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Introduction to Slot Machines Work

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Because so many different styles of slot machine exist in the modern world, it’s difficult to answer this question just once. We’ll offer three answers, looking in brief at the way that classic, modern, and online slots operate.

How Classic Slots Work
Slot Machine Mechanics

These games are sometimes called mechanical slots, for good reason. Old-school slot machine games work like a clock, with actions based on the movement of a specific configuration of levers, gears, and buttons.

If you were to open up a classic slot machine and look at its guts, you’d see one main central metal shaft supporting the game’s reels. This is the heart of the machine. This shaft is connected to the lever other handle mechanism that initiates a round of play.

The machine also needs a way to bring those spinning reels to one of a series of specific stopping points, so you’ll notice a braking system of some sort. In modern times, these braking systems got kind of high-tech, since these were the parts of the machine most likely to break and cost the operator time and money.

If you dig deep enough, you’ll also find a series of sensors that indicate where the reels have stopped, and initiate the payout system. The whole thing is kicked off by another sensor at the “coin-in” position that indicates if the proper amount of money has been inserted, and unlocks the game’s braking system so the handle and reels can move.

Early versions of mechanical slot machines didn’t have the kinds of sensors you’re probably thinking about – they used mechanical devices to “read” the coin and dispense the proper amount of coins into the hopper.

What about those spinning reels? Attached to that main shaft we described above are three special discs. These discs have notches in special places that match up with the kicker paddles. These discs connect to the three reels, and are the engine of the game’s final decision. Those kicker paddles exist on a second shaft below the main shaft, each of which supports a paddle-shaped piece of metal. Attached to that additional shaft – a series of stoppers and “teeth” that fit perfectly into the notched discs described above.

These classic games were basically powered by spring tension. The kicker paddles and all the stoppers were spring-loaded, and were held even in standby position under spring tension. The machine’s stoppers were held tightly against the discs, locked in place by the mechanism. When an operator pulls the handle or lever to initiate a round of play, the parts described above do most of the work, thanks to potential energy lent them by the springs.

The player doesn’t see all that, of course. What the player sees is the spinning symbols, the lights on the machine’s case, and the coins dropping into the hopper.

Obviously, this description doesn’t necessarily apply to every classic slot machine ever made. Games with multiple reels and more complex clockworks were common by the end of the mechanical slots’ heyday in the 1950s. With the basic elements described above, slot machines could take lots of forms, though their basic design was limited by the number of mechanical elements that would fit in the case. The elements described above can be arranged in a number of ways, and they can be adorned with all sorts of lights, noisemakers, and (eventually) basic graphic, audio, and video effects.

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