How Arcade Games like Pinball Changed the Slot Machine Business Forever
Pinball and slot machines don’t seem like they have much in common, other than the fact that they both operate in cabinets.
But you might be surprised to know that the pinball industry impacted slot machines in a major way. In fact, pinball history actually rolls into the point when slots began increasing in popularity.
Now we have thousands of slot machines located in both land-based and online casinos. Slots have essentially become the king of the casino world.
Pinball, on the other хэнд, has lost much of the popularity it had in previous decades. This game is essentially a relic due to the fact that you won’t find many pinball machines in stores today.
But anybody who loves slots should also appreciate how the pinball industry helped lay the foundation for slot machines. Keep reading as I discuss why pinball has played such a big role in slots history.
Pinball’s Rise and Boom
Pinball’s origins can be traced back to 17th-century France when Louis XIV ruled the kingdom.
The French narrowed billiards tables and put wooden pins on one side of the table. Players would then use a cue stick to hit small balls into the field of play.
Of course, these rudimentary pinball games were far different from the electromechanical ones we see today. But improvements were мейд to this contraption, including fixing pins to the table so that they didn’t have to be re-set after every game.
Montague Redgrave, a British inventor living in the US, began manufacturing “bagatelle” tables in 1871.
These games used marble balls, small metal pins, and a plunger device to shoot the ball. Bagatelles were similar to modern pinball, except for the lack of coin slots and electronic features.
Another big advancement in the pinball world came in the 1930s when manufacturers started producing coin-operated bagatelles (a.k.a. pin games). David Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball, which was launched in 1931, became the very first coin-operated bagatelle.
Players put a penny into the machine and received 5-7 balls. It wasn’t long before Baffle Ball began appearing in drugstores and bars across the Depression-era US.
Raymond Moloney, a seller who became fed up with waiting on slow Baffle Ball production, started his own company called Lion Manufacturing. Moloney released Bally Hoo, which soon became the dominant pinball machine thanks to its increased number of pockets.
Moloney later changed his company’s name from Lion Manufacturing to Bally. This is significant because Bally is now one of the leading slot machine manufacturers (covered later).
Another slots maker that can trace its origins back to the pinball era is Pacific Amusements. In 1933, they began producing a machine called Contact, which featured an electricity-powered solenoid, along with a bonus pocket.
Harry Williams, who designed the game, would later form his own company called Williams Manufacturing (WMS). Williams Manufacturing is also a leading slots producer today.
Pinball boomed in the early 1930s, with over 150 companies producing these games at the time. But the market would quickly thin out, and only 14 companies remained operational by 1934.
Arcade Games Crush the Pinball Market
Despite the smaller number of companies, pinball continued to be a very popular game in America from the 1940s to 1970s.
Gottlieb’s Humpty Dumpty game, which launched in 1947, helped take pinball’s popularity to the next level. Humpty Dumpty was the first machine to feature flippers, which added a great deal of skill to these games.
Pinball truly entered the electronic age in the 1970s, when microprocessors and electromechanical relays were added to the cabinets.
These elements helped pinball manufacturers add sound effects, voices, and complex rules to their machines. Released in 1977, Williams’ Hot Tip became one of the most popular games to offer these features.
Arcade machines started to surface around the same time that Hot Tip was widely played. Gamers took notice of video games like Space Invaders (178), Asteroids (1979), and Pac-Man (1980).
Store owners realized that arcade games outperformed pinball machines in terms of revenue. Adding in the fact that video games require less maintenance, most stores stopped ordering pinball machines.
Companies like Bally, Gottlieb, and Williams saw the writing on the wall and began producing more arcade machines than pinball games. Bally left the pinball industry completely, selling their remaining machines and operation to Williams in 1988.
Pinball Giants Convert to Slot Machines
In addition to making arcade games, pinball giants Bally and Williams started making slot machines, too.
Bally had actually been producing slot machines since the 1930s. They designed mechanical-reel games that did quite well in taverns across the country.
But slot machines didn’t become a core part of their business until the mid-1960s.
It was at this point when they created the first electromechanical slot machine, called “Money Honey.”
Bally had been struggling financially ever since Moloney passed away in the late 1950s, but a group of new investors in the early 1960s kept the company alive as they pushed forward into the slots industry. At one point, Bally controlled over 90% of the world’s slots market.
The company also began forays into the casino gambling market in the late 1970s.
This was when New Jersey legalized gambling in Atlantic City, and Bally took advantage by opening their own casino. They launched the Park Place Casino & Hotel in December 1979 and featured many of their own slot machines on the property.
The company also began licensing Midway arcade games around the same time, including Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. This is important today because Bally is using some of their old arcade games as bonus rounds in new skill-based slot machines.
Some of the biggest slots that Bally has produced over the years include: