all games feature this bit of tech.

As such, you can rest assured that all of the slots you play – at Bitcasino and elsewhere – offer you the exact likelihood of winning as displayed in the RTP.

All slots have an RNG, from the standard video slots to those linked to a progressive jackpot, where players from all over the world feed into the prize pot before somebody walks away with a life-changing sum of money.

Bonus rounds and special features

The capabilities of contemporary video slots mean that much more content can be offered to players.

You have games based on movies or TV that use audio and video from the title that they are representing! The same is true for music-based slots, while some games have been purpose-built with back stories and narratives that are fired by original video content.

One of the most intriguing aspects of modern slots are the “extras” – namely the bonus rounds and special features, which not only enhance the player’s entertainment but also tend to house a slot game’s biggest prizes.

In days gone by, the most exciting aspects that slot gamers had were nudges and pushes. Today, there are free spins, mini games, collapsing reels and so much more.

In fact, these special symbols and features are so voluminous in number that they actually deserve their own glossary.

Wild and scatter symbols

These are the two main forms of special symbol. The wild symbol typically has one function: if it appears on your reels, it can substitute for all other symbols to help you create winning combinations on a payline. There are various different types of wild, each of which comes with its own unique characteristics.

The function of the scatter symbol is usually to trigger the game’s free spins round, if it has one. Often, the number of free turns that you get is linked to the number of scatters that you spin, with five scatters anywhere on your reels landing the most freebies.

Free spins

Quite simply, all you need to do here is sit back and relax. The reels will be spun automatically, and you will see your allotment of free spins on the screen. Any prizes that are accumulated here are added to your bankroll – this is one of the best ways to win on a slot game, because often the free spins round can be re-triggered with more scatters.

Bonus rounds

We would term free spins as a bonus round, but there are many more different types of special feature to look out for. One of the most popular is the Pick ’Em game: think Deal or No Deal here, where you will be given a number of boxes to choose from (it can be balloons, footballs and other things too). Inside will be the amounts that you can win, or sometimes the object of the game is to select three matching symbols. Remember, all slots have an RNG, so these bonus rounds are fair and unpredictable.

Sticky, expanding and stacked wilds

These are all different types of wild symbol that can appear in a given slot game.

The expanding wild, as the name suggests, will grow on your reels to cover more spaces or even a whole column or row in some cases. That helps to create additional winning combos, because as we know, wilds substitute for all other game symbols (apart from the scatter, typically). There will usually be some thoroughly entertaining animated sequence to accompany the expansion process!

The sticky wild is as it sounds: it “sticks” to the reels for more than one spin of the reels. While all of the other symbols are changing, the sticky wild remains firmly in place, giving you more chances to win with each spin as you are guaranteed a game-changing wild.

The stacked wild is similar to the expanding wild in the sense that it takes up multiple positions on your reels. These come in twos or threes usually, and like the expanding wild, they are often the orchestrator of a slot’s biggest payouts.


A multiplier is self-explanatory: it multiplies your win by a specific amount. For instance, some free spins are subject to 2x, 3x or even 5x multipliers, while in other cases, each win adds to a multiplier power bar on the screen. Fill this meter to enjoy increasing payouts.

Collapsing reels

Think of the classic computer game Tetris here. Every time you successfully complete a line, the blocks explode, pushing the ones above them down to the next level. This is similar to the concept behind collapsing reels – the symbols involved in a winning combo will explode and disappear, causing new symbols to fall into place from above. This can create a chain of winning turns from a single stake, often with multipliers attached too.

How to win at slots

The concept behind slot machines has not changed since the days of Charles Vey’s Liberty Bell.

Back then, players had one payline to win on, which would be depicted in the centre of the game window.

These days, online slots have taken the genre forward to the extent where, in the majority of cases, multiple paylines are available – up to 50 per spin, in fact. Often, you can modify how many paylines you want to be active: more lines mean a greater chance of winning, but will most likely mean an increase in your stake too.

The basic premise of slots hasn’t changed: you’re looking to match three or more of the same symbol on a payline to trigger a prize. Special icons such as wilds and scatters enhance your gameplay, but the main rules of slots remain the same.

These are games of luck, remember, with no skill involved. Your only input is to click the spin button to set the reels in motion.

However, there is a common feature that you should be aware of as it can help to multiply your wins. Many slots have a “Gamble” option, where you can double or quadruple the amount you have gained from a winning spin. Correctly guess the colour or the suit of a playing card to gamble successfully – guess wrong and you lose the lot.

Where to play the best slots

We’re biased, of course, but here at Bitcasino, we believe that we have one of the most diverse libraries of online slot games around.

You can try your hand at traditional slots, with all of the latest releases sitting side by side with the all-time classics. We don’t have Liberty Bell, unfortunately, but we do have lots of the leading online slots ever made!

For those who love an edge-of-the-seat thrill, be sure to check out our jackpot slot games. The basic premise is the same as any normal slot title, but there is the chance to win huge sums of BTC here if you can trigger the jackpot combination.

From virtual reality and augmented reality to artificial intelligence, we have no idea where the future of slot gaming lies. All we do know is that the industry is heading in an incredibly exciting direction, and here at Bitcasino, you can rest assured that we will continue to bring you the best slot games in the business!

Words: Sean McNulty
Images: Shutterstock


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