What is a One Armed Bandit?

Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017 15:42

To put it simply, the one armed bandit is a slang way of describing a slot machine. It is named after the old kind of slot machines that came with a lever instead of a push button like slots have these days.

The First One Armed Bandit


The first ever One Armed Bandit arrived on the scene way back in 1895 and was created by a car mechanic named Charles Fey who hailed from San Francisco. It was a rather crude device when compared to the more modern slots today and it featured 3 reels with a selection of 5 different symbols. These symbols included hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes, and liberty bells. Each reel contained 10 symbols and the machine was called the Liberty Bell in honour of the Liberty Bell symbol that was used in the game. The machine had a long lever or arm and this was used to get the reels spinning. This machine proved a big success so Charles Fey released his next One Armed Bandit and it was called the Operator Bell. It was the first kind of slot machine to ever use fruit symbols so this was quite an important step in the evolution of the slot machine as fruit symbols are still used in a lot of online slots to this day. The Operator Bell was even more successful as it paid out money prizes instead of chewing gum packets like similar machines did at the time.

How It Works


The whole entire process of the machine was mechanical-based. Players would insert coins into the machine and then pull the long arm or lever to start the game. By pulling the lever, the player would put tension on a coiled spring that would release inside the machine to enable the reels to start spinning. An interesting thing about the lever is that since it is directly attached to the machine, the player could affect the way that the reels spin simply by the way they pulled the lever.

How to use a One Armed Bandit


In order to win a cash prize from this machine, you had to pull the lever and hope that three matching symbols will land in a row on the payline. Landing 3 Liberty Bell symbols paid out the most money back then which was around ten nickels or fifty cents. This was quite a large amount of money back in those days. Since there were 10 symbols per reel, the odds of a big payout were low, in fact, there was a 1 in 1,000 chance of winning anything. Of course, there was no such thing as RTP or people explaining the odds back then, so naturally, lots of people lost money to this machine. Some people did extensive research on these machines and found that they only ever paid out 25-50% of the money that was put into them and that is how the term “One Armed Bandit” was coined!


In the 1960s, the lever of the slot machine was separated from directly connecting to the machine but the One Armed Bandit still worked in the same way. Nowadays, One Armed Bandits are rarely used as players just need to press a button to get the reels spinning in the latest slot machines and these slots also use random number generators to display the symbols. It is also possible to play slot machines on mobile phones and tablets and players can just spin the reels by simply touching the screen of their mobile device. However, It is heartening to know that One Armed Bandits can still be found in some casinos as players still enjoy the thrill of pulling that lever on the machine to get those reels spinning.

For further information on slot machines, please check out our articles on a brief history of online slots and the history of the slot machine.