What’s in a name? A world tour tracing the history of slots  

Whether you play in Las Vegas, Monte Carlo or perhaps from your mobile phone in your armchair at home, slot games are the most varied and popular type of casino game. Yet games like Starburst, Book of Ra and Gonzo’s Quest, with which we are all familiar, have a fascinating history, and it is one that can be traced through the names we give to slots in different nations of the world. So fasten your seatbelt, put your tray table up and let’s set off for our first of three international destinations.  

Australia – pokies 

The Australian love of gambling is something of a cliché, but it’s a fact that over the past two years, the number of Aussies who play casino online for real money has increased by almost 70 percent. In Australia, slot machines are known as “pokies” which is an abbreviation of poker machines.  

To the uninitiated this might sound strange. It’s a good name for video poker, but why are slot games called pokies? The answer lies way back in history. The very first slot game was developed in the early 1890s and contained a deck of 50 cards that would deal a poker hand when you put a coin in the slot. A handful of the devices made their way to Australia, the term “pokies” was born, and the name stuck for future iterations of slot games. 

UK – fruit machines 

By the early 1900s, that initial design had been replaced by images of cards on spinning reels. But as the games became more popular, they also came under closer scrutiny. Gambling on card games had plenty of opposition from certain quarters, particularly in a USA that was rapidly approaching the prohibition era.  

A clever marketer hit upon the idea of replacing the card symbols with pictures of fruits to convey a more healthy and wholesome image. That’s why traditional slot games still have pictures of lemons and cherries on the reels. It is also why slots are known as fruit machines in the UK, where you can still find traditional games in pubs and motorway service areas, as well as at casinos.  

USA – video slots 

Of course, gamblers in the US bore witness to all these eras, but perhaps Americans are better at moving with the times than those from Australia or the Old Country. Either way, in the US, slots are simply slots, or sometimes, video slots.  

This name represents the last real innovation in slots development prior to the online age. In 1976, the Las Vegas based Fortune Coin Co attached a Sony TV to a slot machine and the first video slot was born. Within 12 months, video slots had been approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission and were appearing in casinos the length of The Strip. 

Whatever next? 

Today, even the word “slot” is more of a historical reference – after all, it is only the retro games that still have a physical slot for coins. It will be interesting to see if the slot games that are invented in the years to come also acquire new names to reflect changing technology.  

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