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    Playing the Slots

    Slots is simply the short-form and easier way to say 'slot machine.' It is known differently in other countries like fruit machine in Britain or poker machine in Australia. A slot machine is a gambling device where one inserts at least one coin and either pulls a lever or pushes a button to make 3 or more wheels turn. Some machines have up to 5 wheels.

    On the display, the wheels in turn come to a stop at random positions. Each position is characterized by various images (mainly fruit, hence the name "fruit machine"). Different combinations of images correspond to different prizes. Some machines even pay more if more coins are dropped. Some machines accept paper money and newer machines accept pre-paid bar-coded tickets.

    New Yorkers Sittman and Pitt originally developed a gambling machine in 1891 which is considered the earliest known version of the slot machine. This machine had 5 rotating wheels that had card faces as images. The game was, in effect, a poker machine as it was based on the game poker. But due to the number of wheels and the number of possible combinations, it was quite difficult to make payout automatic (i.e. coins dropping in today's conventional slot machines).

    An 1887 machine that had 3 wheels, less "faces", a different set of images, and a lever to make the wheels turn was adopted in conjunction with Sittman and Pitt's machine to yield a gambling machine that automatically dispenses the corresponding prize for certain combinations. It was possible then to do so because there are significantly less winning combinations than the original gambling machine.

    The images evolved from typical playing card pictures to 5 symbols: the suits hearts, spades and diamond, a horseshoe and the Liberty Bell. Some early machines dispensed fruit-flavored chewing gum as prizes. Hence, the familiar cherry and melon images appear in modern-day slot machines. The high-paying "bar" symbol was a derivative of an earlier version of the logo of a chewing gum company. The first modern slot machine developed by Bally eventually came out in the mid 1960's.

    As mentioned previously, some machines offer higher payouts for higher "bets". Machines that accept even higher denominations offer the larger prizes. In some casinos, the highest payouts are prizes like cars or several thousands of dollars.

    The slot machine finds itself mostly in casinos (and in a few airports). And just like casino games, playing the slots can become addictive. Many "hardcore" players sit with buckets of coins on their laps in front of a machine, playing for hours with the hope of winning that large payout. Some people actually lie in wait for others to finish off their bucket of coins on a single machine and when that frustrated patron leaves, these people take their place on the same machine as they believe that chances are, the machine is due to offer a large payout. In general, though, this kind of play (called lurking) is looked down upon and actually prohibited in some casinos.

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