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Slots: History & Popular Culture

August 22, 2022

Most casino games have appeared in popular culture through references in songs, movies, plays, and TV shows. This is true for slots, but it has also spawned a reverse phenomenon: slot machines based on elements of popular culture.

It’s a big jump from the origins of mechanical slot machines in the 1800s…

How traditional slot machines worked

Slot machines worked practically the exact same way from their invention at the end of the 19th century all the way until the development of electronic machines in the 1960s. In classic one-armed bandits, players inserted a coin or token to unlock the machine’s handle.

Pulling the handle would set the reels spinning before they came to a stop one by one. The symbols on the reels would line up gears inside the machine, which in the right sequence would unlock the coin bank and pay out a win. Early machines had three reels with 10 symbols apiece, creating 1,000 possible combinations.

Electronic slot machines & RNGs

In 1963, the landscape of slots changed when Bally Manufacturing introduced electronic slots to the market. Gone were the manually rotating wheels and automated sequences of gears and axles. Now multi-coin and multi-line play was possible thanks to video display screens and electronic RNGs (Random Number Generators).

This development made the 1,000 possible combinations of mechanical slots look like hardly any. The RNG made it possible to have billions of combinations, meaning that games such as Megaways slots could offer gigantic jackpot payouts.

Pop culture games & modern TV show slots

Slots are the world’s most popular online casino game, and while they don’t have the sex appeal of card and table games, meaning you see fewer scenes in TV and film featuring characters spinning the reels, they are doubtless a part of pop culture.

In fact, it might be fairer to say that pop culture is a part of slots! You’ll find games in every casino that draw from TV shows and movies. Wheel of Fortune has led to slots based on TV game shows like Jeopardy, American Idol, Amazing Race, Price is Right, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and Deal or No Deal. Movies have also spawned their own slots, including such diverse titles as Forrest Gump, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Sex in the City, Scarface, Star Trek, Star Wars, Legally Blonde, Rocky, and Avatar. Celebrities have followed Elvis onto slot machines, including Marilyn Monroe, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Andre the Giant, and Bruce Lee.