No matter if you are an avid slot player or have never visited a casino, you have seen a slot machine at some point. The classic three-reel device featuring various fruit and card symbols has infiltrated modern culture.
In movies and TV shows, fictional characters have spun the reels hoping for a winning combination too many times to count. Sometimes, they would land on three 7s, and sometimes, the symbols would not match up. Even if you have never played the game yourself, you know the rules. Pull the lever and cross your fingers.
However, the game, as simple as it is, has a lot of history behind it. And today, slots have evolved from the classic card icons, levers, and reels to far more complex machines. How did it all begin?
Original Slot Machines
Although the classic cherries, lemons, and oranges have been a part of slots for a long time, these symbols were not featured on the very first slot machines. The original gambling slot game was the infamous one-armed bandit.
The First Symbols
Poker and slots do not seem too closely related, but the latter have been heavily influenced by poker machines. It might come as a surprise to some, but such devices have been around longer than slots. During the 19th century, most bars in America featured poker games which, in fact, inspired the first slot machines. The earliest slot design dates back to 1891, and the poker influence is undeniable. There were five reels, and all symbols appeared as card icons.
Such slots were eventually named one-armed bandits. They were nicknamed in such a way because it was easy to lose all your money on these machines. The one-armed part of the name came from the lever that the games used, which resembled an arm. The devices garnered a lot of popularity across the saloons of America, and ever since, poker cards have been a significant part of slot gaming. Even the latest titles tend to feature the high-value cards among the new additions. So now you know what the oldest slot symbol is.
Sevens, Horseshoes, and Bells
The original bandit was not a perfect machine by any means. Its biggest weakness was the lack of automatic payout. There always needed to be a person at the slot, so bartenders used to give out rewards after each game. This ended in 1895 when Charles Fey altered the machine to allow easy payouts.
He also changed the number of the reels and symbols which appeared on them. Instead of five, now there were only three reels, and some new icons started showing up. The classic poker cards gave way to a Liberty Bell and a horseshoe, while only three suits of cards remained (hearts, spades, and diamonds).
The first slot was named Liberty Bell, so this symbol turned into an evergreen one. When it comes to horseshoes, they are typically thought of as symbols of good luck. The same could be said for the number seven, but no one knows for certain when and why that symbol became such a classic slot icon.
As you might have noticed, there was no mention of fruits among the original slot symbols. So when did lemons and cherries start showing up?
A little while later, in the 1900s, the one-armed bandits got banned. Gamblers had been losing enough money to ruin the machine’s reputation, and laws were put in place to prohibit it. However, the players were not as ready to give up their favorite pastime as the lawmakers might have hoped.
To appease their customers, the manufacturers placed new symbols on the reels. Instead of cards and bells, these fruit machines featured bubble gum and, you guessed it, fruit. The winners no longer received cash but various fruit gum that corresponded to the winning line of symbols. Such slots got named “vendor machines,” but they were the same gambling devices as the bandits once were.
There you have it. The classic fruit that still appears on many modern slot machines represent various gum flavors. There is no deeper meaning behind the lemons, but the symbols are still a nice homage to the 20th-century slot gaming.
How Many Symbols Are There?
Today, it would be impossible to count all different slot machine icons. Even slot titles are hard to keep track of. From game to game, this form of gambling keeps improving, and the symbols keep accumulating. Chances are if you can think of an icon, it exists on a slot somewhere. However, this was not always the case.
It would not take long to calculate the number of symbols on original slot machines. Fey’s 3-reel slot creation featured around 20 icons per single reel. In total, there were around 60 unique symbols on this machine. With this knowledge, it is easy to estimate that the number of possible combinations reached about 8,000.
Types of Slot Symbols Today
The number of symbols is not the only way modern slots differ from the vintage ones. Nowadays, there are many new rules that are meant to help you win and enrich your gambling experience. In order to understand the additional rules, you need to know all types of symbols that exist today. We are no longer talking about their appearance but about their function in the game. Presently, there are seven particular kinds of symbols:
Most of this text we have spent talking about standard slot symbols. The images such as horseshoes, 7s, playing cards, fruit, or bells are the basic icons no slot could exist without. As the gaming software evolves, developers are becoming more and more inventive, so other images are appearing too. Typically, they depend on the game’s theme and might come with unique 3D effects. Players can find some of the more technologically-advanced titles in land-based casinos, but most of them are exclusive to online slot gaming.
Most gamblers’ favorite, the Wild, is not your typical video slot icon. These symbols provide multiple benefits to those who land on them after a spin. Almost all 5-reel slots offer Wilds that work as a joker. This means that such symbols can replace any other to help you create a winning combination. Usually, a Wild cannot substitute for other unique symbols that might trigger jackpots or bonus rounds. They also tend to appear only on specific reels, so make sure to check the necessary info before you start spinning.
There are several types of Wild symbols:
- Expanding Wilds grow in size and may cover multiple other symbols. In turn, there is a good chance that such Wilds will become a part of a winning payline.
- Sticky Wilds stay on the reels for a few spins after appearing. Consequently, the player has a higher chance of winning.
- Walking Wilds function in a similar fashion as the previous type. They stay for a while but, unlike Sticky kind, they move around from spin to spin until they have left the screen.
- Multiplier Wilds increase the wins that feature them, but they are not easy to encounter. Even when a game provides this profitable opportunity, Multiplier Wilds rarely show up.
These symbols are probably as common in slot games as Wilds are, but they do not show as often during a single game. To compensate for fewer appearances and lower payouts, Scatters do not have to be a part of a winning combo to reward you. Instead, they may show up anywhere and allow you to play bonus games and trigger free spins.
To activate bonus features of a slot, you typically need at least three Scatters. The prizes during extra spins tend to depend on your last bet during the base game.
Bonus symbols usually work the same way as Scatters, but they take the player to a separate screen to play a unique game. These can involve interactive play or decision-making and provide you with an opportunity to come back to the base game with bigger wins. Most developers try to showcase their creativity through these bonus games, so expect special effects and fun characters.
As the name suggests, these symbols multiply your payline winnings by 2x, 3x, 4x, or many more times. The icons usually look the same as the standard ones, but there is something extra to indicate their unique benefit. Sometimes, Multipliers function as Wilds, in that they can increase the winnings on the line they appear. There is typically a low number of Multipliers in a game to balance out the lucrative payouts.
Modern slot gamblers love seeing Stacked symbols on their reels. These take up more space than a regular symbol, thus increasing your chances of a winning combo. Sometimes, these appear as standard icons, but more often than not, Stacked symbols come with a special bonus.
Another type of symbol that the one-armed bandit did not have is the Sticky one. Just as the Sticky Wild, these icons stay on the reels for several rounds. If they feature an added benefit, the payouts can be massive. However, developers are well aware of this, so they tend to place them in unfortunate spots, where it seems impossible to create a winning line.
Slot machines have been through many changes since their creation back in 1891. From the simple bandit and fruit machines to the advanced online slots, this form of gambling has stood the test of time.
Players love the simplicity of slots, as well as their entertaining themes, unique effects, bonuses, and of course, their symbols. Nowadays, slot gambling is a visually pleasing experience thanks to many high-quality icons. The most fun ones, such as Wilds or Scatters, come with extra help to turn the odds in your favor. But ultimately, the best symbols for all gamblers are the ones that neatly match up to give them the desired prize.
As gaming technology keeps advancing, we can only imagine what sorts of slot symbols we’ll be seeing in the future. Whatever they may be, we cannot wait to find out.