How The Slot Machines Have Evolved Over Time


How The Slot Machines Have Evolved Over Time

Almost as quickly as slot machines became popular, they became objects of the temperance movement’s crusade against vice. Starting in the 1900s, sledgehammer-wielding reformists frequently demolished Liberty Bells and their successors, and a number of cities and states banned them. Yet anti-gambling laws were largely ignored or circumvented, and the technology continued to evolve. In jurisdictions where they were illegal, gambling devices were often disguised as gum vending machines, featuring fruit symbols like cherries, lemons, oranges, and so forth on their reels and offering prizes that could be redeemed for cash. Allowing slots to flourish despite prohibition, ingenious subterfuge of this sort peaked during the 1930s when slot income became a means of survival for gas stations, drug stores, and other small businesses. The slot industry thrived in the postwar years until the Johnson Act of 1951, which effectively abolished black market slots in states where they were illegal. By the 1960s these machines were outlawed everywhere but in Nevada and on military bases.

Slot machines underwent a significant transformation in 1963 with the incorporation of electromechanical technology that enabled manufacturers to control the motion of reels with electrical motors and a circuit board of switches rather than mechanical springs and gears. Removing the motion mechanisms from the reels protected slot machines from tilting, shaking, and other physical abuse that could affect outcomes. Once they became reliable, the attention of designers shifted to maximizing the devices’ potential to attract and retain gamblers. While casino managers appreciated the tamper resistance of electromechanical machines, players liked the fact that their motor-driven hoppers could render unprecedented automatic payouts of up to five hundred coins, which meant larger and more frequent payouts.

Before the incorporation of bank hoppers to slot machines in the 1960s and ’70s, a gambler who won more than twenty coins had to stop playing and wait until a slot attendant verified his win and paid him off before he could continue. Since hoppers could dispense up to two hundred coins into the machine’s payout tray, they increased “the probability that those coins would be played back into the machine” and at the same time ensured that gamblers could gather the wagering momentum critical to the flow of their play experience.

Digital microprocessors came on the scene of slot machines in 1978, endowing the devices with further security and appeal. Just as motors and switches had replaced gears and springs, now digital pulses of electricity drove the motion of slot reels. These machines have not only kept pace with changing times but have also played a key role in deciding the seating units in casinos.

In casinos a key initial focus of ergonomic design was on seating units. In the days when slot machines were marginal revenue earners they were built for transitory, standing play, and were not typically outfitted with seats. Although stools and chairs became the standard by the 1980s, they were constructed primarily for sturdiness and longevity rather than comfort. This changed in the mid-1980s when the Gasser Chair company began importing the new ergonomic codes of office chairs into the casino context, paying meticulous attention to the height of seats in relation to slot machine handles.

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