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Best of Frank Scoblete
Slots from Then to Now9 September 2000
The history of slots is the history of machine evolution, an evolution every bit as real but far faster and more dramatic than animal evolution. The first slot machines dispensed candy, gum and cigars and were dubiously dubbed "trade stimulators." How did the "trade stimulator" (TS) differ from just a regular vending machine? In two ways: the first was the fact that you weren't guaranteed anything when you put your penny, nickel or dime in the TS machine. In a normal vending machine, when you put your money in, you expect to get your product out.
Second, most TS machines were found in places where you could buy the very product you were playing for. If you were playing a TS gum machine that awarded you sticks of gum if you hit certain symbols, you might be playing in a sundry shop that sold those very sticks of gum!
So why play a machine where you could lose your money and, when you won, got nothing more than a regular product in return? Because you weren't actually playing the machine to get the product, you were playing to win money! Let's take the cigar machines (from which the saying "close but no cigar!" originated) as another example.
Many people who played these machines had absolutely no interest in cigars, but played them anyway. If the cigar symbols hit, a player would win however many cigars that particular line indicated. Let us say you won three cigars when each reel on a three-reel slot fell on cigar. So now you have three cigars and you don't smoke, what do you do? You would "sell" the cigars to the owner of the store or saloon where you were playing. This scheme was a clever way of getting around the gambling laws of most states.
The early machines were clumsy affairs -- by our standards -- designed with gears and pulleys. They were strictly mechanical devices and could be easily beaten by clever handle manipulators. The appellation "one-armed bandits" went both ways -- it described the machines, of course, and it also described many of the crooks who owned or surreptitiously manipulated the machines (most of whom had both their arms but very little in the way of hearts). Certainly the machines were bandit-like as most kept anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the money played in them. Imagine a modern casino advertising: "Our machines return 50 percent!" Imagine how long that casino could last.
I cover the history of slot machines in detail in my book Break the One-Armed Bandits! and it is a fascinating history indeed. For almost 60 years, slot machines were of the mechanical variety and then the electromechanical ones began to make their appearance. The design of these machines has come to be the standard look for a slot machine. Sleek, colorful, bursting with light and sound. The casinos began to stock them and never looked back.
Today, slot machines are no longer mechanical devices and they are no longer electromechanical devices. They are computer run, state of the art machines that use a Random Number Generator (RNG) to select the winning symbols. On the old machines, the actual reels spun to determine the winning and losing decisions. If there were ten symbols on each reel, there were 1,000 possible combinations (10 X 10 X 10 = 1,000). So if the winning combination on these antiques was three cigars, where each reel had one cigar, the odds were 999 to one that you would hit the jackpot.
Today's machines can have any number of symbols on any number of reels and all are essentially window dressing. The RNG determines which symbols will appear on each reel. That is not to say that the game isn't random -- it most certainly is -- but the randomizer is no longer the number of symbols on the number of reels and all their possible combinations. The randomizer is the RNG.
How does it work? In layman's terms (the only terms I know since I am not a computer programmer), the RNG is constantly selecting number series, all of which correspond to the various symbols on the various reels. This selection of number series is occurring even when the machine isn't being played! When you put in your coins, the RNG alerts the computer program as to which symbols should appear based on which number series was hit as the coin was recorded. It's that simple. Then the reels spin to entertain you, but the decision as to which symbols will appear has long been established (long in computer time, a few beats in our time).
Most machines today mimic the tried and true electromechanical slots in design and look, but they are nothing like them in internal organization. The new machines can keep track of many things, alert the casino executives to malfunctions, even thwart would-be and ingenious slot cheats.
But at the heart and soul of the machine is the RNG. It doesn't get tired, it doesn't miss a beat, it just keeps selecting sequences that relate to the symbols on the reels.
And what about all those new slots that have made their way to the casino floors? Are they different because they have so many new and different features? The answer is no. Although the games that are coming on-line are indeed fanciful and some downright beautiful, the operant principle is still the same -- the RNG rules.
Frankly speaking, in machine evolution, the RNG is the divine hand that can giveth and taketh away, and as such, must be respected.
For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
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