The History of Slot Machine Symbols

With over £2 billion now being reaped by the slots industry in the UK alone annually, it’s safe to say slots have never been more popular. Though games have evolved a lot since their invention by Charles Fey at the end of the 19th century, traditional symbols are still in use today. And we’ve put together this Mega Reel guide on the history of slot symbols to help improve your understanding of them. So let’s begin!

The First Slot Symbols

The first ever slot machine, Fey’s Liberty Bell, contained just five symbols: hearts, spades, diamonds, horseshoes and, of course, liberty bells. However, around 14 years after the Liberty Bell was born a new law was introduced to prohibit money being won on slots. Fey and other canny slot developers found a way to get around this ban by inventing machines that paid out in things like gum instead of cash. And since gambling references weren’t allowed on the reels, developers started using fruit symbols (representing the different flavours of gum on offer) instead of playing cards on the reels. More symbols were added soon after this, including the bar and jackpot symbols.

Video Slot Symbols

Slot symbols changed dramatically after the birth of video slots in 1976. Why? Well, video slots didn’t contain mechanical reels. In fact, because they were powered by computer software, more reels, paylines and bonus features emerged and thus a lot more symbols were needed. Consequently, wild and scatter symbols became popular.  Plus, many of the new symbols were boosted by animation so they looked a lot more colourful than their predecessors. Indeed, computers made it possible for developers to create a wide variety of new themes and, as a result, slot symbols became more varied. For example, luck-themed video slots boasted such things as 7s, rainbows and treasure chests.

Contemporary Slot Symbols

These days most people play slots on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones and even though lots of today’s games contain symbols from yesteryears, many also possess their own unique ones. For example, most classic and retro slots boast bells, fruit, bars and jackpot symbols. In contrast, most 3D slots use a combination of playing card symbols and theme-related ones. The playing cards normally form the lower value symbols, while theme-related icons and game-specific symbols usually serve as the higher ones. Take NetEnt’s Dead or Alive 2 Wild West-themed slot, for example. Aces, jacks, queens, kings and 10s are the low-value symbols and things like guns and whiskey bottles are the high-value ones.  Meanwhile, the wild symbols are made up of portraits of famous outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid – designed by artists working for NetEnt.

Final Thoughts

Although the symbols used in the earliest slots still appear in slot games today, they have been joined by many others like wilds, scatters, theme-related and slot-specific ones. So from now on, whenever you play slots, you’ll be able to recognize a lot of the symbols being used.

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