Understanding Slot Machine Reels

Technology has integrated itself in our day-to-day lives and provided us with advancements like the iPhone and the coffee machine that turns itself on in the morning. It's also become a big part of gaming, and we're talking about more than just the online casinos out there. On the casino floor, it's easy to point to things like video poker and the fancy touch screen versions of games that have shown up in casinos, but there's probably no place that it's made a bigger impact than in the humble slot machine.

The 3-Reel Slot Machine

When Charles Fey came up with the idea for the first slot machine in the late 1800s, he was actually working on a poker game. The problem was that he was working way, way ahead of what mechanical technology allowed. He simplified his original idea greatly, boiling it down to three spinning reels that each featured five symbols: hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs and the Liberty Bell. Reducing ten cards to five symbols and five cards to three reels made it that much easier to pay out when someone wins.

This 3-reel slot machine became the standard for quite a while, paying out $0.50 for the biggest win. Others followed suit and soon 3-reel slot machines were even offering up gum and prizes to children in drugstores. Nowadays, 3-reel slots are mostly a kitsch thing, but there's no denying the charm in such simplicity.

The 5-Reel Slot Machines
While Fey had his problems with creating a 5-reel machines, the Sittman and Pitt company in New York City managed to create a hybrid slot and poker game that featured 5 reels and fifty card faces (ten on each drum). The payouts on this machine were based on standard poker hands, but the fact was that the play was greatly limited.

Mechanical versions of the 5-reel slot machine proved to be difficult until the late 20th century and the development of electromechanical slots. The need for these games didn't last long thanks to the development of video slots. The first video slot machine was set up on a modified Sony Trinitron with computer components attached to it in a bizarre hodgepodge that was more proof of concept than actual gaming device. However, the groundwork was laid for video slots that could feature 5 reels and offer second screens where bonuses were paid out. This also led to the invention of multiple paylines, a staple of the slot machine.

The 7-Reel Slot Machines
It was a matter of time before someone again increased the number of reels on a slot machine, and seven seemed like a good number, apparently. The 7-reel slot machines are a bit of a rarity now, both in brick and mortar casinos and on gaming sites that offer online slots. The sheer number of paylines and the size of the play area is still intimidating to a lot of players, but it wouldn't be surprising if the next generation of casino gamers took to them as quickly as the industry did 5-reel slots.