One Armed Bandits and the origins

The one armed bandit is a name given to the original slot machines. These machines were worked by use of one long arm or lever that set the mechanism for the machine in motion. They also got the nickname due to their propensity to steal all of your money. It is also possible the name, the one armed bandit, was not applied to the machine itself. Due to the fact that the machine was completely mechanical and operated with gears and pulleys, it was fairly simple for thieves to manipulate the lever and pulleys and these thieves were the ones who were given the name, one armed bandit. Whatever the reasoning, the name stuck as a colloquial way of referring to these slot machines.

History of the One Armed Bandit

The first one armed bandit slot machines was created in 1895 by car mechanic, Charles Fey from San Francisco. He invented a machine with three reels, each featuring a selection of five different symbols – hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes and liberty bells. Its reel each had ten symbols in total. This first slot machine was named the Liberty Bell after the liberty bell symbol which was the most coveted symbol. The machines had one long lever or arm that was used to begin the reels spinning.

Fey then designed the Operator Bell, a similar machine to the first Liberty Bell. The Operator Bell featured fruit symbols on the reel and this was the beginning of fruit symbols becoming synonymous with slot machine games. The slot machines invented by Charles Fey were a huge success and the fact that they awarded money prizes made them even more attractive compared to similar types of machines that awarded other prizes such as gum, beers or cigars.

How the One Armed Bandit Worked

The operation of the one armed bandits was entirely mechanical. Players inserted a coin into the machine. They then pulled the long lever to start the reels spinning and sat back to wait for them to stop. By pulling the lever, you are putting tension on a coiled spring that is released and then allows the reels to start spinning. Because the lever was directly attached to the mechanism for the reels, you could affect the way that the reels spun by the way that you pulled the lever.

The aim of the game was to line up three of the same symbols in a row on the pay line. Lining up three liberty bell symbols produced the largest payout of all – ten nickels or fifty cents – a large amount of money in those days. Since there were ten symbols per reel and three of the same symbols needed to line up, the odds of a payout were low. The odds of landing on a combination of three identical symbols was 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000. In other words, there was a 1 in 1,000 chance of winning anything. It is possible that many people did not realize how low their odds were of winning anything and therefore most people lost money to the slot machines.

It is said that these early machines only ever paid 25-50% of the money put into them. This was when the slots machines were given the name, the one armed bandit. A machine today that only paid out up to 50% would never be played, but the one armed bandits were very popular in their time.

By the 1960s, the lever of the slot machine had been separated from direct contact with the rest of the mechanism of the machine. The reels also had more symbols – they went from having ten symbols to having twenty or more symbols. The machines still worked in much the same way however.

Pokie Machines Today

Slot machines continue to be nicknamed one arm bandits, but they no longer have a long lever that is used to begin the reels spinning. Today, slot machines have undergone many changes in the way they are operated - by use of a random number generator, video slot machines and even linked networks for jackpot prizes. Today, instead of using a lever to start the reels spinning, players simple press a button. The button activates the random number generator and the game begins.

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