Slot Machines and Microprocessors

A slot is a small slit or narrow opening that is used to accept something, such as a coin. The word is also a term for a position, especially in an airline schedule or air traffic management, where it refers to the slot at which an aircraft will land at a particular airport.

Until the 1980s, most slot machines had only one or two types of symbols and paid out a single combination of symbols on a pay line. But when microprocessors entered the picture, manufacturers could give each symbol a different probability of appearing on the reel displayed to the player. This allowed them to make a jackpot look closer even when the odds of hitting it were very small.

Slots have a built-in advantage that works in the casinos’ favor, called the house edge. It varies by machine type, with low volatility slots offering less frequent winning combinations but larger payouts, while high volatility machines offer lower frequency but much bigger wins.

Hirsch is a good example of how technology has transformed the way we think about casinos and their business models. Another pioneer, William “Si” Redd, reimagined the form and function of slot machines, propelling them from a minor afterthought to a major driver of casino profits. UNLV’s Oral History Research Center has a very interesting interview with Redd that provides insight into his vision for using emerging technologies to change the face of gaming.