For several reasons, slot machines seem to hold a special place in hearts of many casino gambling enthusiasts. To begin with, many casual players consider the slots to be the perfect place to test the proverbial waters. You can play alone, shielded from the pressure-packed environment of the table game pit where dealers and fellow gamblers are watching your every move. And while most Las Vegas table games like blackjack, roulette, and craps require a minimum wager of $5, slot machines can typically be played for $0.25 per spin – or even lower on the penny slots.
As a matter of fact, the slot machine itself fits that bill to a tee…
The first slot machine, as we know them today anyhow, was invented way back in 1895 by Charles Fey – who was originally born in Bavaria as August Fey. After emigrating to the United States as a young man, the aspiring inventor wound up settling in San Francisco, where he sought to improve on existing slots of the day.
At the time, the most prevalent automated gambling device was the “Horseshoe Machine” pioneered by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze in 1893. Schultze’s slot machine was the first to provide an automatic payout, but the Horseshoe was designed to dispense tickets or tokens which players could then redeem for prizes.
Fey’s concept for the Liberty Bell slot was deceptively simple. After depositing a coin and pulling the level, players watched three reels outfitted with basic symbols – diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes, and liberty bells – revolve before coming to rest at random. When the three reels lined up to show matching symbols across the single horizontal payline, the lucky player collected one of five prizes up to the “jackpot” of $0.50. It’s been more than 100 years since happy gamblers put their first spins in on the Liberty Bell slot, and naturally, the game has evolved by leaps and bounds since then.
The modern crop of video slots incorporates sound effects and animated clips to spice up the onscreen action. In addition to basic payline payouts, players can also win free spins or trigger bonus rounds where larger prizes await. Speaking of those paylines, 21st century slots are built around an ever increasing selection of paylines, with the standard being 25 or 30 and many games upping the ante to 50 or 100 ways to win. And thanks to the introduction of wide-area progressive jackpots in the 1980s, slot enthusiasts today can try their luck with millions of dollars on the line. All things considered, a gambler of Fey’s vintage would hardly recognize a slot machine pit within a modern casino.
On that note, check out the list below to learn more about three old school slot machines that players everywhere still love to play:
1 – Megabucks by IGT
The mother of all progressive slot games, Megabucks was first released in 1986 by International Game Technology (IGT). At first glance, Megabucks is a slot machine that would seem to make Fey proud. Eschewing multiple paylines, video clips, and other bells and whistles Megabucks is a basic three-reel game using just a single payline. For a hefty price of $3 per spin – technically $1 but with a $3 minimum in order to qualify for the jackpot – players cause classic symbols like the 7 and cherry, along with single-, double-, and triple BARs to revolve around the reels.
But it’s the Golden Eagle Megabucks logo symbol that everybody is hoping to hit. If you can line three Golden Eagle logos up along the payline – no small feat at an absurd 1 in 49,836,032 win rate – Megabucks triggers its massive multi-million dollar progressive jackpot. When it first hit casino floors back in 1986, the Megabucks game transformed how slot machines played forever afterward. Before then, a machine’s topline jackpot amount was limited based on how many bets had been previously placed. In other words, when you sat down to spin a slot, the most you could win on a jackpot was equal to the amount of coins deposited by losing players.
Rather than limit a game’s jackpot total to coins deposited on a particular machine, wide area progressive networks link multiple machines together. In the case of Megabucks, machines located in various casinos throughout Las Vegas, Reno, and the rest of Nevada were all linked with one another. Every time a player put in $3 on a losing spin, a small fraction of that amount was redirected into a single jackpot pool.
Throw in the huge odds against winning – which ensure that a Megabucks jackpot only hits once every year or two – and millions of players putting in thousands of spins can add up in a hurry.
Don’t believe me? Just check out the table below to see how the Megabucks jackpot stacked up over the course of an entire decade:
Megabucks Jackpot History (2010 – 2017)
|DATE||CASINO||CITY, STATE||JACKPOT AMOUNT|
|08/08/17||Fremont||Las Vegas, NV||$11,809,407.24|
|03/22/16||Gold Dust West||Elko, NV||$12,515,708.83|
|03/14/15||Westgate Hotel & Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$10,744,293.40|
|11/30/14||Rampart Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$14,282,544.21|
|12/05/13||MGM Grand Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$10,337,637.92|
|11/04/13||MGM Grand Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$12,463,147.70|
|04/10/13||Bonanza Casino||Reno, NV||$11,798,514.65|
|12/14/12||M Resort||Las Vegas, NV||$17,329,817.67|
|06/15/11||Grand Sierra Resort||Reno, NV||$10,379,294.92|
|04/22/11||Aria Hotel & Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$10,636,897.78|
|01/21/11||Aria Hotel and Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$12,769,933.87|
|02/21/10||Reno Airport||Reno, NV||$10,422,754.08|
Of course, those enormous payouts are only the tip of the iceberg, as Megabucks holds the world record for largest slot machine jackpot ever paid. In 2003, a lucky player at the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas needed only a handful of spins to parlay his $100 stake into an astounding $39.7 million jackpot.
More recently, a player calling himself only “Roger” started with $20 and a dream playing Megabucks at the Fiesta Henderson casino. Four spins later, he watched three Golden Eagle symbols line up one after the other. As he later told the Las Vegas Review Journal, “Roger” didn’t even know what the fortuitous symbol arrangement really meant at the time:
Without a doubt, Megabucks is by far the most popular slot on the planet for jackpot hunters to enjoy because of “lightning strike” stories like this.
Nonetheless, players should be aware that Megabucks isn’t exactly a bargain in terms of the game’s return to player (RTP). As you can see using this data provided by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB), via the regulator’s annual slot machine survey, Megabucks falls well behind standard $1 slots in terms of RTP:
$1 Slot Machines
- The Strip – 93.03 percent
- Downtown – 94.78 percent
- Boulder Strip – 95.60 percent
- N. Las Vegas – 95.74 percent
$1 Megabucks Machines
- The Strip – 87.10 percent
- Downtown – 87.55 percent
- Boulder Strip – 88.91 percent
- N. Las Vegas – 87.53 percent
But for folks who don’t mind a little extra risk in exchange for a chance to earn the ultimate reward, Megabucks is the gold standard for old-school slot machines.
2 – Buffalo by Aristocrat
While not exactly a classic in terms of age – this game was released by Aristocrat in 2009 – the Buffalo slot has become ubiquitous within the world of casino gambling. If you’ve ever strolled through the casino floor, chances are good you’ve heard the Buffalo machine’s distinctive Red Tail Hawk cry.
Buffalo fans seem to love how the game blends modern technology with an Old West theme. Along with the basic “card rank” symbols (9, 10, J, Q, K, and A), themed reel symbols include the elk with a crown of antlers, the white wolf, the cougar, the bald eagle, and of course, the massive buffalo in all its glory. Among the 13 total symbols, the sunset lit mountaintop is designated as a “Wild,” which means it can substitute for any other symbol to help create winning combinations.
The primary Buffalo symbol is designed as a “stacked” symbol, which means it will usually fill an entire reel at one time, thereby generating a slew of winners across the screen. If you hit three or more of the gold coin “scatter” symbols, you’ll trigger the Buffalo bonus game which awards free spins, multipliers on wins, and other treats to extend your session.
And while Buffalo isn’t connected to any progressive jackpots, players can compete for the topline payout of 300 credits by landing five of the Buffalo symbols in a row. But thanks to the game’s clever use of free spin bonus rounds – which can continue to rack up over and over again if you’re running hot – Buffalo is known to pay out huge returns when the stars align.
And one final word of warning for Buffalo rookies – be sure to activate all five reels in order to extract the game’s maximum value. This costs 40 credits in your chosen coin denomination, meaning a penny slot player will need $0.40 per spin to get the most bang for their buck. When you put all five reels into play, Buffalo offers an RTP rate of 94.85 percent, putting in the higher end of the slot machine spectrum when it comes to player friendliness.
3 – Wheel of Fortune by IGT
The original “Wheel of Fortune” game show debuted on the NBC network in 1975, and 21 years later, IGT rolled out its eponymous slot game.
Fast forward to today, and IGT now has more than 200 variations on the Wheel of Fortune theme out there for slot specialists to enjoy. Take a look below to find a few of the most popular Wheel of Fortune machines:
Although this sheer variety gives gamblers of every stripe a game of choice, the beating heart that makes these machines tick is the famous prize wheel. Modeled after Pat Sajak and Vanna White’s beloved TV show, the classic Wheel of Fortune slot is a simple three-reel game featuring a lone payline. Players hope to line up matching 7s or BARs to trigger the game’s base payouts – which vary based on coin denomination and maximum bet size – but the real fun begins when you see a “SPIN” symbol appear.
You can watch how this prize wheel process plays out here – be sure to stick around until the end of the short clip – as a lucky player turns a few bucks into $4,000 courtesy of the Wheel. But the real draw offered by Wheel of Fortune slots is IGT’s wide area progressive jackpot networks. Depending on the make and model of the machine you find, you’ll be linked to one of IGT’s “MegaJackpot” progressive kitties. Land three of the “Wheel of Fortune” logo symbols in a row and the game will light up with the ultimate hand pay.
Head here to IGT’s “Jackpot Tracker” to get a glimpse of what this game has in store for lucky winners. But sufficed to say, slot spinners won’t find progressive scores this sizable outside of the Megabucks machines.
Back in 2009, a player at the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi made it rain for $14.3 million after hitting a Wheel of Fortune jackpot. Joe Farruggio – who serves as senior vice president of gambling operations for Hard Rock Biloxi – told the Las Vegas Review Journal that Wheel of Fortune might just be the best slot game ever devised:
Farruggio might just be onto something too, especially when you consider Wheel of Fortune’s generous RTP rate of 96.6 percent. That equates to a house edge of only 3.4 percent, putting this slot on par with more mainstream casino wagers like single-zero roulette (2.70 percent), Three Card Poker (3.37 percent), and Let It Ride (3.51 percent).
Put another way, players can expect a return of nearly 10 percent more playing Wheel of Fortune than they would on a Megabucks machine. It’s no wonder then why so many slot aficionados consider Wheel of Fortune to be the only game in town. Players like Theresa P., who hails from Ossining in upstate New York, have even managed to beat the jackpot odds on more than one occasion.
In March of last year, Theresa hit for $2.9 million playing Wheel of Fortune at her local Empire City Casino. A few months later, playing alongside her husband Matthew, she watched lightning strike twice as three of the logo symbols landed perfectly along the payline – triggering another $1.4 million in winnings.
Speaking to the New York Daily News, an ecstatic Theresa described her emotions at winning not one but two Wheel of Fortune jackpots:
Slot machine success stories like that of Theresa P. are certainly outliers, but as you’ll see when you scan IGT’s Jackpot Tracker, the Wheel of Fortune game is definitely prone to paying out seven-figure scores with alarming regularity.
Casinos are near and dear to the hearts of gamblers because they don’t succumb to progress as easily as the rest of society. The times may be changing, and in a hurry, but games like blackjack, roulette, and craps play out almost identically today as they did during Sin City’s “Rat Pack” heyday in the 1950s.
Slot machines, on the other hand, are constantly being gussied up and updated in the name of progress. Video effects, side-screen bonus games, branded themes using pop culture icons, and even movable chairs designed to offer a virtual reality effect are all fair game for modern slot designers.
But while improvement is always a necessity in any industry, many casino regulars still find themselves drawn to old school slot machines like moths to a flame. If you’re one of them, hopefully your favorite slot made the list above – but if not, get out there and try classics like Megabucks and Buffalo the first chance you find.