History of Slot Machines – The Virtual Reel

The history of slot machines is filled with pivotal moments and turning points – important events that forever changed the way we, as players, spin the reels. One such staple in slot machine history was the invention of the “Virtual Reel”.

History of Slot Machines - Virtual Reels and RNGSeveral major changes occurred when the virtual reel was introduced. The most notable variation for players was the elimination of the ‘pull lever‘. In older slots, this lever would set the game’s mechanical reels in motion, only to be stopped, one by one, by the random tripping of a brake mechanism. The virtual reel replaces this brake with what’s known today as a ‘random number generator‘.

Some manufacturers still install a lever on their slot machines, but only to give it a vintage feel. The more common ‘push to spin‘ button is all that’s needed, and what the vast majority of manufacturers now use.

Three basic benefits of the virtual reel include:

  • Simplifying the games (one push to play)
  • Making machines easier to maintain (less moving parts)
  • Speeding up game play (more money for casinos)

There’s one more pivotal feature that random number generators brought to the realm of slot machines. We’ll talk about that more in a moment. First, let’s take a quick look at how the virtual reel came about.

Slot Machine History: Virtual Reel is Born

The Virtual Reel was born on May 15, 1984. That was the day Norwegian mathematician Inge S. Telnaes was issued patent #4,448,419, signifying his ownership of the ‘virtual reel’ design.

An explanatory excerpt from Telnaes patent reads:

” …A random number generator is provided with electronic circuitry which computes the random stop position at which the reel should be stopped by the physical brake. This is done with an electronically random number selected from a group of numbers which exceeds the number of physical reel positions such that one physical reel position is represented by one or several positions on the virtual or electronically generated reel which is in affect, randomly stopped by the random number generator. In this invention the physical reels are only used as a display of the random number generated result and are not the game itself as in standard slot machines. In this manner, a standard slot machine or gaming apparatus can be made to function at payout odds, independent of the limits set by the number of physical reels and their physical stop positions, by changing the random number generator.”

In Layman’s terms… The virtual reel utilizes an ‘internal reel strip‘ in place a mechanical reels, and a ‘random number generator‘ (RNG) to tell the brakes exactly when to stop each reel. In this way, the results are still random, but manufacturers can input a desired payout percentage (return to player, or RTP) to ensure a machine will not overpay, or underpay, over time.

History of Slot Machines – Jackpot, Baby!

The most crucial difference between virtual reel slots and those with mechanical reels is the ability to pay out enormous, progressive jackpots. This simple but revolutionary juncture in the history of slot machines brought about radical change, resulting in life-altering progressive jackpots worth millions of dollars.

Jackpots in older slot machines are limited by the number of symbols on each reel. A slot with 10 symbols on each of 5 reels would have a probability of paying the jackpot once in every (10x10x10x0x10) 100,000 spins. That wouldn’t give the machine much time to build up a multi-million jackpot, especially when only a few cents of each bet are paid into the progressive.

Using virtual reels allows manufacturers to easily place more symbols on each reel, and control the amount in which the machine pays out. However, the randomness of a jackpot’s release is still unaffected.

In essence, due to the RNG, a jackpot could pay out twice in the same week, or even the same day, or it could wait years to pay out. It’s all based on what numbers are generated by the RNG at the exact moment a player presses the Spin button.

But one thing is for sure… that slot machine will pay out at its programmed RTP, over a programmed amount of time. If set to pay 95%, it won’t pay exactly $95 every time it takes in $100, but it will pay $95 for every $100 it takes in over that preset amount of time, which could easily last 20-25 years.

If it weren’t for Telnaes’s invention of virtual reels and the RNG, slot machine history would be a lot different, and the world record jackpot wouldn’t be anywhere near the $38.7 million that was awarded to a Los Angeles man on March 21, 2003 after playing the Megabucks progressive at Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas.

Countless others have been fortunate enough to rake in 6-, 7- and 8-figure jackpots in the last 30+ years since virtual reels came about. Clearly, Telnaes’s invention was prolific, changing the history of slot machines forever.

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