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The one-armed bandit has been part of modern gambling history for over 100 years. Pull up a chair, get your pile of pennies ready, and spin those wheels!
Slots are one of the youngest types of online casino games, having been introduced toward the end of the 19th century and not in the middle ages or ancient times like its cousins poker, blackjack, roulette and craps.
The first mechanical slot machine was the Liberty Bell, invented by San Francisco car mechanic Charles Fey in 1895. This sot had three spinning reels, with diamond, spade and heart symbols painted around each reel along with an image of a cracked Liberty Bell. A pin producing three Liberty Bells triggered the 50 cent jackpot. Amazingly, the world's first slot can still be seen at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno Nevada, alongside other Fey inventions such as the first draw poker machine.
Believe it or not, slot machines captured the public's imagination almost instantly. Fey could not keep up with the demand for his machines, but he remained true to his invention and refused purchase offers from gambling supply firms. Inevitably, competition appeared: Herbert Mills, a Chicago arcade machine manufacturer, began producing his own "Operator Bell" in 1907, and added his own permanent mark - fruit symbols, such as cherries, plums and lemons.
The original slots machine was made of cast iron and consisted of three metal hoops known as reels. As 20th century technology advanced, so did the slot. The first electric machine, a horserace slot names Paces Races, was produced in 1934. The first completely electronic machine, "Money Honey", was produced in 1963 by Bally - yes the same Nevada company that is now making a push into the world of online gambling. Electromechanical machines became the most widespread form of slot machine, changing the world of casinos forever by generating automatic payouts without the help of attendants.
In 1974, the next great innovation took place with the introduction of the video-based slot machine - in many ways the precursor to today's online video slots. The first video slot was invented by Walt Freely and called "Fortune Coin." The public were slow to move over to this new technology, as it was a big change from what they were used to, but they were eventually won over then the introduction of video poker showed them that new technology could be trusted.
Through the 1970s, 80 and 90s, slot machines developed in the United States and throughout the English-speaking world. In Australia and the UK in particular, slots became a very popular form of entertainment at licensed pubs and entertainment venues. Manufacturers constantly introduced new innovations such as more reels, more symbols, more paylines, bigger jackpots and side games. It was this constant innovation that put slots in a good position in time for the online era.
Since the late 90s, slots have jumped onto our computer screens and mobile screens in a big way. Video slots are one of the most popular casino games amongst online and mobile gamblers the world over, and casinos and software producers are constantly adding new technologies such as 3D to satisfy player demands.
There are many basic terms you should know before beginning to play online slots. It is worth noting that while new terms have been introduced during the online slots era, much of the vocabulary has its roots in the world of land-based slot machines.
Bet: The amount of money wagered on a slot.
Bonus Feature: Bonus features have become commonplace in online slots. These can include everything from Wilds to Free Spins and extra jackpot opportunities.
Free Spins: Many online slots offer free spins as part of a bonus feature. Today, players can expect to win up to 15 or 20 free spins in one go.
Gamble Feature: This is exactly what it sounds like. It is usually a bonus feature in which players can gamble their winnings on doubling, tripling, quadrupling or losing all their spins.
Jackpot: The maximum prize a player can win on a slot.
Max Bet: The maximum number of coins you can play per spin. On progressive slots, the max bet must usually be played in order to qualify for the jackpot.
Multiplier: Each machine has payouts for certain symbols, which it multiplies based on the number of coins payed. Online slots commonly feature multipliers of 3x, 4x or 5x, meaning they multiply your winnings three-fold, four-fold or five-fold.
Payline: The line at which the symbols must line up to deliver a win. Traditionally, slot machines had less than 10 paylines, but with online slots they can reach to 25 and sometimes even 100 or more.
Payout Percentage: Also known as payback percentage, this is a term that describes the amount of money a slot should return to players over the long-term.
Progressive Jackpot: Progressive slots have a jackpot that continues to grow until it is won. Once it is won, it resets back to its minimum jackpot and starts growing until it is won again.
Reels: These are the rotating barrels on which symbols appear. Most land-based and online slots have 3-5 reels on them. The basic aim of slots is to match the symbols on the reels.
Scatters: A payout common video slots that triggers a win without having to line up on the one payline. In online slots, the scatter symbol often activates a bonus feature or game.
Wilds: A symbol (similar to the joker in a pack of cards) that acts as all other symbols to complete a winning combo on a payline.
Winning Combinations: The amount of wins. These days, this can reach as high as 243 (see Microgaming's 243 Ways to Win series).
To begin a slots game, the player selects their bet amount and clicks "Spin". The other basic rule of slots - whether we're talking about online slots or land-based slots, is to check the paytable - this will tell you how many paylines there are and what they offer. Because there are such a wide range of slot types, dependent on the amount of reels, paylines and a host of other features, the rules vary.
The aim of the game is to match up symbols that appear on the paylines. The payline is a straight or diagonal line that crosses the reels, including a single symbol on each reel, which form combinations. If the highlighted symbols for a winning combination, the player wins cash. Of course, with the introduction of wilds, scatter and bonus games, online slots offer more than one way to form a winning combination.
It is worth knowing the differences between each type of slot before you begin. Remember, one slot can often incorporate more than one type of slot - these days a game can be a 5-reel slot that combines elements of 3D technology, bonus features and more. Therefore, it is worth reading up on each game before trying it out.
3-reel or classic slots are the type of online slot that most closely resembles the original machines that rose to popularity in the first half of the 20th century. They generally have as many five paylines.
5-reel slots are based on the video slots that emerged later in the 20th century, and increase your chances of winning. These slots contain a number of sub-categories, including 3D reels and most progressive slots.
Multiline slots can fall under the two previous categories but include more paylines than usual. Be aware that while the prizes are larger for a game with 25 or 30 paylines, they also tend to be more expensive to play.
Progressive slots, as seen in the terminology section, are slots in which the jackpot keeps growing until it is hit. This category of game has continued to develop over the past few years, with the introduction of multi-jackpot games - there are now games with up to four types of jackpot, ranging from the smallest jackpot of just a few dollars (and growing) up to a large jackpot that resets at $1 million.
Because slots are completely random, there is no real strategy to playing them. Maths is not relevant in slots as it is in poker, blackjack or even roulette. Having said that, there are some basic strategy techniques you can follow in terms of choosing which online casino to register at and which online slots to play.
Picking the right online slot game is important. Obviously, it is better to play something that is interesting - if you like movies, then a specific movie-themed slot could be for you. If you want to reminisce about the fruit machines you played at the pub all those years ago, there are online versions of those games.
Once you have picked a game that interests you, it is important to look at the payout percentage, minimum and maximum bets and possible jackpots. You should decide on a budget and stick to it, and choose your games accordingly.
Picking your online casino is just as important as deciding which game to play. All online casinos offer bonuses for slots play, but which of them offers a package that suits you? Are you a high-roller or do you just like playing the occasional slots game in between games of bingo or sports betting? Shop around between the top online casinos - you will find all of them on our site, with news and updates about their latest slots promos and bonuses.
- Slots are fun for people of a wide variety of ages and interests, but the most important thing to remember is that they are random - you can win big prizes while enjoying the experience, but the House will always takes its cut. Therefore, decide on your budget before playing, and most importantly, stick to it!
- With that in mind, look for the slots with the highest payout percentages. Not all slots were created equal. Some of them have jackpots that go off several times a day, while others have bigger jackpots that are hit about once a year. If you're patient, you might hit that big jackpot, but if you're expecting to win regularly, you need a game with a high payback percentage.
- Bet the maximum amount on progressive slots. The Internet is filled with all sorts of horror stories about people who qualify for the progressive jackpot only to find that their price has been reduced to a few bucks because they failed to bet the max amount. If you are aiming for that progressive jackpot, plan accordingly.
- Ignore the players around you, whether you are playing slots at a land-based casino or an online casino. By that, we mean that their successes and failures have no effect on your own results. By all means, be social - gambling should always be a fun experience and an opportunity to make new friends - but remember that your fate is determined by your own gameplay.
- Check out slots tournaments. Most online casinos offer tourneys in which players compete against each other just as they would in online bingo hall or poker room. Online slots tournaments usually have a set fee and are held on set dates, in which players compete against each other to see who can bet more or win more on a given slot. At the end of the tournament, the players highest on the leaderboard win cash, free betting money or other casino bonuses.