When immigrant inventor Charles Fey unveiled his “Liberty Bell” machine in 1895, the world of casino gambling was changed forever.
Fey’s machine provided the prototype for the slots gamblers know and love today. Three reels featuring five symbols each were activated with the drop of a coin and the pull of a level. From there, the final resting place of the reel symbols was completely random, and players waited to see if fortune where their fortunes would fall.
Taking its cue from a previous “poker machine” invented by the Sittman and Pitt Company, Fey’s Liberty Bell design featured five symbols: the diamond, the spade, the heart, the horseshoe, and the Liberty Bell. The game’s jackpot pay out was set at 10 nickels, and players needed to line up three Liberty Bells in a row to claim it.
This deceptively simple design proved to be instant classic, inspiring imitators almost immediately afterward – and to this day. But despite being housed in the Nevada State Museum, the original Liberty Bell machine is much more than a historical relic – it’s the foundation on which all modern slot machines were built.
More than a century has passed since Fey finished tinkering with the Liberty Bell slot machine concept. And over that span, technological advancements have taken the humble three-reel design and updated it for the modern age.
In 1963 the Bally Company introduced its famed “Money Honey” machine, which came equipped with a so-called “bottomless” hopper. Using this expanded hopper allowed Bally to build a 500-coin payout into the mix, which revolutionized slot game play at the time.
Bally also added a “SPIN” button to the Money Honey machine, marking the first time players could get in on the action without the traditional pull lever. Of course, the “SPIN” button endures to this day, enabling players to maximize their spin count over the course of a session.
The simple three-reel layout has since been expanded to five-reels and beyond, while thousands of new reel symbols have been introduced. The single pay line Fey used to connect reel symbols has been expanded to include 5-, 10-, 25-, 40-, and even 100-payline concepts.
Throw in the proliferation of themed slots, or those which use television shows, movies, and music to dress up basic slot game play, and Fey would hardly recognize the game he invented so long ago.
This preamble begs one question: if slots have changed that much in the last 100 years, what will they be like in the year 2117?
I’ve decided to put my imagination to the test, so this page is devoted to exploring the most likely slot machine innovations to take place over the next 100 years.
Once the old pull levers were replaced by buttons, and then touch screens on some machines, the slots seemed to have reached a natural technological progression.
After all, people still use buttons to control their car dashboards, remote controls, elevators, and thousands of other devices. Thus, it stands to reason that buttons will remain a big part of slot machine design as the years progress.
But with that said, I envision a world without buttons on the horizon. The advent of Bluetooth-enabled technology, and other voice-activated tools like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, has proven that people can control the world around them in a hands-free way.
So why wouldn’t slot machines incorporate voice commands as the technology is refined?
Just picture yourself playing the latest and greatest slot game, but rather than tapping away at the old-fashioned buttons, you simply whisper “spin” to yourself and watch the reels whirl. Admittedly, this advance wouldn’t change slot gameplay all that much, but the idea of a voice-controlled could work wonders for wide swaths of the population.
Players suffering from disabilities, or elderly folks who lack their usual range of motion, would stand to benefit immensely from voice-activated slots. As it currently stands, individuals who have trouble using their hands’ fine-motor abilities have trouble enjoying slots like the rest of us.
The introduction of voice controls for gambling machines would invite those players back into the fold, enabling them to take control of the game with ease.
And for everybody else, speak-to-spin technology would just make things a bit easier, giving you a chance to keep playing while checking your phone or taking a drink.
Pull levers were replaced by buttons because slot designers wanted to speed up the gameplay – which speeds up the rate casinos claim your cash. I’ll assume that financial motivation remains intact as the 22nd-century dawns, so as soon as casinos are capable of streamlining the process through voice commands, they’ll jump at the opportunity.
Another technology in its relative infancy at the moment is virtual reality, that fabled state of computer-aided immersion that has been promised since the 1980s.
But as tools like the Oculus Rift and other VR-enabled headsets become more commonplace, users are diving headlong into computer-created fantasy worlds.
Having witnessed the rise of video slots firsthand, seeing a simple reel system replaced by flashing graphics and crystal clear clips straight from the big screen, I’m well aware of what slot machines can do from the visual perspective. In this day and age, players come to the slots to enjoy sensory overload as much, if not more so, than they do to chase jackpots.
When you sit down to play a high-powered video slot like The Walking Dead game by Aristocrat, you’re practically strapping into a virtual reality machine as it is. All of your favorite characters appear onscreen, moving and talking just like they do in the hit zombie apocalypse series. Cutting-edge graphics are rendered by the best software engines, creating an immersive experience that goes far beyond spinning reels.
When high-fidelity sound effects and video clips ported straight from the show are added in, a modern video slot comes close to the VR experience most of us envision.
Just imagine what they’ll be like a hundred years down the road…
I picture a VR equipped slot machine looking something like a car racing arcade game. You’d sit down, strap in, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime. Depending on the game’s theme, you’d enter a different world altogether, walking, talking, and interacting in something akin to a video game. And all the while, the reels would be spinning away to complete the slot experience.
This vision isn’t too far off either. The Oculus Rift VR headset offers several slot machine replications, and you’ll find a few full-fledged VR casinos out there online.
With 10 decades’ worth of research and refinement, I have no doubt that the slot machine of the future will incorporate VR technology to create an entirely new experience.
Casinos have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to replacing paper and coin currency.
The era of plastic cups overfilling with shiny quarters is long gone.
Nowadays, once you’ve made an initial cash deposit on a slot machine, you don’t have to touch physical money again until hitting the cashier’s cage. Thanks to paper vouchers bearing scannable bar codes, your funds can be transferred seamlessly from machine to machine – or even casino to casino in the case of jointly-owned properties.
To me, this innovation is akin to another one taking place at the moment: cryptocurrency.
If you haven’t heard by now, new technology like Bitcoin has been launched in an attempt to replace fiat currency – or the coin and paper money issued by governments and backed by gold.
I won’t dive into the intricate details of cryptocurrency here, but here’s a basic rundown. Using special computer codes that encrypt information – codes of which there is a finite amount – Bitcoin “miners” create a valuable commodity. This commodity can then be used to purchase goods and services online, based on a mutually agreed upon value. Over time, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin take on their own inherent value, forming an organic economy that is entirely separate from the fiat currency system.
A single Bitcoin once cost $100 in American dollars to own, and today its value is approaching $5,000. This rate of growth has attracted big banks and even government regulators to explore the viability of cryptocurrency, lending it a newfound sense of legitimacy.
Today, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency formats are accepted by major corporations, and free-standing ATM machines can be used to easily exchange your Bitcoin for real money, and back again.
All of this is to say one thing: cryptocurrency is clearly the wave of the future and not just some passing fad.
With that in mind, I firmly believe that the time will come – and sooner rather than later – when casinos open their marketplace to Bitcoin and the like. Too much value exists for casinos not to accept Bitcoin, and once the regulators find a way to make things legal, I think Bitcoin will be brought into the fold.
If that happens, your grandkids might just be able to hit the casino, load up their Bitcoin wallet, and leave with a massive jackpot in tow – all without touching a bill or coin.
Skill Based Designs
This isn’t exactly a bold prediction, as skill-based gambling machines are already becoming quite popular with players and operators alike.
But as companies like GameCo – the minds behind skill-based gambling games like the first-person shooter Danger Arena – continue to refine their products, it stands to reason that this format will one day win out over the current luck-based model.
In case you’re unfamiliar with skill-based gambling games, the basic idea goes like this. By taking elements of video games that players can control – such as target shooting, hand-eye coordination, memorization, or pattern-identification – the usual “spin-and-hope” dynamic can be fundamentally changed.
In the case of Danger Arena, which recently became the first skill-based gambling machine to gain approval from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE), players take aim at enemies moving across the screen. The first-person shooter gameplay resembles Halo and video games of that ilk, with players trying to successfully down as many targets as possible within a limited timeframe.
When you shoot well and accrue several “hits,” your score increases and you earn additional payouts. Shoot poorly, and you’ll surrender your wager to the house.
Skill-based games still incorporate the element of luck, but the big difference is that the result is not controlled by chance alone.
Instead, these new games give players a chance to level the playing field through their own abilities.
Skill-based gambling is still an emerging technology, but 100 years from now I can see slot machines integrated with a wide array of skill components. Perhaps players are challenged to shoot virtual basketballs or stack up Tetris-like patterns. Whatever the skill element happens to be, the traditional game play of slot machines can definitely be improved upon by granting players a chance to improve their odds.
And when you think it through, as skill-based gambling becomes more widespread, why would players settle for a game play experience predicated solely on the luck of the draw?
Gamblers in the future will likely have much more say in determining the outcome of slot machine spins than they do now.
Banned or Forgotten
I don’t really enjoy entertaining thoughts like these as a veteran slot player, but I’m a realist by nature, so here goes.
After 100 years have passed, there’s an outside shot that slot machines wind up outlawed altogether. Now, that’s a long shot, and one I hope never comes in. But it wasn’t so long ago that slots were banned nationwide, and today several states prohibit the “one-armed bandits” from being offered.
Unfortunately, the issue of gambling addiction is very real, and in countries like Australia, the “pokie” machines are associated with societal downfalls like theft, bankruptcy, and even suicide.
I believe people should have the right to make their own mistakes, and certainly, when played responsibly, slot machines don’t have to be a mistake at all. I’ve enjoyed the game for over thirty years and running, and without trying to brag, I’ve never dealt with addiction or problem gambling.
But you’ll find plenty of folks who do, along with politicians who would like nothing more than to reinstate slot machine prohibitions.
As the most recent presidential election demonstrated, the political winds can shift wildly, and in ways one might not expect.
I wouldn’t bet on it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if my grandkids ask me about the “golden days” when gambling on the slots was actually legal.
I wouldn’t want to close on a negative note, so this last entry will take a leap of faith and assume that physical machines will be replaced by online-only play at some point in the next century.
The online casino industry has expanded rapidly since starting up in the late 1990’s, and that’s just 20 years of progress. Add 100 more to the mix, and it’s quite possible that actual machines will be replaced by computer terminals that present slot games to players digitally.
This innovation would save casinos on floor space while allowing players to get in the action from home.
Personally speaking, I enjoy the intimacy of a good slot machine. Pressing the button, hearing the reels click into place, and seeing the pay line light up on the perfect combination is all part of the experience.
On the other hand, those features can all be replicated by online slots, so with a few decades of improvement to work with, I don’t doubt that slots will continue to shift from the physical to the digital realm.
Who knows what slot machines will really be like in 100 years? But this list seems like a good place to start looking at realistic possibilities. Can you think of any other possibilities?
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