How the one-armed bandits became cash gobblers

POKER machines have been around for about 125 years.

Invented in 1891 by a couple of American blokes, the first one-armed bandit - so called because they had one lever and generally "robbed" players of their money - had five spinning drums with playing card symbols.

A gambler would spend a nickel in the hopes of getting a winning poker hand.

If the cards rolled their way (for example they scored a pair of kings) the punter would go to the bar to collect their prize - often cigars or drinks.

This cumbersome machine was soon replaced with "slot" machines that had three spinning reels, five to 20 symbols such as pictures of fruit, and the ability to pay out jackpots in coins.

A one-armed bandit with three reels and 20 symbols on each reel had winning odds of about one in 8000.

The first fully "electromechanical" slot machine was developed in 1963.

Called Money Honey, the machine had buttons at the front, consigning the side arm to being an esthetic appendage.

Gambling dens and casinos embraced these machines because they could automatically pay out many more coins - 500 to be exact - thus reducing floor staff wage bills.

In 1976, businesses took a punt on slot machines with video displays and by 1994 gamblers could choose from three different pokie games on the one machine.

Modern pokies are completely computerised with random number generating software at their heart.

And the odds of the top prize on a poker machine going off on these sophisticated profit engines? The Queensland
Government estimates it is around one in seven million - but only if you play the maximum lines.

Today's machines can cost up to $20,000 each and they are manufactured by a select few companies - mainly Aristocrat, International Gaming Technology, Ainsworth Game Technology, WMS Gaming, Aruze Gaming and Konami (once a major player in computer and arcade gaming). - ARM NEWSDESK

For 24-hour support call The Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.

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