We know them by a variety of names. In America, Canada and the UK they are known as fruit machines, one armed bandits, the slots, slots machines or in Australia they are known as Pokies.
The etymology of the slang names is kind of interesting. The term fruit machines came about due to the fruit symbols that appeared on the little wheels inside of the machines when they were still mechanical. And the one armed bandit name is an obvious one to anyone who has watched old movies or is actually old enough to have seen them in real life, the main generation of slots machines had a big leaver on one side than you would have to pull to engage the machine and start it cycling. They were pretty cool and had a very sense of personality to them. Lastly you come to the Australian slang of “pokies”, which came about in the 1970s in New South Wales and was derived from the name poker machine; poker = pokie, but it generally applies to all slots type machines.
Now if we go way back into time to when they first came about or were invented we have to go to the 1800s aka the nineteenth century. It was an American mechanic named Charles Fey who actually invented the first pokies or slots machine. And this machine was named the Liberty Bell. It didn’t use the ubiquitous fruit symbols that are more common place. The Liberty Bell used bells, stars, horse shoes and playing card suits on its wheels and there were three wheels or reels as they are sometimes called.
The basic layout of the slots/pokie machines wheels that consisted of three wheels with twenty symbols on each wheel did not really change until after the second world war. So until after 1945. What you had to do was put the bit of money into the machine’s coin slot, give the “one armed bandit” handle a good yank, watch as the wheels would cycle around and around (savoring the anticipation) and when they stopped three of the symbols (one on each wheel) would be visible as a line of symbols through a little window. The arrangement and type of symbol would determine if you won which would be checked against a schedule taped to the front of the machine. Of course if it did cycle to a paying combination you would hear a bell or buzzer and some coins would spill out of the machine in a tray below or not at all. All very exciting.
Those machines were programmable in an analog sense. It could be set to pay out “X” number of dollars in coins, “X” number of times per “X” number of spins. Of course back then there wasn’t much in the way of regulation of gambling practices. So they were unfair payouts. The machines were usually set to payout every 30 or 40 spins. It worked out that the slots/pokie machines would make roughly 20% of profit for the owners of them.
In the 1920s an interesting innovation came into being: the jackpot mechanism. It worked like this; coins that are fed into the machine are directed into a box which holds the jackpot win. Player after player feeds in coins until a certain combination of symbols appear on the wheels at which point the jackpot tray opens and drops all of the winnings for the player to scoop up.
The shear genius of this relative to human behaviors is staggering. Remember this was the era of more understanding of the ways that the human mind works. You can verify this yourself by looking up the names of psychologists like Dr. Sigmund Freud and Dr. Carl Jung and reading some of their pioneering work in the field of psychology. As these works were published in various journals of the day or as books, smart people in fields like marketing and advertising were buying them and reading them to gain more understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. It is not so farfetched to figure that as these men would talk with their colleagues in the business the idea of watching the behaviors of the players and building further systems to exploit their human weakness of greed would evolve.
As time went on the innovations started coming faster. Money is an incredible motivator. During the 1950s some really big changes came into being. Suddenly you were seeing slots machines with four wheels out on the floors of casinos. And the payouts started getting bigger for the jackpots. Not long after that leap ahead in technology came the so called “hold” button which gave the player the ability to pause any of the symbols for another spin of the wheels. Then came the “three line pay” machines. In most slots machines you can see three horizontal lines of symbols; the winning line and the one above it and the one below it. If the player was to put extra coins into the slots/pokies machine then the other lines would be activated as possible winning lines of symbols thus increasing the thrill of winning, thus enticing the player to add more coins to each pull of the one armed bandit and increase his or her chances of a winning pull. Two coins would activate one extra line of symbols and three coins would activate all three lines of symbols.
Then in the 1970 and the 1980s the concept of multiple coin playing leaped ahead again with the introduction of playing of up to eight coins a throw. An increase of coins put in equaled an increase in payouts. This technology was developed even further into the form that we all know now as the “progressive jackpot slots machines” or “progressive pokies” and you can only win the progressive jackpot by feeding in the stated number of coins or tokens or cyber tokens if playing online.
And as with anything in which large sums of money are involved, cheating has been a part of the development of slots/pokies machines technology. Cheating started out back in the days of the old three wheel mechanical machines with tricks like sticking wire into a slot to interrupt the wheel thus giving the player a bit of extra control. According to legend, some even would even drill the machines, though how they would pull that off in a occupied casino is unclear. Then there were tricks that were mathematical in nature such as the rhythm method.
But, as with anything where money is involved the people who own the machines have pretty well got all forms of cheating solved at this point in time. So it falls to the diligent player to pick his/her slots/pokies machine with care and play the laws of probability which in reality are stacked quite high against them.