The Evolution from the First Slot Machines to Modern Video Slots

Slot games began appearing in the final years of the 19th century. The American Charles Fey had begun designing slot machines with symbols including playing cards and the Liberty Bell. They soon became popular and could be played everywhere from barbers shops to bars. Players had a lever to pull to get the reels spinning.

That explains why apples are never used as fruit symbols. The fact that bars of chewing gum were the prizes also explains why the word ‘bar’ was to become a prominent symbol. 7s were also used as that’s recognised as a lucky number. The idea of these unlikely prizes was to try and get around gambling laws. It worked for a while, but the slot machines eventually came under the jurisdiction of those laws.

Charles Fey & the Liberty Bell Machine
Charles Fey & the Liberty Bell Machine

Technological Advances

Classic Bally Slot Machine

The machines began to be seen all over the USA The 1960s saw Bally launch more advanced slot machines that paid out cash prizes but not ones that would change your life. They became popular in the UK and the term ‘fruit machines’ was born as those symbols were still ruling the roost. No visit to a UK City pub or local casino, seaside resort or amusement arcade was complete without playing the slot machines.

As the years have progressed, so has the technology behind slot machines. New features such as Nudge and Hold were introduced. Players used to be bending down to look up the reels to see if a nudge might produce a winning combination. However, the games still only had one pay line and three reels. These classic slots can still be played to this very day, but the arrival of more advanced technology and the internet has changed the slot machine world beyond recognition. There are many more ways to win now and some even have two sets of reels to play on.

The online slots that we play today are far more complicated than those in the past. There are bonus games that can be triggered, and these often see them appearing on a whole new screen. Then there are the random bonus games that can appear at any time and help boost your account balance. Whereas in the past, the games just included fruit, bars, 7s and bells, just about anything can now be used as a symbol. That’s because the games now adopt a large number of themes. There’s everything from fairy tales and mythology to slots based on top television shows or movies. A slot game can be a useful tool to help publicise a movie, just as pinball machines have been.

joker 8000
Joker 8000 Slot

Imagine how many Batman or X-Men fans there are in the world, even cartoon characters like Andy Capp and the 7 dwarves have had online slot games based around them. Symbols can include popular characters and even short video clips or songs if based on musicians or bands such as rock and roll slots.

The design of these games by developers such as Microgaming, NetEnt and Playtech just keep getting better and better. Some games have introductions to them that are almost like mini-movies. You find yourself being entertained before even playing the game.

Fruit and playing card symbols still appear but mainly in a supporting role providing players with the smaller wins. They do still have their time in the spotlight though. Retro games such as ‘Joker 8000’ and ‘Cherry Red’ still remain popular, especially with players old enough to remember the fun they had playing them in their youth.

Choosing the Games to Play


Which online slots to try your luck on and where to play them are important decisions. There are so many online gambling sites that offer a selection of online slots to play. Before joining any of these sites, do a bit of research first. Look at some reviews and join a site that is trustworthy, provides good bonuses and promotions (especially slot-related ones) and regularly add new games. You don’t want to be playing the same ones over and over again A site that continually adds new games is one that allows you to keep up with the times as there is a steady stream of new slots.

A good selection of slots that have progressive jackpots is another good asset for a site to possess. Look to join a site that has slots from the top designers & developers. A site that has games from developers such as Thunderkick, Eyecon, NetEnt, NextGen or WMS is going to give you a great time. Choosing just which online slot to play isn’t the easiest of decisions. If you aren’t very experienced at playing slots, it is a good idea to play a game that isn’t overly complicated. The retro fruit machine games are an ideal place to start as they don’t have many rules.

If you look at a game and has a bonus round that you don’t understand, even after reading the rules, don’t play it. It may well be that the theme of the game is something you are extremely interested in but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good slot to play. Look at the cost of the game to ensure that it is within your budget. Also, look at the Return to Player (RTP). This indicates the average return a player can expect to receive. More about this later but the higher the figure, the better.

Choosing Which Slots to Play

As previously mentioned, online slots are complicated games. You can’t just choose one to play and hope for the best. Readout tips on choosing the best slots and a review or two of the game you want to play to learn a bit about the features it has.

Being able to play an online slot that is new to you without having to spend any money is ideal. Look for demo versions of the game that can be played for free with no deposit required. There are no prizes to be won but you will gain valuable experience as you see how the slot works, particularly the bonus game.

Each slot will have its own set of rules that you can read. It is important to go through these. They will explain how much you can stake on the game, how to get winning combinations and just how the bonus game works. The game will also have a paytable that shows you just what the winning combinations are, their respective values and how much you can win.

Now that you have an idea of how the game works, it’s time to start playing, whether it be in demo mode or for real cash. Each slot will have a set of reels that has a number of symbols on them. Before you spin the reels, you will need to make some important decisions.

You will have to decide how many pay lines to activate for each spin unless there is a fixed amount. Then you will have to decide your stake for each of the activated pay lines. There will be a selection of coin values for you to choose from and then you can decide how many coins to play on the next spin. Check the stake level before you spin the reels.

As we will explain later, the slots you will play are fair but due to the use of Random Number Generators, totally unpredictable. You just can’t predict whether the next spin will be a winner or a loser. The number of pay lines online slots possess has gone through the roof. Games can payout in one particular direction (usually left to right) but some pay both ways. The diagram that shows you where all the pay lines are can often resemble a map of the London Underground.

It is important when you play slot games that you fully concentrate. It only takes a second or so for a spin to be completed. Losing concentration could see you make costly mistakes. You could choose the wrong number of pay lines to play for the next spin, make too high a stake or just not follow the rules properly.

Slots Terminology

As slot games have become more advanced, new terms have been created. It is important that you understand these to know exactly how to play an online slot. Terms such as wild, scatter, free spins, expanding wild and autoplay are just some of the ones that you need to understand.

Wild Symbols

A wild symbol is one that will soon become one of your best friends in the slot world due to its special powers. It can substitute for other symbols in the game and help you get winning combinations. Often the wild can only substitute for all of the other symbols but not the scatter.

Scatter Symbol

This is a symbol that is usually given the job of triggering the bonus round. That’s where the big wins can come along, more about those in a moment. The rules may state that five of the scatter symbols have to appear anywhere on the reels (not just on a pay line that you have activated) to trigger the bonus round. That’s why the wild rarely substitutes for the scatter symbol as this would make triggering the bonus round a lot easier.

Bonus Games or Rounds

On to the bonus games and this is where online slots have become so advanced. They come in many forms, but all give the player a chance to get some big wins. The most common bonus game is the offering of some free spins. Just how many you receive might depend on how many scatter symbols triggered the bonus round.

It’s not just a case of the player being given say 20 free spins, there will be other special features added to increase your chances of getting some wins from the free spins. For example, an additional wild symbol may be added to the reels and their substituting ability will further increase the chance of winning combinations coming along.

One feature that is often included in bonus games is double or nothing. When a win comes along, you are given the chance to double it. Usually, this uses playing cards, will the next one to be drawn be red or black? There’s even the chance to get higher wins if you can predict the suit of the next card. This sounds good but it’s entirely down to luck and is not to be overused. Getting wins and then losing them is not a great policy to employ.

Expanding Wilds

There might even be an expanding wild. This means it expands to perhaps cover an entire reel. Multipliers are important in bonus games. It may be that any win that comes along is subject to a 2x multiplier which sees wins doubled. The multiplier may increase further up to perhaps a maximum of 5x if more wins come along. You may receive 10 free spins, but some games will give you the opportunity to retrigger those free spins, so, even more, can be played.

Free Spins

It’s not always free spins that are offered in a bonus game. The Pick ‘Em format is a popular one that can be used. You could see a series of boxes or treasure chests appear on a second screen. Your task is to choose boxes and hopefully, they will contain cash prizes. You can have a certain number of picks or carry on choosing until an object is chosen that terminates the bonus round.

Other types of bonus rounds can include you going on a journey. Along the way to your intended destination, you can pick up bonuses such as multipliers, free spins, and cash prizes. Again, landing on a particular square can be bad news as that ends the bonus round.

Cascading Reels

As the years go by, there are more and more new features being introduced by slot designers. Cascading Reels is one such feature that can produce quite a few wins. Also known as Tumbling Reels, it comes into play when you get a winning combination. The symbols creating that suddenly disappear. They are replaced by new ones and the game checks to see if that has created any new wins. This continues until the feature fails to produce a winning combination.


Autoplay is another useful feature on a slot machine. You might find it a bit tiresome having to keep pressing the play button. With autoplay, you can set a number of spins, for example, 25. Set that number and then the slot will keep playing the game for that number after which they will stop and if you wish, can start the process again or just play one spin at a time. You can stop the autoplay whenever if you wish. Sometimes it will stop itself if a certain sized win comes along.

Variance is an important term to understand. If a game is described as having a high variance, this means there will be a bit of time elapsing before a large win comes along. With low variance games, payouts are more regular but mainly smaller ones.

Playing Slots Responsibly

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Responsible gambling is important when playing online slots. Only stake an amount that you can afford to lose. Don’t put yourself in a position where the money you need for other purposes ends up being used on a slot game instead. Slot games can provide you with information about how long you have been playing and how you’ve been getting on financially. It is important to access these facts as it’s easy to just get lost in the game. Suddenly you realise you’ve been playing the game for ages and not been doing too well.

Setting yourself a budget to play with is an important task. It’s best to play slot games for fun, not an attempt to get the next big bill paid. Slot games are far too unpredictable and there is no way to know when a slot will payout. Don’t chase your losses, that is never a good thing to do. If you are having a bad run, then accept the fact it’s not your day and stop playing.

To Summarise

As you can see, there is a lot to learn about online slots and they are a great form of entertainment but you do need to do a bit of research before playing them. Learn your terminology, choose the best games to play from the top designers and ensure playing slots is for fun and remains that way.

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