Slot machines are popular the world over, and are a surprisingly old technology at this point, even if the hardware inside physical units has improved significantly in the past century.
They are also known by different names in different countries; in the US the standard slot machine moniker is commonplace, while in Australia they are referred to as pokies and in merry old England they tend to be called fruit machines.
So why have Brits taken a different route with their naming of automated gambling equipment, and what is it about the background of this industry which makes it so prevalent today?
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While modern land-based slots and their digital equivalents available via any online casino UK players can access may pay out in cash or credits, back in the late 19th century when the first mechanical machines hit the market, this was not an option. Instead the earliest examples of what we now know as slot machines were designed to reward the winner with tangible prizes rather than hard currency.
These prizes would often be linked to the symbols which appeared on the reels of the machine. For example, if a player matched three lemons, they might receive a pack of lemon-flavoured chewing gum or candies.
Of course not all of the bars and stores where these machines were typically found would have this kind of produce to hand, so it was not just fruit-themed goodies doled out for jackpot wins. Punters could also expect to walk away with everything from a free box of cigars to a few tokens entitling them to drinks.
The fact that ‘fruit machine’ stuck as a term in the UK is generally agreed to be as a direct result of these prizes.
Another major difference in the way that slot machines are operated in the UK, aside from the name, is that they are also regulated uniquely, or at least they were up until the middle of the 20th century.
British players became used to not only seeing fruit symbols sticking around on the reels long after the switch to integrated cash prize payouts, but also to the inclusion of ‘Hold’ and ‘Nudge’ buttons. These allowed them to choose which reels to spin, which to hold and which to shift along slightly after a given spin was completed.
The purpose of these inputs all comes down to now-outdated rules which said that fruit machines had to involve an element of skill to be legally eligible for operation in UK-based establishments. This probably sounds like an outlandish idea to overseas players, but it was instrumental in dictating the design of British machines up until relatively recently.
The growth of online gambling has resulted in major changes to the industry and its customers in the past couple of decades, with the UK being a leading light in terms of legitimizing and promoting web-based casinos.
This leads to an intriguing question about how long the phrase ‘fruit machine’ will survive in a world where players from Britain and lots of other countries are generally playing on sites where these games are referred to as ‘slots’.
The era of globalization means that language is becoming homogenized to a certain extent and in the coming years it could be possible for now fairly archaic colloquial expressions like ‘fruit machine’ to go the way of the dodo.
Of course there is a strong national identity and culture within Britain itself, which should help to preserve unique names for well-known products like this, so long as there are still players out there to get involved.