Slot machines have a long and illustrious history, with the first coin-operated examples dating back to the late 19th century.
While modern games boast digital displays, lots of reels, plenty of paylines, eye-popping graphics and a wide variety of themes, their mechanical precursors were necessarily limited by the technology of the time.
Even so, the symbols that were used during the early days of the industry are still widely recognized and replicated in the modern era. You can even find out what different slot machine symbols represent and get an appreciation for how the iconography has evolved over the decades.
As this market is enjoying double digit growth at the moment, now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with the most popular and enduring symbols found on games, as well as the reasons that they are used.
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Lucky Number 7
Well known for its lucky status, the number 7 is a gaming symbol that you can reliably encounter in a huge array of different titles in the 21st century.
Aside from the fact that it is considered to be a fortunate figure by those with a superstitious learning, the proliferation of 7 as a symbol was helped along by the fact that the first slot machines featured symbols pulled from playing cards.
There are many other lucky numbers, depending on the cultural background you consider, but 7 still stands as a staple symbol and as such is often associated with major jackpot payouts.
Once again tied into the origins of slot-based gaming, playing card-inspired symbols are still widespread at the moment. While you might still find symbols related to specific playing card suits, it is the face cards that get much more attention; specifically the Jacks, Kings and Queens which most people will be familiar with.
Initially these symbols were nearly universally found on slot machines because the aim of the game was to line up the reels in such a way that you could create a solid poker hand and win a prize for your efforts. While the explosion of different symbols in the interim has allowed for a much greater number of possible winning combinations, this legacy is still reflected in the prevalence of face card symbols seen on current games.
In some parts of the world slot machines are known as fruit machines, and it is easy to see why given that fruit-based symbols are commonly implemented across the board.
Of the various juicy options, the most common is the cherry, usually represented as a twin pair of fruits attached by a luscious green stalk.
The precise origins of fruit symbols is not known, with some claiming that they directly represented the prizes that would be awarded to winners before cash payouts were widely available. However, it seems likely that the real reason for their use is that they are easy to identify, as well as being attractive and eye-catching from a distance to help draw in the punters in a barroom setting, which was the natural home of such machines.
Another symbol that has survived for over a century and still makes a plethora of appearances today is the bell. Like cherries and other fruit symbols, a bell can be represented on the reels in a very alluring way. This symbol also marked the start of the move away from playing card symbols as machine makers aimed to simplify the mechanisms and thus make it possible to automate payouts.
The bell symbol even helped to inspire the name of one of the most popular vintage slots, the Liberty Bell. The fact that this symbol was also popular in the US already thanks to its connotations of independence and freedom helped to add to the appeal.
If you have ever seen a slot machine in the flesh or via an online casino, you will probably have seen the classic ‘BAR’ symbol used. In amongst the fruits, playing cards and bells, this might seem like an unusual inclusion.
Interestingly enough this symbol has a pretty intriguing backstory behind its inclusion on the majority of slot machines. It first started out as the logo of a chewing gum manufacturer, which included its branding to reels because it both made many of the machines and also offered its products as a prize at a time when cash-based wins were banned in many places. The shape of the logo was bar-like, and players began referring to it as ‘BAR’, which eventually caused the branding to be replaced by the symbol we know today.