We look at the One Arm Bandit machine, which has become the number one way to gamble all over the world and boasts the obvious appeal of a simple and quick return of excitement with the promise of a cash bonus.
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One Arm Bandit

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Although gambling has its origins in the deep and distant past of humanity, the concept of a gaming machine in the form of the one arm bandit is a little over a century old and in that time has become the number one way to gamble all over the world and the top contributor to casino income by some distance. The appeal is obvious; a simple and quick return of excitement and hopefully some cash or other equivalent goods.

In modern times technology has given us a great many different types of similar gaming machine and they are ubiquitous in places where people may spend some time such as casinos, airports, holiday resorts, bookmakers and so on. The original one arm bandit derives its name from the action of pulling a lever on the side of the machine, the one arm, which then generated spinning of a certain number of reels, each with defined symbols. When the reels stop, a winning line of symbols pays out a predetermined prize for that particular sequence.

The One Armed Bandit Machine designed for the purpose was called the Liberty Bell, and the bell symbol is still widely used in such machines. Instantly popular, the Liberty Bell had its one arm bandit nickname pretty quickly with the ‘bandit’ association referring to the practice of leaving an encounter with the machine with less money that you started with. It is estimated that such gaming machines account for 70% of a casinos income and the larger casinos will have many 1000s of machines. Regular payouts are a feature of gameplay which encourages players to persevere for that big win, which although rare can be very big indeed.

As with most things in life gaming with slot machines is technology driven and just like the original machine was dependent on the right mechanisms for playing and paying out, the machines of today, although far more sophisticated still work on the same principle but replace a slot machine and it's moving parts with electronics, computer chips and virtual gameplay. Such is the importance of gaming machines that they were the first such technologies to introduce video gameplay, heralding a whole new age of video games.

Gaming machines of this type are also referred to most commonly as fruit machines and this terminology dates back to a time when payouts were fruit flavoured candies or gum. While this overt attempt to get around strict gambling laws by offering food products as a prize was short lived, fruit symbols remain in many one armed bandit machines along with ‘BAR’ symbols which derive from the same source. Nowadays wide varieties of symbols are used and often incorporate some specific theme relating to the style of the machine or property in which it is situated.

As with most forms of chance gambling and gaming, payouts are purely a product of known probabilities. The early machines typically had three reels with ten symbols on each which gives only 1000 possible combinations. With even the rarest winning line occurring on average once in every 1000 plays, payouts were generally limited and with regular smaller payouts an essential factor in the gamblers continued playing, jackpot payouts did not return great sums for the initial investment.

Computerisation of the one arm bandit allowed for a much greater flexibility in gameplay and payouts. With virtual reels generated by software a certain probability could be predetermined for every symbol on each reel. This is why there are often so many close calls, with a winning symbol just out of reach; the machines are designed that way to increase the excitement of the play.

Video one arm bandits involves no moving parts at all in the machine and the player is essentially playing a video game, even if the arm of the one arm bandit is still there for show. This allows for greater graphics and a much greater level of interaction with numerous combinations possible usually over three lines and five reels rather than a single winning line over three. It also means the number of possible winning combinations is greatly increased up to 100s of millions, allowing for much bigger jackpot prizes. Computer programs need not weigh particular symbols differently but rather simply alter the relative occurrence of each symbol in a virtual reel which may contain up to 50 symbols.

Technology is a double edged sword for gamblers. While increased chances of bigger payouts are to be welcomed, pattern recognition strategies in gaming are made obsolete by advanced technology. In the past gamers could 'read' machines based on previous plays and predict winning intervals. In modern machines winning combinations are based on a random number generator algorithm which is impossible to predict since the machine is constantly generating random numbers even when it is not being played. The gamer then will have no idea at what point there are at in the predetermined random number sequence.

The important aspect to consider for the player is the payout percentage of the One Armed Bandits. This value is determined by the software program when it is written and so does not typically change throughout the life of the machine. There are statutory regulations determining the minimum payout percentage of one armed bandit machines depending on the country and location the machine is in and typically ranges from between 82% and 98% which is the proportion of funds collected which are returned to players. The remainder goes to the house and hire, purchase, running and maintenance of the machine.