We look at the so called one armed bandits have made the entire planet bandit country and have become the most popular way in which to wager some stake in the hope of financial returns.

One Armed Bandits

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When Charles Fey first created a gambling machine a little over 100 years ago he could not have known the impact his invention would have on gambling and gaming today. The forerunner of all video games, which themselves come from the technologies used to automate gambling this way, the so called one armed bandits have made the entire planet bandit country and have become the most popular way in which to wager some stake in the hope of financial returns.

Like most things, the way in which we gamble has been driven by technology and the concept of a gambling machine is a very simple one. In return for our initial investment we play a game of chance which provides instant returns, in emotions if not always in capital. Inspired by dealing hands in poker, the first one armed bandits generated a random sequence of symbols on three reels which were spun by the action of pulling on a lever, usually on the side of the machine. Hence the name derives from this one armed creature only too happy to take your money.

The term is a somewhat affectionate reference and the original name of Charles Fey's machine was the Liberty Bell, which had bell symbols; still used in machines today. They do of course have many other well known colloquial names such as fruit machine or slot machine, which reflect the status they have in occupying our leisure time and the many locations in which they are sited, which is anywhere people may gather and spend some time, such as casinos, airports, bars, holiday destinations, and bookmakers.

The fruit machine tag has historical roots too and comes from a time when machines gave out winnings in the form of bars of candy or fruit gum. This practice was regarded as an obvious attempt to outsmart gambling legislation by offering food based prizes and was quickly stopped but the BAR and fruit symbols remain and are still very much synonymous with fruit machines today.

Modern machines may still have a lever to pull for that authentic experience of playing one armed bandits but the mechanical automation of spinning the reels has long been replaced by modern electronic and computing technology. The game follows same simple principles however; to get a winning line of symbols and predetermined payout as a result. Certain combinations are of course less likely than others and the amount returned will reflect this. The machines pay out regularly, albeit mostly in small amounts, which gives us the necessary fulfilment to keep playing in the hope of bigger wins, which occur with much less frequency.

There are notable differences which have arisen by virtue of technological advances. Alternatives to cash plays are the norm in modern times, with tokens or card based paying methods generally available. The gameplay itself has changed too with the addition of increased choices of games and greater player interaction. Button functions such as Hold and Nudge give the player a greater sense of involvement and suggest a level of skill required to play the game and increase returns. Casinos will have the greatest numbers and choice of machines since they rely on them for up to 70% of their income.

Even with perceived elements of skill involved in playing one armed bandits, symbol sequences are determined by distinct and preset probabilities built into the system. The original mechanical machines had three reels each of which had 10 symbols. This gives just 1000 possible three-symbol combinations. While this was perfect for giving quick and frequent small value returns it limited any larger jackpot return since that would occur relatively frequently; at once in every 1000 plays on average. Traditional machines were therefore not really the province of high rollers looking for large returns.

The electronic age brought with it the technology to alter the probabilities by weighting the symbols differently and so a jackpot symbol will occur less often than its relative appearance would suggest. Much bigger jackpots could then be offered as an incentive to play, in the full knowledge that the corresponding symbols would come up very rarely. The latest machines are fully automated by computer algorithms and the gaming experience is very much the same as arcade and video gaming where computer graphics replace any actual mechanics.

With a graphic representation of the spinning reels anything is possible with regards to both gaming and probabilities. Rather than a single winning line, multiple line or other pattern options are possible and instead of just three reels, five has become the standard. With each virtual reel containing 50 or so symbols then the different winning combinations are almost endless. Differential weighting of symbols has given way to assigning each symbol a certain probability and while this does not alter the chances of winning it does mean aspects of gameplay, such as near misses, can be introduced to enhance the experience.

Another outcome of the computerisation of one armed bandits is that they use random number generators which although not totally random make it impossible to predict certain outcomes based on a pre-existing pattern. Even if someone had prior knowledge of a particular sequence in operation modern machines still generate numbers when not being played and so it would be impossible to determine the status of any underlying pattern. The only way to increase the chances of a return is by playing machines for which the pre-determined payout percentage is set to high.