A popular gambling device used in most casinos. It uses three (or more) independently-spinning reels with a variety of symbols on them to determine winners. The reels' spinning is activated by pulling a long handle mounted on the side of the machine. Winning involves lining up matching symbols on the "pay line." Common symbols include cherries, bars, bells, and sevens. When they were first introduced, slot machines were purely mechanical devices, functioning in a similar fashion to tumbler-style locks. These machines proved to be easy to cheat, so they rapidly became much more complex. Modern slot machines use computers to guide the reels instead of mechanical methods, and the most cutting-edge machines are entirely electronic, with virtual reels instead of physical ones. Some have special play modes or bonus rounds that have little or no connection to the reels.

Slot machines are extremely popular with the House, because they take up little relative room (Each, anyway), require little maintenance, and can be set to obscenely low payback rates. They also have a very high plays-per-minute ratio compared to table games like Blackjack and Craps. The house edge on slot machines can be changed without any perceptible change in the appearance of the machine. This is part of the reason why slot machines are sometimes called one-armed bandits.

Slot machines have comprised a gradually increasing percentage of casino profits nearly every year for the past 40 years, and are now the greatest individual revenue source. There are several casinos in Las Vegas that have nothing but slot machines. Stay away from those casinos if you value your bankroll...

In the United Kingdom we (the punters) call these beasts "fruit machines", whereas the industry which manufactures and runs them refers to them as AWPs, an acronym of Amusement With Prizes.

(Just in case you were wondering).

The slot machine was invented by Charles Fey (1862-1944) in 1895, in the basement of his San Francisco home. While similar mechanical games of chance existed prior to Fey's invention, none of them could dispense a prize without the involvement of an attendant. Initial public reaction to his test machines was strong enough to motivate Fey to quit his job as a partner in an electrical supply business and focus entirely on slot machines. By 1896, his factory was up and running in San Francisco. Fey's company produced their first three-reel model, the Liberty Bell, in 1898. In 1901, he created a poker slot machine that played five card draw. In 1929, after significant effort to address the mechanical challenges presented by larger coins, he created a silver dollar slot machine, which was a quite popular with speakeasy saloons.

When gambling devices were prohibited, slot machines were adapted to dispense candy or chewing gum instead, which originated the use of cherries, lemons, and other fruit symbols on the reels.

In the early days of Las Vegas, slot machines were not thought of as the cash cow that they are today. Most casinos started stocking slot machines strictly as an amusement to appease the bored wives of gamblers, allowing the men to spend more time gambling before their wives would drag them away from the tables. As the decades passed, casino owners started to see the low operating cost and high profit potential for slot machines, and would dedicate more and more casino floor space to a machine that was previously considered a mindless, idle distraction.

Advances in computer technology made slot machines more tamperproof (for the most part), as well as easier for the casino to manipulate, but less is known about the psychological research that continues to drive the design of the games. Details like the colors of the machine, the sounds it makes, and the size of the payouts are no longer arbitrary decisions, thanks to tireless behavioral research. Red and gold are used much more often than blue light, which can make a person look tired or sick, musical tones are always played in the key of C major to avoid sounding dark or clashing with the sounds of other machines nearby, and payouts are small, frequent, and random occurrences, straight out of the operant conditioning and behavior shaping theories of B.F. Skinner. Factors that are less universal, like the perceived luckiness of certain specific numbers, are also involved in the design of machines around the world.
Many old books will report that the odds of a particular combination of symbols coming up on a slot machine can be calculated from the layout of the symbols on the reels. In modern times, this is certainly not so. The combination of symbols that comes up is determined by a computer.

The old method might have been something like this: The jackpot symbol is three sevens. Each of the three reels has 20 symbols, including one seven per reel. So there are 20 * 20 * 20 = 8000 possible ways the reels can stop, one of which is the jackpot. Therefore, the probability of a jackpot is 1 in 8000.
Fallacy: The machine's internal computer decides what comes up. If the casino decides that the jackpot odds are 1 in 2,000,000, so be it. This is perfectly legal, I think.

Slot" ma*chine".

A machine the operation of which is started by dropping a coin into a slot, for delivering small articles of merchandise, showing one's weight, exhibiting pictures, throwing dice, etc.


© Webster 1913.

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