Why Cherries? An exploration of the Iconic Imagery of Slots

The slot machine is one of the more colourful and charismatic casino games. A breed of its own, slots add a whole other dimension to the casino atmosphere. Table games such as blackjack, poker, craps and the likes all have a more classy and serious vibe about them, they also involve elements of thought, strategy and some form of interaction. Slots on the other hand are all about the hit, the roll, the coins, the instant win - they are loud and ostentatious and come in many different colours and sizes. Earlier 'vintage' slot machines are even quite beautiful and may be considered design pieces fit for a museum. But what is even more interesting is the imagery that can be found on a slots reel!

  • Slots are so much more colourful and fun than casino table games, read on to learn more about the imagery and design of this iconic casino game...

How Did Slots Come About?

Slot machines were a natural progression from arcade games that gained popularity in the late 1800's. Arcade games originated in San Francisco. They were also beautiful in design and were typically decorated with fun and enticing images such as clowns and popular baseball players. Arcade games could be found in penny arcades, boardwalks and even in pharmacies. They would usually award a small token prize to the winner such as a sweet or a piece of chewing gum. Arcade games with cash payouts also gained traction around this time. You could say that these were the earliest form of slot machine as they would give cash prizes to the player who selected the right number. These early slot machines stood upright and had one spinning wheel, much like a roulette wheel, with pretty numbered markings and fancy engravings. The machines were of Victorian style design and are now considered to be very pricey collector's items.

  • Slot machines followed in the footsteps of arcade games
  • Arcade games used to give out sweets and chewing gum as prizes
  • Early slot machines stood upright (just like today's casino slots) and they had a spinning roulette wheel
  • Slot machines award cash prizes to the winner


Let's Travel Back in Time to the Early Years of Slot Machines

In 1899 Charles Fey from San Francisco invented the first three reel coin payout slot machine, which he named the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell revolutionized the industry and became the basis for the three reel slot machine whose mechanisms remained unchanged for almost 75 years. The basic symbols more or less stayed the same too, although slot machine manufacturers did try to mix it up a bit. Each of Liberty Bell's three reels contained six symbols: a horseshoe, a star, a spade, a diamond, a heart and a cracked liberty bell. The player would receive a different payout depending on how the symbols lined up. The biggest cash prize was for a line of three liberty bells, 50 cents was big in those days! In the early 1900's Charles Fey teamed up with the Mills Novelty Company in order to increase his production line.

They spiced things up by introducing fruit symbols and went on to produce thousands of machines! Fruit symbols replaced most of the other images and became a standard on slot machines for many years to come. There was obviously something about the vibrant colours and clean cut shapes of the fruit that stuck in people's hearts and minds. Slot machines became so heavily associated with the fruit symbol that UK slots players replaced the name slot machine with fruit machine!

In the early 20th century, gambling was outlawed in many States of the US. To get around the law they turned some slot machines into 'vendors'. Instead of awarding cash prizes, the vendor machines would give out items such as mints and chewing gum. As a result, it was not uncommon to see images of gum on the reels. These machines were also beautifully designed and fun to look at. Trade stimulator machines were similar to vendors and could be found in bars and drug stores. Ironically, their winnings were often paid out in cigarettes, cigars, trade or cash under the table. The symbols on trade stimulator machines were a little more serious, usually in the form of playing cards or roulette wheels. Still, they were stunningly designed and drew in the crowds, despite their low winning odds. Slot machine makers became even more creative in circumventing the law when they produced machines to look like pinball games and horse races but they were actually slots machines with the payout in a hidden drawer! These 'undercover' machines were also beautiful in their own right with handcrafted horse and pinball symbols. Designers weren't only creative with the design of the symbols. They also produced some very interesting show cases to house the slots reels, most curious were the cases in the form of human beings such as cowboys and showgirls. The slot machines would protrude from their chests!

In 1931 gambling was legalized in Nevada and the Flamingo Hotel became one of the first Vegas casino establishments. Slot machines were originally installed there to occupy the wives of the more 'serious' table players but eventually became so popular that they generated the same turnover as the table games � casino slots were here to stay!

  • In 1899 Charles Fey invented the first three reeled coin payout slot machine called the Liberty Bell
  • The reels on the Liberty Bell displayed playing card symbols and a cracked bell
  • When Charles Fey teamed up with Mills Novelty Company to increase production, they produced thousands of machines with bore fruit symbols.
  • Even though manufacturers experimented with different machine designs, fruits remain the classic slots symbol to this day!
  • In the UK, slots machines are called fruit machines


As Technology Advances, Slots Aim for the Stars

By the 1960's, slot machines were a firm favourite in casinos around the world. As technology progressed, electronics were introduced to the gaming industry allowing for flashing lights and engaging noises, as well as more reels containing even more symbols. You could say there was a whole range of fruit to choose from! In the 1980's, the advent of video took it to a whole other level. There was no type of slot machine that could not be created or replicated using video slots technology. Traditional fruit

symbols were used, as was imagery from card and table games, bringing us the famous video poker. Technology even allowed for the linking of machines which meant there could be a progressive slots jackpot! All of this magnificently paved the way for the online slots games that we see here today. With online slots, the sky is the limit. We can play the traditional 'fruit machines', or games in the style of video slots. If that wasn't enough, now we have slots games containing all of our favourite TV and film characters and symbols from popular culture. Game inventors and designers are continuously challenged to come up with fresh concepts, stunning images and incredible ideas. But as with all culture, entertainment and fashion, there is nothing quite like the simple and classic oldies!

  • By the 1960's slots were a firm favourite in casinos around the world
  • Slot machines were no longer purely mechanical as electronics were introduced
  • The 80's saw the invention of video slots which made it easier to add lots of fun and interesting symbols an dynamics
  • Internet technology and online gaming have taken slots imagery to a whole other level

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