Although coin operated machine-based gambling games are a relatively new addition to the casino industry, in just over a single century, the slots have become a ubiquitous presence everywhere gambling is socially permitted. Our Slots Books guide will help you get an idea of the literature available to learn more about slot machines.
In England, players refer to slot machines as “fruit machines,” due to the use of fruit as a common reel symbol, while Australians and New Zealanders play the “pokies,” slang for “poker machine.” Scots enjoy a session on the “puggies,” and North Americans simply call them “the slots.” But all over the world, casino floors are defined by a carefully constructed arrangement featuring dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of slot machines, each offering a unique theme, variable gameplay, and interesting features.
Brief History of Slots
The first slot machines were devised in 1891 by the Sittman and Pitt company in Brooklyn, New York. Originally conceived to automate the game of poker, the slot prototype introduced by Sittman and Pitt consisted of five drums, the precursor to modern reels, with each holding 10 card faces for a total of 50.
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Playing for just a nickel, patrons at local bars enjoyed the first poker machine game immensely, pulling the lever and hoping to line up a quality poker hand. Initially, the machines offered no preset payout mechanism, so whenever a player landed a winner, it was up to the establishment’s manager to dispense prizes. Generally speaking, the first slot machine players were looking to score free beer or a small meal, or perhaps a fresh cigar for landing a superior hand.
With only 50 drum faces in play, operators were allowed to decide which two “cards” would be removed from the standard 52-card deck. Invariably, barkeeps and card club owners decided to remove the ten of spades and the jack of hearts from their machines, thus reducing the odds of a player landing a royal flush by more than half. Even so, the complexities of the poker hand hierarchy created an inordinate amount of possible winning combinations, meaning the Sittman and Pitt poker machine was unable to dispense predetermined payouts.
Improving the Design of the Machine
Only a few years later, that problem was solved by Charles Fey, a Bavarian immigrant living in San Francisco near the turn of the 20th century. Coming from a mechanical background, Fey arrived in San Francisco by way of New Jersey, traveling around America before settling on the West Coast. In his travels, Fey had encountered Sittman and Witt’s poker machine and he eventually turned his attention to improving upon their design.
Fey’s machine held just three reels, with each reel displaying five symbols, an elegant structure which forms the foundation for most slot machine designs even today. The five reel symbols found on Fey’s slot machine were the horseshoe, the diamond, the spade, the heart, and the Liberty Bell.
Taking its name from the showcase symbol, Fey’s “Liberty Bell” slot machine simplified the arrangement of possible winning combinations, allowing the inventor to program a predetermined system of payouts for each possibility. Landing three Liberty Bells on the same spin provided the most lucrative payout, returning 10 nickels to the player.
The Success of Fey’s Redesign
Demand for Fey’s slot machine intensified almost immediately, prompting him to build a factory solely for manufacturing the new gambling game. Almost as quickly, imitators began mimicking Fey’s design, creating their own “Bell” based slot machines using three reels and 15 symbols. Today, the workshop which housed Fey’s first forays into slot machine design is recognized as a California Historical Landmark, and the Nevada State Museum includes a dedicated Fey Collection which showcases his contributions to the gambling industry.
The Modern Era of Slots
By 1963 advances in computing and electronics prompted Bally to design the first fully electromechanical slot machine. This advancement made Bally’s “Money Honey” title the first slot machine which included a “bottomless” hopper, capable of dispensing a 500-coin payout without the assistance of a casino attendant. By forgoing the pull lever for a faster button, Bally’s “Money Honey” game also began the race to streamline slot machine “spins” while providing a more fast-paced, frenetic gameplay experience.
Video slot machines followed in 1976 when the Fortune Coin Company modified a 19″ Sony Trinitron color television monitor to display reel symbols and other graphics. The entertainment value provided by video slot machines led to an industrywide explosion, and soon casinos all over the world were phasing out traditional models for video slot upgrades.
Extending the Base Game
By the mid-1990s, WMS Industries introduced the first “second screen” bonus game or a combination of free spins and other features which players can trigger during the base game. The “Reel ‘Em In” slot machine first appeared in American casinos in 1996, but Australian players had already discovered the second screen bonus concept with “Three Bags Full” in 1994.
Technological advances have altered the slot machine landscape significantly since Sittman and Pitt first designed their poker machine prototype, but the fundamental concept remains unchanged. Players deposit funds, spin the reels and hope to see a winning combination lined up on the screen.
Today, the slot machine experience has been enhanced to the point where they resemble virtual reality video games more than gambling, but as millions of players worldwide consistently prove, slots hold a truly lasting appeal.
Over time, slot machines have been used symbolically by fiction writers to represent a number of themes, including risk, loss, overcoming the odds, and fortuitous windfalls.
The seminal American novel The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939, told the tragic story of a family of farmers from Oklahoma, setting out for the west after the Dust Bowl consumed their land. Along their journey, the Joad family passes through a roadside diner, one which provides an alternative setting for several chapters. The purveyors of the diner, Al and Mae, operate a slot machine which appeals to truckers passing through, but Al is carefully attuned to the machine’s cycles. Whenever the machine has taken in enough coins and is poised to pay out, he simply deposits a few coins, pulls a winner, and deposits the funds back into Mae’s register.
In 1957 literary lion Ernest Hemingway published a short story titled “A Man of the World,” which told the tale of Blindy, a blinded wretch who frequents saloons while listening to the whirring of slot machines in action. Scarred and sightless, foul smelling and sardonic, Blindy silently moves from machine to machine, waiting for winners to emerge and dole out quarters as handouts.
In both cases, slot machines are positioned as a symbol of futility, and the uphill climb most people must contend with every day.
Slot machines are also a fixture of modern films involving Las Vegas or casino gambling, providing protagonists with an easy opportunity to change their luck and land a jackpot.
Demand Growth for Strategies
In addition to fictional works, a number of technical guides, slots strategy systems, explainers, manuals, and other guides have been published throughout the years. The average American casino derives more than 70 percent of revenue from slot machines, and millions of players worldwide count themselves as casual slot fans, so demand for literature on the subject remains steady. While slot machines aren’t a skill-based game in the traditional sense of the term, players are always looking for ways to improve their overall odds, reduce their rate of playing unfavorable games, and take advantage of various bonus features, free spins, and other low risk / high reward propositions.
The list below features several top-selling slot machine books, along with brief biographies highlighting the author’s qualifications, with objective reviews of content, style, and relevance to today’s modernized slot industry. The titles are ordered chronologically, beginning with the first mainstream titles pertaining to slot play and running through to the most recent entries.
Handbook of Slot Machine Reel Strips
Daniel Mead (1983)
As a longtime collector and dealer of antique slot machines, Daniel Mead eventually launched Mead Publishing Company in Las Vegas.
Specializing in content for industry insiders, Mead published buyer’s guides intended to assist casino managers in their purchasing decisions, collector’s editions describing antique slot machines and other memorabilia, and even maintenance manuals for the care and upkeep of various models.
In 1980, Mead wrote, Slot Machines on Parade with Robert N. Geddes, which was followed by the Handbook of Slot Machine Reel Strips in 1983. The latter title spanned nearly 300 pages, with the majority of those dedicated to computer-generated charts which listed the reel symbols, possible winning combinations, and symbol by symbol payout percentages for dozens of contemporary titles.
One of the first authors to attempt “cracking the code” behind slot machine gameplay, Mead created a comprehensive analytical review of the games common to his era, enabling players to accurately determine the payout percentages for each machine they might encounter. Although the findings presented within the Handbook of Slot Machine Reel Strips are long past their prime, the book itself is at once a rare collector’s item and a prized possession for slot machine historians and enthusiasts.
Winning at Slot Machines
Jim Regan (1985)
One of the first instructional manuals written expressly for slot players, Winning at Slot Machines by Jim Regan provided a perfect introduction to the industry as it existed during the mid-1980s. Regan previously worked as an industrial engineer and management analyst, before taking a position as slots manager for the MGM Grand in Reno, Nevada in 1979.
Regan’s book offers mostly outdated information when it comes to modern slot gaming, but overall Winning at Slot Machines provides a fascinating glimpse into the way things were. A slim volume consisting of less than 100 pages, Winning at Slot Machines includes eight chapters intended to educate novice slot players on the basics while sharpening the awareness of experienced players. Regan discusses subjects such as “Playing Smart,” “Myths and Schemes,” “Theoretical Odds – How Slots Pay Off,” and “The Basics About Playing Slot Machines.”
Along with the technical information gleaned from years as a slots manager for a major casino, Regan also includes useful knowledge on “taboo” subjects, like methods used to cheat slots, ways to protect winnings from the IRS, the legality of slots in various jurisdictions, and even proper conduct and etiquette.
Overall, Winning at Slot Machines shouldn’t be the first book you pick up as a novice slot player in 2016, but for regulars interested in a look back at their favorite game’s roots, the book is a suitable collector’s item.
Break the One-Armed Bandits
Frank Scoblete (1994)
Formerly an entertainer and touring theater actor, Frank Scoblete discovered the world of casino gambling in 1985, while conducting research in Atlantic City, New Jersey for an upcoming play titled “The Only Game in Town.”
Soon afterward Scoblete sold off his shares in the theater company and began pursuing a career as a casino gambling expert, spending several years studying the industry from within along with his former co-star and future wife Alene Paone. Scoblete contributed columns to WIN Magazine during the late 1980s.
With Break the One-Armed Bandits, Scoblete turned his attention to what he termed “the most popular form of gambling in casinos across America today.” Writing in a casual, conversational tone, Scoblete leads the reader through slot machine history, paying particular attention to the shift in focus which occurred between the 1950s and the time of publication. By explaining the psychological motivations common to slot players, and the targeted marketing used by casinos to attract those players, Scoblete offers a revealing look inside the secretive culture of casino management.
Much of the book is presented in the style of personal interview, with Scoblete engaging casino staff, slot machine designers, and other experts directly in conversation. In Chapter 6, for example, titled “The BIG Industry Secret: Where the “LOOSE” Machines Are Located in a Casino!” Scoblete speaks with an anonymous slot manager code-named “Mr. Handle.” During the interview, Mr. Handle offers insider information on machine placement strategies, such as the connection between slots surrounding the table game pits and “tight” machines, and the myth of casinos reprogramming machines to be tighter on the weekends.
Nuggets of information like these make Beating the One Armed Bandits an essential read for slot players of all stripes. Even as the technical information appears dated by now, the in-depth interviews and personal anecdotes from industry insiders are priceless from a historical standpoint, lifting the veil on slot machine operating from the casino’s perspective.
Secrets of Winning Slots
Avery Cardoza (1998)
In the mid-1970s an underage gambler by the name of Avery Cardoza began haunting Las Vegas casinos as a professional blackjack player, counting cards and pressing his advantage to beat the house at their own game.
Eventually, in 1981, this brazen behavior resulted in Cardoza being banned from casinos throughout Nevada and the American Southwest, as he joined the mythical “blacklist” reserved for criminals, cheats, and of course, sharp card counters capable of beating blackjack. That year he decided to share his knowledge with the world, launching Cardoza Publishing and releasing titles such as Winning Casino Blackjack for the Non-Counter, and Casino Craps for the Winner.
Cardoza himself authored at least 10 major titles between 1981 and 1998, but Secrets of Winning Slots was the first to cover slot machines. The book comes in at under 200 pages, and much of the first half is devoted solely to educating players on the basics of the game. This includes a historical review of slot technology, the elements of machine design, and actual gameplay instruction. From there, Cardoza breaks down the various types of machines players can expect to find, from multiple pay line models, progressives, “Big Berthas,” and multi-game titles.
From there, Cardoza provides a handy primer on the concept of “slot clubs,” or promotional programs used by casinos to reward regulars and entice new players. Next, readers are given a list of “20 Winning Strategies at Slots,” which covers how to choose casinos with the best machines, determining the correct coin denomination for your personal bankroll, “escaping” from cold machines and seeking out those which are paying out, and how to give yourself the best chance at scoring progressive jackpots.
Written in time to cover most of the video slot, multiple pay line, and bonus game features still in use today, Cardoza’s Secrets of Winning Slots should be considered essential reading for players looking to brush up on their overall knowledge of classic games.
The Slot Machine Answer Book
John Grochowski (1999)
As the first columnist to regularly cover casino gambling for a major newspaper, John Grochowski now has his work for the Chicago Sun-Times syndicated nationally.
Grochowski has built a brand out of dispensing casino knowledge, appearing on the radio with a regular “Casino Answer Man” talk show in Chicago, contributing segments to gambling documentaries broadcast by the Travel Channel, and writing articles for magazines and journals like Strictly Slots, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Slot Manager.
The Slot Machine Answer Book was originally published in 1999, but the industry’s continual evolution prompted the author to release an updated version in 2005. As Grochowski explains in the update’s Introduction:
“Slot play had remained more or less the same (since Fey’s three-reel design). Drop your coins in the slot, pull the handle or push the button, and watch the reels spin to see if you win. It’s a far different world today. Slots have bonus rounds and second events. There are extras built into the top boxes while the reels spin below … What happened was a revolution.”
The overall design of The Slot Machine Answer Book is quite novel, as Grochowski constructs the chapters around a series of question and answer sessions. Readers are faced with multiple choice tests, lists of industry terms and corresponding definitions, true or false reviews, and other interactive instruction. Each of the 10 chapters is termed a “reel spin,” so readers will find items like “Reel Spin No. 1: Definitions,” which challenges you to consider a list of 20 slot-related words to see if you know what they mean.
While the original 1999 version is probably out of date at this point, as the author readily admits, the 2005 version of Grochowski’s The Slot Machine Answer Book is a fun way to introduce yourself to slot basics, brush up on advanced concepts, or simply test your overall knowledge.
Robbing the One Armed Bandits: Finding and Exploiting Advantageous Slot Machines
Charles Lund (1999)
With a strong background in mathematics, Charles W. Lund has always been one to crunch the numbers.
So when Lund, already an avid casino game theorist, discovered a new slot machine concept known as “banking” games, he suspected that a little analytical muscle might allow him to beat the game. Banking slot machines like the popular “Piggy Banking” title operated under a unique payout scheme, in which every non-winning spin added credits to a running bank. During a long session, the bank would be filled with an increasing amount of credits, which were only winnable after a predetermined amount of credits were accumulated in the bank.
Casinos and slot designers favored banking games during the late 1990s because the allure of an eventual “break the bank” symbol, which triggered the credits to be released, kept casual players at the machines for longer intervals. But as Lund soon discovered, by carefully observing other players and watching for those who sat a while before leaving without a jackpot, he could routinely identify banking machines which were poised to hit big payouts.
Lund used this technique, also known as “vulturing,” to perfection before Robbing the One-Armed Bandits: Finding and Exploiting Advantageous Slot Machines was published in 1999. As he writes in the book, he was consistently taking home profits of $500 on a daily basis by frequenting certain banking slots at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for Lund, his prowess at a supposed game of chance, one which casino executives expected to maintain a strong house edge over the long run, put him squarely in the crosshairs. In fact, as reported at the time by John Grochowski, Lund was barred from the Bellagio in 1999 under suspicion of being an advantage player, a term previously unthinkable when it came to slot machines.
Today, casinos have all but abandoned the banking machines of Lund’s heyday, as the practice of vulturing became all too common. Hostilities would regularly erupt between savvy slot players who had their eyes on the same prime machine, and casino managers soon began scoffing at an enticement strategy which could be so clearly exploited. Reports have been made, however, from players in local casinos around the country, claiming to have seen old banking slot titles on the floor. But for the most part, “Robbing the One-Armed Bandits” has been relegated to the realm of historical curiosity in 2016, although slot fans with an interest in the game’s roots may find Lund’s exploits interesting or educational.
How to Win Millions Playing Slot Machines… or Lose Trying
Frank Legato (2000)
Beginning in 1984 when he launched and edited Casino Gaming magazine, journalist Frank Legato has dedicated his professional life to studying the casino industry.
Over the years, Legato has edited or contributed to several industry publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots, and Atlantic City Insider. Today, he serves as the editor of both Casino Connection and Global Gaming Business.
The foreword to How to Win Millions Playing Slot Machines… or Lose Trying was written by Frank Scoblete of Break the One-Armed Bandits fame, lending Legato’s work an additional level of credibility. Unfortunately, whereas Scoblete sought the assistance of industry experts to help facilitate genuine instruction in a casual, conversational style, Legato resorts to his own anecdotal experience combined with a long litany of tired one-liners and hacky jokes.
Among the chapter titles included in the book, Chapter 3’s “Are There Gnomes Inside?”, Chapter 9’s “Is That Popeye or Mammy Yokem?,” and “Who Was That Jerk? Oh, It Was Me” are most indicative of Legato’s prose. Pages 85 through 135 of the book contain nothing more than Legato’s self-styled adventures as a “slot expert,” featuring “Tales From the Road” which offer little to nothing in the way of useful knowledge.
The second chapter is titled “I Know a Good Idea When I Steal It” and covers the invention and development of Fey’s early three-reel slot design. This section is actually quite interesting, delving deep into the industry’s infancy and including several historical nuggets. Unfortunately, this well-researched, informative section lasts only six pages, before Legato begins in earnest with his stand-up comedy routine.
The Smarter Bet Guide to Slots and Video Poker
Basil Nestor (2004)
Basil Nestor works as a contributing editor and columnist for Casino Player magazine and a consultant for gaming oriented media like Merv Griffin’s game show Simple Arithmetic. Nestor also contributes articles and content to the ReadyBetGo brand and other online outlets.
With The Smarter Bet Guide to Slots and Video Poker, Nestor applies his typical style, presenting information in a direct, no-nonsense tone. The book itself is slim at just 126 pages in total, but this is because Nestor avoids the fluff and flowery language employed by casino gambling authors intent on selling their “system” to gullible readers.
While Nestor does explore ways to increase your odds and reduce the house edge, such as taking advantage of player comps and managing your bankroll correctly, he doesn’t resort to blatant pandering by promising readers a foolproof way of winning. With chapter titles like “The Economics of Gambling” (Chapter 2), “Comps: Squeezing the System” (Chapter 6), and “Safety, Taxes, and More” (Chapter 9), Nestor succeeds in dispelling the myth of “beatable” slots, and instead instructs his readers on how to minimize their losses, avoid long cold streaks, identify machines with the lowest house edge, and deploy their bankroll in an efficient manner.
Powerful Profits from Video Slots
Victor H. Royer (2005)
As a self-styled casino gaming expert, Victor H. Royer goes by the name “Vegas Vic,” and he has lived and worked in Las Vegas for the last 30 years.
With 38 published books on the casino industry to his credit, Royer is certainly a prolific author, and on his personal website he bills himself as someone who “has played hundreds of thousands of hands in all forms of poker in the famous casinos of Las Vegas, and on all of the major sites on the Internet. Today, Royer is well-known as a respected gaming industry consultant, an analyst and teacher.”
Unfortunately, for readers, locating any sort of documentation to back up Royer’s claims to be a consultant, analyst, or teacher is difficult, to say the least. Instead, links to Royer’s self-published affiliate marketing sites are typically returned, suggesting that his bona fides as a casino gambling authority have been stretched, to say the least.
Reviews of Powerful Profits from Video Slots provided by readers can also be found, and the results aren’t pretty. For the most part, readers have reported that Royer’s findings are unscientific at best, and downright nonsense at worst. From advising players to always play the maximum coin denomination to listing suspect data on payout percentages and return to player (RTP) rates, Royer remains consistently inconsistent throughout the book.
As an example of Royer’s faulty reasoning when it comes to playing slots, consider the following passage from the book, in which he throws out random, unverified statistics, before determining that random number generators (RNGs) are actually a hoax:
“First, 90% of all players of casino games play slots. Second, of those 86% have absolutely no clue on which are the better slots and which aren’t, and why. Third, in Chapter 10 of the book I explain what the RNG is, and the fact that it really isn’t anything that really exists, and what it really is and how it works, and why this is important.”
Reel History: A Photographic History of Slot Machines
David Mead (2005)
David Mead is the son of the late Daniel Mead, the man behind Mead Publishing Company in Las Vegas. Having taken up his father’s mantle, David Mead runs the family’s publishing house today, continuing to release a wide variety of eclectic casino gambling titles.
In Reel History: A Photographic History of Slot Machines, David Mead has created a veritable encyclopedia of slot machine knowledge. Presented in stark black and white, the book consists of 456 pages, nearly all of which contain nothing more than a simple portrait of an antique slot machine along with manufacturer and dating information.
Featuring photographs taken by both David Mead and his father Daniel, the book represents two lifetimes’ worth of industry experience. Readers will find entries on some of the very first slot machines ever constructed, including the “Big Six” (1904) and the “Ben Hur” (1908) by Calle Brothers Company.
With a simple yet strikingly elegant design, Reel History: A Photographic History of Slot Machines takes readers on a visual tour through the history of slot machines.
Not Just Another Slot Machine Strategy System
Greg Elder (2012)
After leaving an unsatisfying life in the professional world behind, Greg Elder decided to pursue his passion and so began a new career as an advantage gambling specialist.
Following years spent as a successful professional blackjack and casino games player, Elder began compiling his accumulated knowledge into various writings, before discovering another passion. Today, Elder works as an author covering the casino gambling scene, with nine titles on various games and subjects to his credit.
In “Not Just Another Slot Machine Strategy System,” which is more of a pamphlet than a book at just 28 print pages, Elder advises players to avoid the “how to win systems” propagated by other slots writers. Instead of proposing a convoluted method to increase your winnings, Elder recognizes that jackpot payouts will always happen at random, so he focuses his attention on a simple system designed to mitigate your losses over the long run.
In effect, Elder is describing his own version of basic money management, relying heavily on the concept of walking away when the machines simply aren’t hitting. Of course, it’s not always so easy for some gamblers, but by sticking strictly to Elder’s advice and remaining cognizant of the need to walk away from time to time, players can easily reduce the instance of bankroll depleting big losses.
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