How Do Slot Machines Work?

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No matter what you call them, it’s nearly impossible to be even remotely aware of the world of casinos and gambling without having come into contact with a slot machine. From their origins in the late 1800s to their unprecedented popularity in today’s online casinos, slot machines have evolved into complex and interactive games with thousands of variations, although there is still room in every casino for a classic machine with a single lever, three reels featuring fruits, bar symbols, and Sevens.

A Mechanical Slot Machine

But how do slot machines work? It’s a more complicated question than you might imagine. Let’s take a look at the mechanics of the original mechanical slots from the beginning to the modern online slots of today.

The Mechanics of Slot Machines

Classic slot machines, much like a mechanical clock, are entirely mechanical. The original “one-armed bandit” machines use a system of gears and levers around a central axis upon which the reels spin. When a player inserts a coin or token, a detector registers the payment using a sensor (similar to a vending machine) and allows the pulling of the lever.

Many slot machines still operate in this manner even today. After the lever is pulled, a series of gears start spinning while a rotating part of the mechanical setup (a cam) moves forward simultaneously with three levers that push against the reels. The cam is held under tension by a spring to move back to its original position (which will stop the sequence), but the spinning gears significantly delay this.

Then, the three levers make contact with the discs on which the reels are positioned, causing them to rotate around the central axis. This makes them spin rapidly until the cam returns to its position, stopping each reel one by one. This is not mechanically necessary but rather a way to increase suspense for the player: Did they win? Did they actually win?

The three discs that hold the reels in a mechanical slot machine determine whether a win is achieved through various notches of different depths on the discs. Just as a lock will only unlock when the correct key is inserted to push the locking gears into the correct position, a mechanical slot machine will only pay out when the notches on the gears align correctly to release a certain number of coins.

Evolution of Slot Machines

While classic single-lever machines, fruit machines, and mechanical slot machines still thrive worldwide even today, electric slot machines are much more commonly found in most casinos. From a player’s perspective, these slot machines operate in the same way as their mechanical counterparts: players pull a lever and watch the reels spin before awaiting the outcome.

An electric slot machine

Many electric slot machines will play a pre-recorded sound of gears and levers settling into place, even though none exist! Instead, these electronic slot machines operate using motors that spin the reels and electromagnets that disrupt circuits to stop the reels. When a winning combination is achieved, the metal contacts attached to the reels activate the circuit boards, allowing the various payout operations to award different prizes.

Even these machines are rare today compared to computerised slot machines, which make up the majority of modern slots in casinos. While this may raise the question of “can casinos rig slot machines?” These machines use computerised electrical impulses to spin the reels and an embedded programmed RNG (Random Number Generator) to determine when the spinning stops. These RNGs are independently tested by third-party authorities to ensure they are truly as random as possible.

How Do Online Slots Work?

The next evolutionary step for slot machines was, of course, entering the world of online casinos. Online slots are by far the most popular games in any online casino, and you will find thousands of different games programmed into their libraries. Just like computerised slot machines, online slots use an RNG to determine the winnings and can offer a wide variety of bonus rounds and mini-games for players to enjoy.

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