Have you ever played a classic old-style slot machine, the kind where you had to strong-arm the handle just to get the reels spinning? Those machines have disappeared from modern casinos, but you can still find them in other parts of the country.
If you've ever been to Virginia City, Nevada, you've seen them, old Mills and Jennings machines or others shaped like cowboys, Indians, and dance-hall girls. You win if you hit cherries, or a row of oranges, plums or bells. If you're really lucky, you might get three bars, the jackpot! -- $7.50 with one nickel. They don't have flashing lights or internal electronics; they're just mechanical wonders that could keep people amused for hours on end. After you put your coin in, most often only one, the handle pull produces a resounding “thunk” and you are on your way. The reels spin, the first one catches, then the second, and finally the last reel lines up. If the combination is on the pay table, you win, otherwise, try again.
From the time they were invented at the end of the 19th
century to the 1960's, slot machines
were all based on the same mechanical model. Even the symbols used by slot makers were stable and reflected the time when machines spit out gum as well as money. Given the size and number of the reels, there wasn't much of a chance of hitting a really big jackpot, and if you did, you didn't even get close to what you should have won. Early slots had three reels and ten symbols on each wheel. The odds of hitting the top jackpot were 10 X 10 X 10, or 1 in 1,000. But the payout was only twenty-two coins. Not much bang for that buck.
Over time, slot manufacturers added up to twenty symbols to each reel and occasionally even a fourth or fifth reel. While these innovations increased the size of the jackpots that could be won, players also knew that the odds of winning were getting longer.
It was up to Bally Manufacturing, a slot, pinball and jukebox manufacturer to push slots to the next level. In 1964, Bally released "Money Honey," the first "electro-mechanical" slot machine. Instead of mechanical springs and levers, “Money Honey” used servos and other electrical components. But that wasn't the only innovation that Money Honey offered. It had multiple-coin play, with jackpots rising according to each coin wagered. It included a hopper - a compartment that could return payouts of hundreds of coins instead of the twenty or so of the all mechanical models of just a few years. It also had a large metal tray at the bottom, which for better or worse, added noise to the slot experience. Bally also took slots out of the “dark ages” by using electricity to light the reels, the pay table, buzzers, and clanging bells. The dawn of a new slot machine was born.
In our third installment, we'll show you how slot machines moved into the era of giant jackpots when physical reels evolved into virtual reels.