A SHORT HISTORY OF AMUSEMENT
By Tim Hunkin
THE FRUIT MACHINE
Fruit machines are so profitable that US
casinos are reported to make the bulk of their profits from their vast floors of
machines (with extra large stakes and payouts). In the UK betting shops now make
60% of their profits from their machines. At the other end of the spectrum
small seaside arcades in the UK subsidise their ‘family entertainment
machines’ from the takings of their fruit machines.
Its easy not to realise just how addictive
fruit machines are. If you just try one once, you’ll probably lose. I was
brought up to assume the machines were rip-offs so I never put more than a
couple of coins in one – and this
usually just confirmed what I’d been taught. I only recently realised, after
I’d restored an old clockwork Mills fruit machine, that using it twenty times I was
likely to win once or twice and often ended up ahead. In the UK fruit machines
have to state the exact percentage of coins they payout (at least 80% of the
coins inserted). Every country in
the world has banned them at one point or another – and now though the
machines are rarely still banned, they continue to be regulated in great
The Judge was made by the Mills Manufacturing company in 1899. The handle spun the roulette wheel. Each of the 5 coin slots represents one of the 5 symbols repeated round the wheel - win if you select the symbol where the wheel stops. The very first mechanical gambling machine is often claimed to be the US 1888 ‘EUREKA BOX’. This was a small glass fronted case with a pile of coins inside – the jackpot. The played coins fell on a weighing scale, and when their cumulative weight tipped the balance, the jackpot was released. There are no surviving examples. Other similar machines called ‘Two Door Bank’ and ‘Pyramid Banker’ followed. Machines soon become more elaborate – like ‘The Judge’ above.
In Europe smaller wall mounted machines were at first more popular, like Roll out the barrel, left and domino, right. Several machines imitated dealing a hand of cards – sometimes 5 cards and sometimes 3 – with some ‘winning’ hands.
Charles Fey, working in San Fransisco in 1906, made the first recognisable 3 reel machine, with playing card symbols on the reels. Called The Liberty Bell, his design was re-engineered by the Mills company of Chicago and then copied by other manufacturers. These early gambling machines were mainly placed in bars.
In an attempt to make them acceptable
in shops and other public places a Mr O D Jennings, who ran a company called
Industry Novelty Company, replaced the playing card symbols with pictures of
fruit, calling the machine a chewing gum dispenser (the fruits indicating the
flavours of the gum).
‘jackpot’ (in the centre of the eagle's chest above) first appeared in 1931 and became a permanent addition.
As payouts increased concerns grew,
until governments started to tax the machines in the mid 30s. Some US states
went further and banned all coin-op machines. The nazis banned gambling machines
in Germany in 1937 and later in all their occupied territories. The Johnson act
of 1951 banned fruit machines from US public places, (see photo at top of page)
restricting them to designated ‘casinos’.
With the older mechanical and electromechanical machines, the positions the reels ended up in was fairly random, so the percentage payout was simply an average of all the different possible combinations – but now the reels are driven by stepper motors, their final position is computer controlled so its easy to tweak the software to maximise the addiction. The microprocessor is also used to control the spectacular lighting sequence - often hundreds of separate lamps - in today’s machines.