The origins of slot machines are traceable to the late 19th Century. However, mechanic and inventor Charles Fey has historically been credited with inventing the first coin-operated slot with an automatic pay-out, to be given a general release anywhere in the world. It is thought that earlier versions of slots were developed by New York-based company Sittman and Pitt in 1891, but they did not see the light of day until after 1894 – play here.
Whoever was first to create slot machines, all the designs had one thing in common, and this was the design of the slot platform, which introduced the world to slot reels and symbols. Reels are spinning mechanisms that hold all the slot symbols and each reel must be capable of spinning independently, but at the same time as the other reels.
The early slot reels were activated by a lever that needed to be pulled by players. This would set the reels in motion until each spin came to a natural end. The result of the spin would then be displayed as symbols on the slot machine, which were visible to customers.
What wasn’t expected was that some players would try to manipulate the spinning of the reels by tampering with the lever and the way it was released. Those who became experts at this could line symbols up into winning combinations without officially breaking any laws.
Bans on slots and gambling in general, saw slot reels transform into sweet vending machine reels. The premise was the same, but instead of playing card symbols on the reels, these symbols were replaced by brightly coloured fruits instead. These vending machines still relied on reels to hold the new symbols and the prizes were sweets and gum instead of cash.
Advances In Reel Formats
Early slot machines, for the most part, utilized a 3 reel by 1-row format. However, by 1964, when the first electromechanical slot was introduced by Bally, this had changed to a 3×3 slot interface instead.
The Digital Age
By 1996 and the dawn of virtual video slots, the 5-reel by 3-row format began to become the norm. Most new games were released in this format and even today, this is the standard reel appearance. The difference here is that the reels on virtual video slots are not part of a physical slot machine, instead, they have been created on a digital platform by computer programmers and graphic designers.
Virtual Video Slots Today
The principals remain the same in the digital slot gaming world, reels are still the centrepiece, but the computer format allows for a lot more creativity when it comes to how they move, and the number of symbols that can be held on them.
Slot reels can be cascading in nature, and this means that if a winning sequence hits the reels, the symbols creating the win, disappear and a cascade or avalanche of new symbols replaces them.
Megaways slots allow the reels to hold different numbers and sizes of slot symbols on each spin. What this does is continuously alter the pay lines. Then you have games with 6 x 12-reel formats that push the boundaries of reel formats further still.