Most pub-goers have tried their luck on the fruit machine at one time or another, maybe without giving it much though. But you might be curious to know where these gaming machines came from. What did vintage fruit machines look like, and who thought of the ‘nudges’ and ‘hold’ features? Well, the history of today’s fruit machine is a story about chewing gum, free beer, and legal loopholes.
Vintage Fruit Machines
Fruit machine history begins in 1891 with Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York. They developed the first gambling machine which was the precursor to the modern slot machine, and the fruity’s great grandfather. The original game contained five drums holding 50 playing cards and was based on poker. Why not all 52 cards? To give the house the edge, of course. With the ten of spades and jack of hearts removed, the odds of landing a royal flush were cut in half. Regardless of this, the machine proved extremely popular and could soon be found in bars all over the city. Players would insert a nickel and pull a lever, which would spin the drums and the cards they held, while the player crossed his fingers and hoped for a good hand.
The original machines had no payout mechanism, so a pair of kings might get the player a free beer, whereas a royal flush could pay out cigars or shots; the prizes wholly depended on what was on offer at the bar. Due to the vast number of possible wins with the original poker card-based game, it proved practically impossible to come up with a way to make a machine capable of making an automatic payout for all possible winning combinations.
Where did bell fruit machines come from?
Later in the 1890s, Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, devised a much simpler machine called the Liberty Bell, – the first bell fruit machine. This comprised three spinning reels containing only five symbols: diamonds, hearts, horseshoes, spades, and the namesake Liberty Bell. By replacing ten cards with five symbols and using three reels instead of five drums, the complexity of reading a win was vastly reduced, allowing Fey to devise an effective automatic payout mechanism. The Liberty Bell fruit machine was a huge success and spawned a thriving mechanical gaming device industry.
Old fruit machine symbols
Other old fruit machines, such as the trade stimulator, gave out winnings in the form of fruit-flavoured chewing gums with pictures of the flavours as symbols on the reels. The popular cherry and melon images in today’s fruit machine symbols derive from this machine.
The BAR symbol now common in slot machines was derived from an early logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company. The payment of food prizes was a commonly used technique to sneakily avoid laws against gambling in a number of American states.
Electric Fruit Machines
In 1963, Bally developed the first fully electromechanical slot machine, called Money Honey. The state-of-the-art technology allowed Money Honey to be the first slot machine with a bottomless hopper and automatic payout of up to 500 coins without the help of an attendant. The popularity of this games machine led to the increasing predominance of electronic games, and the side lever soon became vestigial.
Vintage fruit machines arrive in Britain
During the 1960s electric gambling machines were exported to the UK, featuring many of the popular fruit machine symbols we recognise today. However, UK gambling law was very clear about the nature of automatic gambling machines and they were not allowed in pubs. The crux of the law revolves around the level of interaction while gambling. Automatic gambling machines were illegal for sure, but what if you could show that fruit machines were games of skill? Time for some more legal sneakiness.
Introducing the ‘nudge’ button
To add an element of interactivity to a gambling machine, Trevor Carter, co-founder of Carfield Engineers Ltd introduced the ‘nudge’ button. It’s because of this that the fruit machine transformed from being a totally random betting machine to a game of skill. Strategic use of nudges and later, holds, allowed fruit machines to slip through the legal net and be enjoyed with a pint in your local pub.
As technology advanced through video and digital gaming machines, the fruit was joined by popular cultural franchises from The Addams Family and Terminator, to the ubiquitous Deal or No Deal. Each one of these featured their own graphics and sounds, but still retained a little bit vintage fruit machine heritage.
Thanks to some ingenious thinking throughout fruit machine history, since they were first thought up back in the 19th century, fruit machines have developed to become the pub-staple that they are today. Offering a little extra entertainment while pub-goers socialise and enjoy a drink or two, today both modern digital games and vintage fruit machines prove to be a popular addition to bars up and down the country. To give your pub the upper edge, take a look at product range to see what entertainment you could offer patrons.