Evolution of Online Slots: The History and Future of Slots

The Evolution of Online Slots

Online slots are the product of a long evolution in slot machine design. In the early days, gaming machines required an attendant to hand tokens to players. Charles Fey built the first machine that paid out coins automatically. Later innovators of mechanical slot machines added fruit symbols, bigger jackpots, special features, and electric reels.

In the 1970s, Bally and Sircoma (IGT) created the first electronic slot machines. These used computer chips instead of mechanical reels. This opened the door to more paylines, bigger jackpots, better graphics, and cooler themes. Within a few years, progressive jackpots and video game-style animations made slot machines the biggest revenue generators in casinos.

The inception of online slots came in the 1990s. Online slots now use the same technology that electronic slots use.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Slot machines began as mechanical contraptions built by 19th-century inventors. In the 20th Century, they evolved from vintage slot machines into electronic video slots.
  • Once the Internet became mainstream, online slots took the best features of electronic video slots to a new generation of gamblers. Mobile slots became a key part of online gaming, while their jackpots rivaled those of land-based slot machines.
  • Future slot machines will feature immersive VR technology, skill gaming and social gambling with friends, crypto casinos with automated smart contracts, and AI-generated slots tailor-made to a player’s specifications.

How did slot machines evolve into the current generation of online slots?

Slot machines have evolved into contemporary online slots through a 140-year process. True slot machines began when Gilded Age inventors create machines that paid out in coins. Over the next 80 years, fruit machines and electronic reels were key innovations. A revolution in slot machines happened when IGT and Bally placed computer chips with random number generators in slots.

Electronic slots directly led to progressive jackpots, video graphics, animated bonus games, and the game features players love. With computer chips simulating mechanical reels, players now had access to free spins, multipliers, wild symbols, scatter symbols, and interactive bonus games. These are nothing compared to what the next generation holds, as VR slots, AI-generated rules and artwork, and skill gaming become bigger features in slot design.

Before we get to the present and future, though, let’s take a look at the evolution of online slots from the original gaming machines.

The Early Days of Slot Machine

Past: The Early Days of Slot Machine

The first slot machines appeared in the 1880s. These gaming machines required an attendant to hand out tokens or tickets for winning spins. Players would take their winning tokens to the cashier, but each machine required an employee to carefully watch every spin. Labor costs were the same for slot machines as it was for gaming tables.

In 1893, German-American inventor and entrepreneur Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze invented the Horseshoe slot machine, which paid out tokens for winning spins. This was an improvement, but it took Charles Fey to build the first popular slot machine.

Charles Fey, a German-American immigrant based out of San Francisco, invented the Liberty Bell slot machine in 1895. The Liberty Bell took coins and paid players in coins, meaning gamblers didn’t have to visit the cashier. This made the Liberty Bell quite popular, so Charles Fey sold such machines throughout Northern California.

In the early 1900s, California banned slot machines. Over the decades, entrepreneurs like Charles Fey and William Schultze continued to sell machines in other US states and territories. By the 1930s, several other competitors arrived on the scene: Mills Bros, Watling, Schutz, Caille Bros, O.D. Jennings, and Clawson. Each had one or more successful slot machines in these years.

Vintage Slots in Las Vegas Casinos

Nevada became a key proving ground for these slots. In 1931, Nevada approved legal land-based casino gambling. The Great Depression was hurt the state’s tax revenues, so casino gambling was a way to make up the difference. In the coming decades, as casino resorts appeared in Las Vegas and Reno, slot machines became a constant fixture on Nevada casinos’ gaming floor.

Early innovations created many of the traditions of today, though slot machines evolved throughout the 20th Century. The first fruit machine appeared in 1907. The first skill-stop slot machine appeared in the 1930s. Money Bee from Bally Game Company was the first electric slot machine (though it was not electronic.) Fortune Coin, later a part of Sy Redd’s IGT, released the first electronic slot machine (with computer chips) in 1975. Fortune Coin and Bally each produced video slots in the late 1970s.

Sy Redd created Sircoma in 1977, though he renamed the company “IGT” in 1981. Boosted by his monopoly over video poker machines at the time, Sy Redd bought Fortune Coin. IGT became the leader in land-based video slot machines in the 1980s and 1990s. It remains the leader to this day.;

Famous Slot Machines of the Past

Slot Machine Designer Year
Horseshoe Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze 1893
Liberty Bell Charles Fey 1895
Check or Nickel Machine Clawson Machine Co 1898
Play Ball Industry Novelty Co 1907
Revamp Bel Industry Novelty Co 1907
Bell Fruit Gum Industry Novelty Co 1907
Skill Stop Mills Novelty Co 1920s
Shamrock Slot Machine Caille Brothers 1927
’39 Super Track Time JH Keeney & Co 1931
‘Leven Come Seven Kalamazoo Automatic Music Co 1931
Silver Club Sports Game OD Jennings 1930s
Cherry Falls Mills Bros 1945
Bronze Chief Triple Bell Jennings Late 1940s
777 High Top Mills Novelty Co 1947
8 Star Bell Pace Manufacturing Co 1948
Export Chief Jennings Early 1950s
Nevada Club’s Slots Jennings 1950s
Lucky Sevens Bally Gaming Co 1960s
Old Reno ’49 Aristocrat Arcadian 1960s
Money Honey Bally Gaming Co 1963
Honey Bee Aristocrat 1960s
Golden Nugget Nickel Slots Bally Gaming Co 1960s
Regal Super 22 Aristocrat 1960s
Big Bertha Bally Gaming Co 1966
Moneytree Aristocrat 1960s
Super Big Bertha Bally Gaming Co 1969
777 High Top EM Machine Bally Manufacturing Co 1970
Fortune Coin Slot Machine Fortune Coin 1975
M-Slot IGT 1983
MegaBucks IGT 1986
Wheel of Fortune IGT 1996

Present: Current Slot Trends and Popular Games

The current trend in brick-and-mortar slot machines involves brighter lights, more interesting themes, and easier access to betting. Everything about casino slots now are designed to make it easier for players to bet — and encourage them to do so. Here are some of the trends players will recognize.

  • Themes are global. Name any part of the world in the past or present and it’s appeared in a slot game.
  • Slot designers license the most interesting intellectual properties in pop culture.
  • Interactive bonus games look like cut scenes from the most popular video games.
  • Music and soundbites in branded slots are taken from movies, TV shows, and Top 40 hits.
  • Designers build in sights and sounds meant to convince players to gamble.
  • Buzzers, songs, and sirens tell players that a slot machine is paying out…even if the prize is 20 cents.
  • Neon lights advertise jackpots in the thousands or even millions of dollars.
  • Instead of coins and dollars, players can pay for the gaming session with credit cards and debit cards.
  • Slot club cards also record every bet, offering comps, cashback, and other rewards to loyal players.
  • Game cabinets not only have pleasing color patterns, but comfortable chairs that give weary casino goers a rest while they play.
  • Land-based slot screens depict familiar scenes and offer visual stimulation, trying to convince players to sit down and stay awhile.

All of this convinces players to gamble, but some games are more successful than others. Here is a list of the most popular slot machines in casinos today. Below that, you’ll see a list of the most popular online and mobile slots currently.

Popular Brick-and-Mortar Slot Machines of 2024

The most popular land-based slot machines offer one of two things: (1) the biggest jackpots or (2) the best odds. Brick-and-mortar casinos draw millions of casual or recreational slot machine players each year. Casual players tend to play the machines with the brightest lights and the biggest jackpots.

In Nevada, the most popular slot machine is MegaBucks from IGT.

MegaBucks is a 5-reel, 60-payline slot from IGT. Players must bet 60 coins to trigger the game’s progressive jackpot. The big draw of the game is its wide-area progressive slot, which has produced the largest land-based slot jackpots in history. Every so often, MegaBucks has another huge winner — including slots with jackpots between $18 million and $39 million.

Wheel of Fortune is a popular branded slot machine. Based on the famous TV game show, Wheel of Fortune is another progressive slot. The jackpots tend to be smaller than MegaBucks jackpots, but that also means Wheel of Fortune Slots has more attainable jackpots. They hit more often.

Aristocrat, IGT, Bally, and WMS are a few of the main providers of land-based slot machines to commercial and tribal casinos. Each company employs different strategies to attract customers. A quick survey of the companies’ top  games should give players insight into those strategies.

Slot Machines with Multiple Games Inside

Lightning Link Slots from Aristocrat gives players many play options. Players can choose between 5, 10, 50, or 100 paylines. It allows players to choose between one of four games: Corrida de Toros, Chica Bonita, Checkered Flag, and Kung Fu Master.  It has a hold & spin bonus games that offers 3 free spins and cash-on-reels symbols that lock in place to give more potential winnings.

Dragon Link from Aristocrat is another slots which is four-games-in-one. In this case, Dragon Link gives players the option to choose Silk Road, Golden Gong, Autumn Moon, and Panda Magic. The game has a four-tiered jackpot with the Grand Jackpot as the biggest prize.

Land-Based Slots with the Best Odds

Other popular slot machines draw players with good odds. Many of the most popular slot machines are those that offer great odds and a shot at a nice (but not overpowering) jackpot. Many examples exist, but let’s take a look at four classics: 50 Lions, Queen of the Nile, and Golden Hammer.

50 Lions Slots

50 Lions is a popular poker machine from Artistocrat that offers 50 paylines and a theme based on the African safari. It is part of the popular Aristocrat Classic Cash Express Luxury Line series of games. 50 Lions includes free spins, repeat wins, and Cash-on-Reels action for instant-win payouts. The Diamond Wild is the wild symbols, while the paylines and reel action are reminiscent of 50 Dragons.

Queen of the Nile Slots

Queen of the Nile from Aristocrat is a 5-reel, 9-payline slot with a Cleopatra or Ancient Egyptian theme. The game features wild symbols, cash-on-reel icons, and the Hold & Spin feature. Slots history is full of games based on Ancient Egypt. Most involve either Cleopatra, the Pyramids, or the Egyptian pantheon — and Queen of the Nile is one reason Cleopatra is such a popular theme.

When Queen of the Nile first appeared on casino floors, it became a global smash. Years later, it’s been copied by most of Aristocrat’s competitors. Players also can play Queen of the Nile II and Queen of the Nile: Legends, but remember the high RTP doesn’t always transfer to new versions of the game.

Golden Hammer Slots

Golden Hammer is a 5-reel, 30-payline modern classic slot slot from WMS. It has bonus jackpots and a Norse theme. The closeup of the Golden Thor is the main prize symbol, while Golden Thor in a chariot is a secondary jackpot symbol. The game uses a 5-reel transmissive screen. Three scatter symbols trigger 8 free spins, four scatters unlock 15 spins plus the Minor Jackpot, and five bonus scatters unlock 100 free spins and the Mega Jackpot. Meanwhile, the Magic Hammer wilds complete all winning combinations. The wild is worth 2x in the base game and 10x in the bonus game.

Players should pay attention to the RTP stats on games. Looking through the following table of some of the most famous brick-and-mortar slots of all time, some have much better odds than others.

Best Land-Based Slots by RTP

Slot Name RTP Provider
Texas Tea 97.35% IGT
Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania Slingo 96.60% IGT
Pharaoh’s Fortune 96.52% IGT
Hexbreaker 3 96.50% IGT
Slingo Da Vinci Diamonds 96.20% IGT
Enchanted Unicorn 96.02% IGT
Five Dragons 95.17% Aristocrat
Choy Sun Doa 95.00% Aristocrat
Da Vinci Diamonds 94.94% IGT
Queen of the Nile 94.88% Aristocrat
Cleopatra 2 94.88% IGT
Buffalo Slots 94.85% Aristocrat
50 Lions 94.71% Aristocrat

Popular Online Slots of 2024

The most popular online slots right now are those with best payback percentage. Over the months, we’ve compiled a lot of the best online slots according to return to player (RTP), also known as expected return or payback percentage.

RTP is simply a percentage amount players should expect to see returned to them when they bet $100. If a game has a 99% RTP, that means you can expect to win back $99 for every $100 wagered.

RTP doesn’t promise $99 back, but involves mathematical probability. Different games have different amounts of volatility, which is a measure of how much variance there is from the expected return. Players want a certain variance, because that allows them to beat the odds and win more than they wager.

Fruit Fiesta is a 5-reel, 3-payline online slot from Microgaming. An earlier 3-reel version of the game also exists. The 5-reel version has a massive jackpot that is hit on average ten times per day somewhere in the world. Fruit Fiesta is different than many online slots because it has scatter pays instead of scatter symbols. Instead of opening a bonus game, you win 400 to 750 bonus credits based on the symbol. This online slot has a progressive jackpot along with 34 winning combinations, so players don’t have to spend an endless number of coins to activate the progressive.

Here is a list of the top slots in online and mobile casinos, according to their RTP and volatility.

Online Slots Classified by RTP and Volatility

Slot Name Provider RTP Volatility
Mega Joker NetEnt 99.00% High
Cosmic Quest: Mystery Planets Rival 98.95% Medium
Blood Suckers NetEnt 98.00% Low
Rock On! Rival 98.00% Medium
Starmania NextGen 97.86% Low to Medium
White Rabbit Megaways BigTime Gaming 97.72% High
Sweet Treats Nucleus Gaming 97.60% High
Quest To The West Betsoft 97.53% High
Safari Sam Betsoft 97.50% Medium
Cleopatra’s Gold RealTime Gaming 97.50% High
Pay Dirt RealTime Gaming 97.50% Medium
Crystal Waters RealTime Gaming 97.50% Low to Medium
Penguin Power RealTime Gaming 97.50% Low to Medium
Mermaid Queen RealTime Gaming 97.50% Low to Medium
Big Bad Wolf Quickspin 97.30% High
Apollo God of the Sun Novomatic 97.17% High
Gorilla Go Wilder NextGen 97.04% High
Reel Rush NetEnt 97.00% Medium
Quick Hit Ultra Pays Eagle’s Peak 96.89% High
Dead or Alive 2 NetEnt 96.82% Low
Aladdin’s Wishes RealTime Gaming 96.35% High
Mr. Macau Betsoft 97.03% High
Jungle Stripes Betsoft 97.03% High
Mystic Hive Betsoft 96.13% High

Predictions for the Future of Online Slots

Future: Predictions for the Future of Online Slots

We’ve reached the funnest part of our article about online slots evolution. Here we predict what the future of online slots is going to look like. For today’s article, we offer six predictions. They are more skill-based slots, basic strategy guides for those games, social gaming slots, VR slots, crypto slots, and AI-generated slot machines.

Skill Gaming Slots

Millennials and Gen Z players grew up playing video games and online games based on skill. As they become the key demographics that game designers target, slot machines will require more skill elements than ever before. If slots are going to dominate the future of casino gaming, they’ll need to be skill slots.

Mainly, that will include skill-based bonus games. But players won’t sit through long stretches of the main game that have zero skill requirements. Games of chance will need to have elements of skill, so the game design will have to incorporate skill into the main game eventually.

Old-style slot machines will continue to exist, but they will become more marginal over time. Some players will always want to play games that don’t require study, memorization, basic strategy, and skill. But alongside the throwback slots, players will demand skill-based online slots.

Basic Strategy for Slots

The inclusion of skill slots will mean game review sites like Slots Guy will need to have a basic strategy for slot machines. Gen X players will remember the video game strategy books found in 1990s bookstores. Those probably won’t exist, but their online equivalent will.

Players will visit websites to get the latest tips and tricks on slot strategy. What once was a game of pure chance will become a game of chance mixed with skill. Of course, AI-generation slots content might be instructing people on game hacks by then.

Social Gaming Slots

Research shows that the younger generation of players want a shared gaming experience. Once again, they’re grown up playing video games with friends and strangers online. They don’t want solitary games with no interaction with other humans.

Thus, the social interaction in live dealer casinos will bleed over into slot machines. Right now, people can play live casino table games online and speak with dealers, pit bosses, and players alike. But that’s for live blackjack, roulette, and baccarat.

In time, online slot designers will offer games that provide a social aspect to slots play. Like vintage online slots, solitary slot players will continue to exist, but they’ll exist beside social online slots.

Virtual Reality Slots

VR technology already has enhanced gaming outside the casino industry. In time, it will revolutionize slot machines. First in land-based casinos and later in online gaming sites, people will be able to play virtual reality slots.

As game designers get more comfortable with VR technology, they will be able to create immersive VR slots that far surpass 3D slots. Themes will be fully immersive, taking players into new VR worlds as they play slots. They’ll be able to experience Ancient Egypt, Chinese mythology, or a zombie apocalypse with stunning visuals.

VR headsets will offer realistic graphics that are fitted to the viewer’s movements. A simply turn of the head will offer panoramic views, thus making the player feel immersed in the virtual world. This could preduce a setting for interactive bonus games, or allow a player to feel like they’re standing amidst giant slot reels. The fruit symbols might “come alive” and interact with the players.

Crypto Slots

Crypto casinos offer heightened security, faster payments, instant traceability, smart contracts, token mining, decentralized platforms, and automation. Smart contracts allow online crypto casinos to automate their transactions while making games easier to program. With a few rules and parameters, games become more transparent and trustworthy.

Blockchain technology also makes for more transparency and faster transactions. Decentralized verification makes it impossible for identity thieves to steal your information. This makes crypto slots safer and faster, while also giving players privacy. All of this makes crypto slots the future of online and mobile slot machines.

AI-Generated Slots

Artificial intelligence is a buzzword of 2023 and 2024. People in every industry talk about it as the future, but few can describe what that future looks like. That’s not the case with AI-generated content in slot design.

AI-generated slots offer players custom-made games. If you want a game that includes themes of Ancient Egypt and space exploration, you’ll find a game that combines the two themes. If you want a game that combines ninjas and pirates, you’ll be playing Ninjas vs Pirates Slots within a few minutes.

The AI generation includes excellent artwork. With few parameters, players will be able to self-design their games. When artificial intelligence progresses, it will be able to create 3D animations set to unique themes.

The same goes for rules. Combining smart contracts with AI generation, people will be able to design online slots with odds and rules to suit them. They can ask for a game with a 97% return to the player, a jackpot worth 10,000 of the original bet, stacked wilds, and up to 20 free spins. The software would create a game based on those parameters in a few moments.

This is in the future, but quite possible once slots technology evolves.

FAQs About the Evolution of Online Slots

How did slot machines evolve into the current generation of online slots?

Slot machines have evolved into contemporary online slots through a 140-year process. True slot machines began when Gilded Age inventors create machines that paid out in coins. Over the next 80 years, fruit machines and electronic reels were key innovations. A revolution in slot machines happened when IGT and Bally placed computer chips with random number generators in slots.

Electronic slots directly led to progressive jackpots, video graphics, animated bonus games, and the game features players love. With computer chips simulating mechanical reels, players now had access to free spins, multipliers, wild symbols, scatter symbols, and interactive bonus games. These are nothing compared to what the next generation holds, as VR slots, AI-generated rules and artwork, and skill gaming become bigger features in slot design.

What were the early days of slot machines like?

The first slot machines appeared in the 1880s. These gaming machines required an attendant to hand out tokens or tickets for winning spins. Players would take their winning tokens to the cashier, but each machine required an employee to carefully watch every spin. Labor costs were the same for slot machines as it was for gaming tables.

What are some famous slot machines from the past?

Some notable examples include:

  • Horseshoe by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze in 1893
  • Liberty Bell by Charles Fey in 1895
  • Money Honey by Bally Gaming Co. in 1963
  • Fortune Coin Slot Machine by Fortune Coin in 1975

What are the current trends in brick-and-mortar slot machines?

The current trend in brick-and-mortar slot machines involves brighter lights, more interesting themes, and easier access to betting. Everything about casino slots now is designed to make it easier for players to bet — and encourage them to do so.

What are the predictions for the future of online slots?

Future online slots are expected to feature:

  • Skill gaming slots
  • Basic strategy guides for those games
  • Social gaming slots
  • VR slots
  • Crypto slots
  • AI-generated slot machines

Conclusion: The Evolution of Online Slots

Slot machines underwent many changes to get to this point. Online slots can trace their history back to Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell, the innovations of Fey’s mechanical slot rivals in the first half of the 20th Century, and the inception of electronic slots in the 1970s and 1980s. When online slots appeared in the 1990s, game designers took the best ideas and features and created a whole new way to enjoy slot machines.

The online and mobile slots currently are the heirs to 140 years of innovation and improvement. The history of online slot machines is much shorter, but developers know where to look for ideas. Therefore, we can predict the future of online slots by looking at the trends of today.

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