The 10 Most Important Gambling Innovations in Modern History
The gambling industry is notorious for being slow to innovate, with blackjack being played much the same way today as it was in the time of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. That being said, when the casino industry does hit upon a great idea, it represents a complete change in the way that casinos operate and games are played. Here is a look at some of the gambling innovations which have changed the gambling industry forever, and shaped the way we think about casinos.
#1Player's Club Cards
For much of the 20th century, table games were the premier attractions of the casino, with slots simply giving people a diversion on their way in or out of the casino. Likewise, most comps were awarded to table game players, with slot players ignored.
However, in the 70s and 80s technology had progressed to the point where slot machines were the new video slots were light years more entertaining than their predecessors, and slots quickly became the top casino revenue stream. There still wasn't any good way to comp and reward slot players, at least until the revolutionary player's club card came along.
Atlantic City in the 1980s was where the first 'Slots Clubs' appeared, with basic player tracking allowing the casinos to follow their best slots players. Soon, slot companies came up with a club card which could be inserted into any machine in order to keep track of how much the player wagers. Soon, every casino in the world had their own Player's Club open to anyone who wanted it.
Nowadays, the club card is not only used to track slot play, but table play as well; and in some casinos can even double as a room key or a method for paying for food, drinks, or other perks. It changed the way that casinos award comps by standardizing the process across the board. Now, points and comps are awarded based on precise play tracking, not the whims of the casino staff, and even players with the smallest bankrolls feel special when they cash in a Player's Club reward.
When you ask people what a casino sounds like, the first sound many people think of is the distinctive metallic clink of slot machine winning coins cascading into the hopper. And while that famous sound was the trademark of casinos for decades, these days it has become virtually non-existent. Instead, winnings are paid in convenient bar-coded tickets which the player can then take to the cage and convert into cash, or simply put into another slot machine.
Originally developed by International Game Technology and Casino Data Systems, ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) systems are one of the biggest gambling industry innovations and have become standard in nearly every major casino in the world.
For players, it is so much easier to collect winnings in the form of a ticket instead of having to carry around a bucket of grimy coins. Players can take a break, go to the bathroom, or choose a different machine by just printing a ticket instead of waiting ages for the coins to drop into the hopper.
From the casino's standpoint, it has revolutionized what can be done with slots. Without TITO, multi-denomination slots would be impossible and it has allowed so much more flexibility with how a slot machine pays out. TITO also increases security and eliminates counting errors, meaning that both the player and the casino get their fair share.
#3Video Slot Machines
Slot machines as a concept have been with us for more than two centuries. And while many people still maintain an enduring mental image of a one-arm-bandit filled with cherries, bells, and 7s, that type of slot machine belongs to a different era.
The biggest problem with traditional slot machines is that there were only so many combinations, symbols, payouts, and coin denominations that could be integrated on mechanical spinning reels. Casinos searched for years to find ways to make the games more flexible, but also far more entertaining and attractive.
In 1975, they found it, with the invention of the world's first complete video slot, Fortune Coin, one of history's most important innovations in gambling. It didn't take long for International Gaming Technology (IGT) to buy Fortune Coin and begin to change slot machine forever.
Video slots, where the reels only existed as ones and zeroes on a video screen, allowed slot machine manufacturers to do things they had never even dreamed of before. They could now expand the number of reels from three to five, expand the number of symbols on each reel to over 50, offer multiple winning lines, and offer multiple coin denominations and bets on a single machine, all which benefited both the house and the player.
Additionally, they were able to make the games fun. Authentic sound and flashy animation became the standard for video slots, while free spins and quirky bonus games because par for the course, making them far more like contemporary video games than slot machines. Suddenly, slots were fun and their popularity soared to the point where modern slot revenue accounts for about 80% of a casino's profits. Moreover, the ability to adjust the probability on the machine allowed casinos to offer increasing jackpots, leading to other huge gambling innovations, such as progressive jackpots.
In 1986, riding high on the slot machine boom created by video slots, IGT changed the game forever by launching the very first progressive jackpot slot machine, Megabucks. This massive gambling industry innovation quickly became a sensation and the progressive jackpot era was born.
Until the release of Megabucks, the highest amount a slot machine could pay out was a fixed jackpot. Even the biggest jackpots didn't exceed $50,000 or so, which is certainly a lot of money but not exactly a life-changing amount. Megabucks, however, was a slot which had a variable jackpot which grew by a certain amount every time it was played. Now, instead of a top prize of a few thousand, the lucky jackpot winner could walk away with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
Of course, if the jackpot grew on only one machine at a time, it wouldn't grow very fast. But multiple machines all feeding one jackpot would make it sky high, and tempt thousands of players at different casinos to try to win it all. The first Megabucks machines in American casinos were all connected over phone lines and players lined up in Nevada and Atlantic City in order to take their shot. The first progressive jackpot ever was hit in February 1987 for nearly $5 million, which only drove more popularity.
Despite the extremely low chance of actually winning the jackpot, progressive jackpot slots have remained amongst the most popular in both land-based and online casinos, with nearly two dozen different titles networked around the world. Progressives have even popped up on blackjack and roulette tables, showing just how popular the concept remains, two decades after its inception.
#5Continuous Shuffling Machines
The creation of a machine to automatically shuffle playing cards has long been the dream of those in the gambling industry.
The earliest known attempts to build an 'automatic shuffling apparatus' can be traced all the way back to 1878. The latter part of the 20th century saw automatic shufflers hit the casino floors, although these batch shufflers could only shuffle one or more decks at a time. So while they prevented blackjack dealers from getting repetitive stress injuries and sped up the shuffle time at the table, they still didn't do anything to fundamentally change the game of blackjack.
Until 2000, that is. That year, Shuffle Master debuted its newest premier product – The King. The King was the world's first continuous shuffling machine (CSM); after every hand the dealer could take the discards and place them in the machine, which shuffled the cards and randomized the decks for the next hand. It was like a never-ending shoe, and it has had profound effects on the blackjack world.
It is extremely difficult, if not down-right impossible, to effectively count cards with a CSM - which is the whole point. Although skilled card counters weren't exactly a dime a dozen, they still did affect the casino's bottom line. The CSM put a stop to them, making card counting nothing more than an archaic party trick. With the additional advantages of speeding up the game by up to 20% and saving money on decks of cards, CSMs are a win-win for the casino and one of the few gambling innovations to affect table games.
For much of history, being able to legally play casino games was a very different thing to do. Most countries and jurisdictions around the world prohibited gambling (and many still do); while even if you could gamble legally in your country, the nearest public casino might be hundreds of miles away.
Online gambling innovations, however, has brought casino games to the masses. In 1994, Antigua and Barbuda was the first jurisdiction to allow operators to apply for licenses. Just two years later, in 1996, the first ever online bet was placed at InterCasino and the online casino industry has never looked back.
Despite some setbacks, such as the crackdown on online gambling in the United States in 2006, online gambling has grown steadily into a massive $35 billion industry. Now, with over 1,000 online casinos operating in more than 85 countries, more people have access to real-money casino games than ever before.
Online casinos and various online gambling innovations have transformed gambling from something that only a handful of people did regularly into a hobby enjoyed by millions across the globe.
#7Live Dealer Games
Although online gambling may be a massive worldwide hit today, when real-money gaming first hit the web, many people were hesitant to play. Some people doubted the trustworthiness of the games or the security of the transactions, but for many gamblers their reason for avoiding online casinos was a much more basic one. Part of the attraction of gambling was the casino itself, with its lights, sounds, glamor, and human interaction. Playing blackjack, roulette, or baccarat on a computer just wasn't the same.
Online casinos realized that in order to convert traditional table game players, they would need to give them the true feel of the casino floor. While in the 1990s and early 2000s, internet connections and computers were still too slow to do anything about this; but with the wider adoption of high-speed internet connections and newer processing technology, live dealer games were born.
With live dealer games, a real roulette, blackjack, or baccarat table with a real human dealer is placed somewhere in a studio. Cameras and sensors track the dealer's movements, the cards, or the ball, and allow the player to follow the action as it happens and interact in real time. There is even a chat feature where players can talk to the dealers and experience the true social aspect of being in the casino.
Live dealer games are about the closest online casinos can get to fully replicating the brick-and-mortar casino experience, and they are winning over even the most conservative players. The ability to be immersed in the true casino table-game experience is one of the online gambling innovations which has changed the way people think about games.
One of the most recent gambling innovations is also likely to be one of the ones which makes the most impact on the industry in the future. Mobile casino gambling may only be a few years old, but looking at its explosion in popularity and current worldwide trends away from desktop towards mobile, it is going to be the something people are talking about for a long, long time.
Starting with the digital mobile phone boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, mobile casino-style games started to get made, though these were rudimentary black-and-white games which just allowed people to play for fun. It wasn't until the smartphone era, beginning with the iPhone release in 2007, that casinos began to seriously consider making real-money mobile casino games.
Developer mFortune began the craze with 11 simple games, and the mobile gambling craze has taken off from there. Currently, there are dozens of casinos offering hundreds of different slots and table games, all optimized for the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets. They have advanced so quickly in online gambling innovations as to even offer full banking capabilities on mobile devices, eliminating the need to ever log on to the desktop version of the casino.
It is estimated that in 2016, nearly half of online casino revenue already comes from mobile gambling, and that number is only expected to climb and climb while the end of traditional desktop online gambling might not be too far on the horizon.
Social gaming has been around as long as the internet, and in its basic form it is simply any online game which involves some sort of interaction with other humans. Although social gaming may initially spur thoughts of Facebook games like Farmville and Candy Crush Saga, the scope of social gaming goes far beyond these recent fads.
In fact, social casino games have been popular for decades, with fake-money online poker games, blackjack simulators, bingo rooms, and slot machines counting amongst the favorites. This trend continues today, as nearly 20% of all social games played online fall into the realm of casino-style games.
For the most part, these games do not allow players to win real money. Instead, they can play for free or purchase spins/credits/chips and try to win additional plays by winning the games. Many of the games involve chat rooms or environments where people can interact with other while playing, making it a truly social experience.
In nearly all jurisdictions, offering real-money prizes for social casino game wins remains illegal, but that isn't dampening the enthusiasm that the casino industry has for this emerging type of game. Games like Zynga Poker have already shown that there is a huge amount of money to be made in the social gambling arena, and that's without offering cash prizes.
Many companies in the casino industry see social gambling having a huge impact on the future of gambling. Some possibilities include more social interaction at existing online casinos, or perhaps the regulation of social network games which allow companies to offer real-money prizes, opening up casino games to the new, social, always-online generation. Social gambling is still in its infancy, and its ability to impact the future of gambling is immense.
#10Virtual Reality Gambling
The next great gambling innovation, virtual reality (VR) gambling, may be just around the corner. With the release of the revolutionary Oculus Rift VR headset and other similar devices, the interest in VR has exploded.
The gambling industry is hoping to be one of the pioneers in VR gaming, with major software developers like NetEnt and Microgaming working hard to develop realistic VR casinos. In fact, SlotsMillion has already launched the first VR casino, and it may very well be the first step towards a fundamental change in the way people play casino games.