The Era of Change
Like most machines, slots had their ups and downs through the years but the important thing is they went through a long way to survive. A lot of modifications and new parts were added to the one-armed bandits since Mr. Fey built the first slot machine in his basement, but the basic features remained relatively the same.
A player puts a coin and pulls the handle waiting with hope to see the much desired symbols and when he does, he gets his reward. Although the rules of the game are basically the same, the stakes have skyrocketed. Rewards went from cigarettes, cigars, drinks and few bucks to cars, expensive trips and multi-million jackpots, while slots went from accepting pennies and dimes to fifty and one hundred dollar bills.
Intentionally or not Mr. Fey and his Liberty Bell gave birth to a multi-billion industry which continues to attract hopeful gamblers. As the years progressed, manufacturers competed among themselves to design slot machines that provided maximum satisfaction to the player. From a simple coin-insert slot and a mechanical handle device, the slots evolved into big, or sometimes huge, machines equipped with a variety of different lights, bells and capability of playing all kinds of sounds.
Slot makers added a ton of extras to make the time spent playing more enjoyable. The machines were modified to accept multiple coins and also to allow players to use their winning as direct credits instead of having to continuously pump money into the one-armed bandit.
In addition to the handles, manufacturers implemented buttons that allow faster and easier play. The game itself also changed a little, offering multiple payout lines instead of one, front line and the implementation of wild symbols, which can be used to substitute a ordinary symbol in order to create a winning line.
Projections of the Future
Nowadays there are barely any mechanical slot machines left in business, instead casinos use devises run by micro-processors. The technology used opens many doors for casino operators and allows them to better track odds, calculate average bet sizes, record the number of games or time played and many other metrics, which helps them to better evaluate their risk exposure.
With the rise of the cloud computing technology and race for superiority between all of the major technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Samsung among others, the casino industry is also getting a piece of the action. Gambling operators have developed applications that run on the majority of the available mobile devices, creating virtual casinos where players can gamble from basically any point of the world that has access to the Internet.
The gambling industry has been tied to the progress of different types of technology in the past and that tendency will continue to exists in the future as well. With the introduction of the augmented reality environment and mass release of devices like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive just around the corner, the possibilities for growth seem endless.
One thing is certain, though, it does not matter if the slot machines are controlled by handles, buttons, touch screens or brain waves, players will continue their endless pursuit of the huge win.
The case with legality
As we mentioned before, the slot construction business was seriously hurt in 1906 when a devastating earthquake hit San Francisco and the surrounding areas, triggering a series of fires and destroying the majority, if not all businesses in the city.
However, powered by the desire of many hopeful gamblers, the industry bounced back in no time, but various religious groups saw the earthquake and the havoc it wrought as a sign of God and his wrath against the sinfulness of those who played and manufactured slot machines. For almost three years the industry withstood the call of religion to ban slot machines, but, in the end, the one-armed bandits were outlawed in San Francisco in 1909. Nevada prohibited slot-play during the next year and slot machines were illegal in the entire state of California by 1911. Soon after that, more states followed.
However, many of the manufacturers migrated to the East Coast waiting for the storm to blow over. Sure enough, in 1912 Nevada legalized slots again, but only as a measure to boost the overall economy of the state and, although the machines were not allowed to pay out monetary rewards, they were back in business.
Some machines offered candy or gum as prices, which naturally attracted youngsters and their mothers to play. However, society did not quite like that and every woman that was seen chewing a gum was automatically associated with playing the slot machines and frowned upon.
During that time the Liberty Bell Gum Fruit Model became very popular, despite its simple design consisting of a typical slot machine with a gum vendor on the side. However, the machine used symbols that reflected the different flavors of the gums, which were used as rewards. These fruit symbols can be often seen today as well.
A bit later, groups like the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union started lobbying for a ban of alcohol in the United States, slowly mounting pressure on the government. Eventually, the Senate gave in and passed a resolution to create the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the production, transport and sale of alcohol. In January 1920 the resolution obtained the status of a law.
During the Prohibition period the gum-giving slot machines quickly faded away as powerful organized criminal syndicates established a network of illegal ”bars”, which relied on slot-machine winnings to generate about 20% of their profit. Additionally, the 18th Amendment almost immediately prompted the creation of anti-prohibition groups, powered by the interest of many industries and the media, which after ten years of legal disobedience managed to have the prohibition repealed in 1933. This was the one and only Amendment, which has been completely revoked in the U.S. history.
In 1931, Nevada legalized gambling in an attempt to spur opportunities for growth. However, slots machines remained banned in other states.
In 1934, New York’s current Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia launched a mission to capture mob boss Frank Costello, who also controlled almost 1 000 slot machines. After Mr. Costello was found and executed, Mr. LaGuardia used a sledge hammer to destroy the one-armed bandits, throwing their remains into the ocean.
Despite Mr. LaGuardia’s efforts, the slot industry continued to work at full capacity, feeding its machines to specially built ships with the aim to take gambling off the shores of the U.S. The business flourished, so did the slot-building industry.
However, when the World War II began most, if not all, of the manufacturing facilities were modified to pump out weapons and ammunition instead of the almost harmless one-armed bandits. Eventually, the war ended and the industry quickly picked up the pace, as demand for the machines skyrocketed.
During the 1950s, the Strip in Las Vegas and the city of Reno began to rapidly evolve into the gambling centers we know today. However, in 1951 the Congress approved the Johnson Act, which made it illegal to knowingly transport a gambling machine to a state where gambling is illegal.
That restriction was modified several times, but persisted even into the 90s, with a different variation of the act for each state. For instance, in South Dakota one was only allowed to own a slot machine, if it was manufactured before 1941 and was considered an “antique”.
In 1976, demand for slot machines soared for a while, after the state of New Jersey decided to legalize the devices in Atlantic City. Two years later, the Seminole tribe opened the first reservation-based casino, which triggered a nationwide wave of creating similar facilities in other reservations.
To date, the U.S. gambling remains legally restricted, but is growing in popularity every year, and with the rise of the Internet the gambling industry is getting more attention than ever before. Slots, in particular, are an important part of every casino, as they bring the house about 70% of its revenue.
Additionally, casinos have agreed to pay a cut of its slot income to their respective states, boosting the economy itself. This is particularly true for Indian casinos, which cannot operate slot machines, if they have not reached a monetary agreement with the state.
And just to grasp the idea of how big exactly is the slot machine industry, let us look at some numbers. Foxwoods is the biggest casino in the U.S. and in the fiscal year ended June 2008 its 6 300 slot machines generated more than $9.1 billion. As of 2011, there were around 1 511 operating casinos in the United States. You do the math.