They go by a myriad of names ranging from the legalistic to the vernacular. Whether termed “Gambling Devices”. “Pokies” or “One Armed Bandits” however, slot machines have become an ubiquitous addition to card rooms, taverns, casinos, and restaurants around the world in establishments that cater to a clientele willing to take a bit of a risk to receive a potentially big payout.
While gambling is as old as the moral judgments often arrayed against the practice, slot machines themselves have a pedigree stretching back only a little more than a century. That is because slot machine play had to wait for the technology to catch up with the urge, and that technology did not arrive on the scene until the turn of the 20th-century.
That being said however, as with all technological growth, once sparked there is little to hold it back, and players are the primary beneficiaries of these technological advances. Even the most casual perusal of the historical record would suggest that a small number of drivers are critical to the field’s advancement, and that means software development companies are the true force behind the explosion of available slot machine action at both your favorite land based casinos as well as online options.
The final quarter of the 19th-century saw the birth of gaming devices, albeit the earliest examples were mere novelty items rather than a bonafide slot machine familiar to us today, but this emergence whetted the appetite of an eager public looking for interesting diversions.
One such example includes a mechanical devise that witnessed two-tin horses racing after putting a coin in the machine. While the machine itself did not payout a jackpot, establishment proprietors would reward winning players with free drinks, food, or services.
The modern day slot machine’s immediate predecessor was cobbled together by the Sittman & Pit Company’s Brooklyn workshop in 1891. Predicated on the game of poker, the Sittman & Pitt machine operated on five drums containing fifty different card faces. The goal of this early machine was to form poker hands on the five drums in exchange for services, and soon the machine was a ubiquitous sight in bars throughout the five boroughs of New York.
Across the continent however, a German immigrant, Charles Augusta Fey was working on his own slot machine design that he patented in 1895, and thus became known as the Father of the Modern Slot Machine.
Fey’s machine, which he dubbed the “Liberty Bell,” was an instant success with the gambling public, and while he initially resisted a partnering arrangement, he eventually teamed up with Mills Novelty Company in 1907 becoming the dominant gaming device producers throughout the next quarter of a century, and effectively the premiere “software” experts of their day.
For an industry fed on technology and primed for growth however, Fey’s slot machine was to prove merely the beginning because when it comes to the worlds of slot machine play, the bigger things were yet to happen.
Thanks to the building of Hoover Dam and the development of troop movement during World Was Two, the desert community of Las Vegas grew by leaps and bounds in the 1930s and 1940s. Key to this growth was the nascent development of a gambling industry in the hot desert of Southern Nevada. Concomitant with this growth, the rising popularity of slot machines assured their continued presence in the casinos that began dotting what would become the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Indeed, reputed mobster Bugsy Siegel added slots to the floor of his Las Vegas Flamingo hotel to help the wives and girlfriends of “Serious gamblers” while away the time in the hotel, but casino operators soon noticed that slot machine play was a significant cash generator in its own right.
While previous slot machines were strictly mechanical in nature, the 1950s saw the development of an electro-mechanical era that served as the springboard into the computerized era of slot machine play that dominates today. As with throughout the history of slot machine development, small numbers of key movers provided the backbone of the industry, and computer software developers is the talent that props up this industry in the digital age. Tracing the growth of software development provides a better understanding of the industry as a whole.
Obviously, long before the development of the online casino market, or even the development of an online environment in the first place, Las Vegas, Nevada was the slot machine nexus in the United States. As mentioned, the city blossomed under regulated gambling, and the early days, and a handful of land based software developers led the way. While many of these companies would subsequently make the leap to an online format, they were born and raised in the land based casino environment.
Bally Technologies – Perhaps one of the more venerable names adorning the sides of slot machines, Bally’s pedigree stretches back to the late 1970s when they began filling casino floors with their distinctive brand name machines. While land based casinos are definitely their bailiwick, recent years have witnessed their subsequent entrée into the online realm as well.
IGT – Previously branded as International Gaming Technology, IGT has made a huge splash in the casino gaming world for not only the lucrative land based market, but their games are also highly well received by players in the online realm.
WMS – Founded during the height of the Second World War, WMS has wormed itself into the hearts and minds of casino operators and players throughout the Unites States. Not willing to rest on their laurels however, WMS has moved into the internet gambling space in a big way with innovative technology that has quickly proved a fan favorite.
Barcrest – Formed back in 1968, Barcrest was the pioneering UK software development firm for years, and for many of those years was the only game in town. Recent years have seen a number of their titles revamped and modified for an online format, albeit other manufacturers dwarf the size of their online catalogue.
Aristocrat – Software development is not confined to the northern hemisphere, and in the Land Down Under, Aristocrat is the biggest and most important developer in Australia. With an eye originally sighted on the land-based market, Aristocrat has moved into the online gambling environment to continue their dominance into that realm.
While the aforementioned companies were in the vanguard of the development of land based slot machine excitement, new companies entered the market with the advent of the internet. Indeed, the past quarter of a century has seen a proliferation of companies vying for a market share of the online gambling community. With approximately sixty software producers on the global scene, there are more than 6,000 free titles available online, and the following is a representative sampling of the available software developers helping fuel the expansion of online slot play.
Betsoft – A relative newcomer to the slot development world, having been only founded in 1999, Betsoft has become a heavyweight hitter in the last decade based on their development of their signature 3D software. Betsoft’s signature innovation has wrought amazing changes in the online and mobile environment.
Play’n Go – Perhaps the biggest growing segment of the online casino market is the mobile apps, which allows players to en joy their favorite game regardless of where they are located. Play’n Go’s titles are consistently appearing on more and more gaming sites that cater to a mobile market.
Cryptologic – Entering the online gambling market in 1996, Cryptologic is one of the founding fathers when it comes to online gaming options. Virtual casinos are their bailiwick and they have carved out a niche for themselves that continues to dominate to this day.
NetEnt – Based in Sweden, NetEnt is well known for t6heir creative mix of original programming and license deals with other developers to shepherd titles to the internet. What places them at the top of the popularity ladder is the availability of some of the biggest progressive jackpots online, or in the real world, of slot machine payouts.
NextGen Gaming – Based in Australia, NextGen Gaming is in the business of creating their own titles, and they have entered into the online market in a big way. In addition to provide their own cataloged of captivating titles, the company is also instrumental in seeing other licensed developers enter into online agreements.
Online gambling is a worldwide endeavor, and software developers are spread throughout the planet geographically, but not all regions are created equally. Indeed, when arrayed geographically, the overwhelming preponderance of software developers are situated in Europe with almost two-thirds, or 65% of software companies are based in Europe. Considering the gambling friendly environment of many European countries, the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, and Alderny have all licensed online internet play. The U.K. Gambling Act of 2005 looked to place gam,bling activities on a fair footing with the added benefit of reducing criminal influences on the practice.
While Europe enjoys the lion share of software development companies, North America falls into second place with 14% of the available companies. Considering that the United States’ Congress passed the highly restrictive Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, the aim of that legislation was to to curb online gambling by making it illegal for financial groups and banks to process money that derived from gambling activity. The belief behind the measure was that if you could turn the tap off the funds, players and operators would have no reason to continue gambling.
Russia, Belorussia, and Australia comprise the remaining geographic regions offering competitive software development activity.