It’s impossible nowadays to be in tune with the world of either land-based or online slot machine gambling and not be aware of the dominance of International Gaming Technology, or IGT. This software manufacturer is, without a doubt, the biggest producer of slot games and video poker devices in the country, if not in the world.
You might be surprised to know that the history of this company is fairly recent in comparison with some of IGT’s once and current competitors. IGT did not really have a presence in the gambling world until 1981, just over a quarter-century ago. When the company entered the slot machine gaming market, devices with mechanical reels were the industry standard. Back in those days, the outcomes of a fruit machine were all tied to the symbols on the reels. You’d pull a lever (the original “arm” of the one-armed bandit!) and the reels would spin. Wherever they stopped, your outcome would show up. It was as simple as that. The most control that slot manufacturers could exert over the likelihood of landing a jackpot was by how many symbols they could fit on a reel, and the ratio of winning symbols to losers.
In those days, the size of the jackpot you could potential win playing a game was directly paralleled by the physical size of the device. Larger slot machines could fit larger reels inside, with more symbols and less chance of winning – therefore, a higher potential jackpot. Physically smaller machines held smaller reels, so your shot of winning was higher. Therefore, the payouts were lower. Regardless of the size, however, machines were limited to just three reels. If they had any more, the machines would be too wide for casinos to fit as many as they normally would. Even the biggest machines were limited to about twenty pictorial symbols per reel. Jackpots never exceeded more than a few thousand dollars, because machines lost their profitability if they went any higher.
IGT swooped in and changed all this, courtesy of one very important (albeit tiny) invention – the random number generator, or RNG. The year 1981 was a milestone one for IGT and the slot machine gaming world in general. It was the year of the RNG, and a revolution in the world of gambling. These itty-bitty microchips were inserted into slot machines. They churn out thousands of random numerical sequences a minute, twenty-four hours a day. The amount of numbers generated by the RNG could be anywhere between three and five BILLION, depending on the device. Although post-RNG slot games still have reels, the RNG takes away their function. When a player activates the machine by pushing a button –arms have since become obsolete, except for show- the game captures the numerical sequence that the RNG was “thinking of” at the precise moment the trigger occurred. Basically, wide ranges of numbers correspond to just three outcomes – lose, win, or jackpot, in descending order of probability. The machine “knows” the results; whatever comes up on the reels is just its way of letting you know, too.
There’s no way to overstate the impact that the RNG made in the world of slot machine gambling. Overnight (or as long as it took for these new machines to be distributed far and wide), size restrictions disappeared. The size of the reels in a device no longer mattered, as long as they carried adequate symbols to form the combinations the manufacturer wanted. Jackpots shot up exponentially, and the highest-stake slots broke the million-dollar barrier for the first time, adding a whole new dimension of appeal and excitement to gambling prizes. Mechanical devices became obsolete, and ITG led the charge towards a new day in gaming. They were the first company to really experiment with the possibilities brought forward by the RNG.
Five years after the first RNG was inserted into an American slot machine, IGT unveiled the Megabucks title. Up until that point, slot game makers hadn’t really begun to get creative with the new technology in a way that was any different from just simulating the look and feel of the older, mechanical pokies. Megabucks broke the mold, as the first-ever progressive slot machine. Like the powerball or megamillion state lottery games that were already familiar to and loved by gamblers, the jackpot attached to the Megabucks device grew every time a player made a bet and did not win. The pot would keep growing “progressively,” until some lucky stiff came along and hit it big! There’s a major attraction to a progressive jackpot prize, and Megabucks skyrocketed to popularity.
Of course, the superstar of this very popular category of slot machines is Wheel of Fortune. Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest fruit machine titles ever – and it is also an IGT game. Who hasn’t seen the famous game show on which it is based, featuring host Pat Sajak and the immortally gorgeous Vanna White? The Wheel of Fortune slot tapped into the theme and excitement of its base material in a way that a gambling device never had before. The game’s bonus round offered players the chance to spin the titular wheel of fortune, the same way that contestants do on the TV show. The wheel’s outcomes have the potential to multiply a player’s winnings.
It’s been more than fifteen years since the rollout of the Wheel of Fortune slot, but its popularity has scarcely diminished. Moreover, its innovative marriage of content (an instantly-recognizable name and features) and presentation has been replicated again and again, both in IGT titles and by pretty much everyone else who makes gambling devices. How many Wheel of Fortune devices a casino has is a pretty good indicator of its size and quality, much the way that a sporting arena might be judged on how many seats, restrooms, and hot dog stands it has within its walls.
Although Wheel of Fortune has been IGT’s monster success to date, it is by now means the company’s only big winner. Capitalizing on the game show theme, IGT has also produced slot machines based on television chestnuts Family Feud, Jeopardy, and The Price Is Right. In the vein of iconic TV shows, it has rolled out games based on creepy classics Elvira, The Addams Family, and The Munsters; sitcom greats like Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Licensed slot games have become huge throughout the American land-based and online slot machine gambling markets in recent years, but IGT devices always contain a certain extra something. Primarily, the company is willing to shell out the bucks to get many of the original actors to lend their voices for audio on the devices, and spares no expense in turning out state-of-the-art graphics.
IGT also pioneered the field of online slot machine progressive networks worth multiple millions of dollars in jackpots. For the first time, the company linked several different devices (on the World Wide Web, this could conceivably be thousands and thousand of virtual pokies!) to a common jackpot that grows with every bet that is not a win. You are much less likely to win the big prize at one of these linked network games, but players usually don’t care a whit. The potential for winning life-changing amounts of money seems just as close as ever, and the prizes have never been bigger. Most progressive jackpot slot games start with no less than fifty grand (and sometimes one hundred!) in the pot, and only go up from there.
Make no bones about it, IGT has become the most-respected name in the slot machine gambling business in part because of its contributions to some of the most essential industry tenets, and its several blockbuster titles. But IGT has consistently stayed atop the pack because of a top-shelf business strategy, too. The company has made a habit of buying up companies that were once its competitors, and snowballing the best of these rivals’ business into one consolidated mass. One of the company’s first significant acquisitions was Anchor Gaming, with which it had worked in partnership during the 1990s on new game development. IGT gained a huge technical edge in 2003 when it snapped up Silicon Gaming. Silicon Gaming once represented a substantial threat to IGT’s technological prowess, with Pentium processors and CD-ROM technology emerging in their products. That same year, the company bought out Acre Gaming. Two years later, WagerWorks became a subsidiary of IGT, as well.
IGT’s success has given it the ability to weather some storms that smaller and less-powerful companies have fallen under. Even with the poor state of the American economy of late, IGT is keeping its head above water as many of its competitors are having to hustle to bail themselves out of danger. Financial experts are banking on IGT being one of the few slot machine companies that is almost guaranteed to come through the current struggles in the United States (the double-headed hydra of the UIGEA and a growing recession) intact and relatively unscathed.
The history of IGT is one that’s still being written. In coming years, we will see this huge land-based and online slot machine manufacturing company continue to grow and thrive as it consistently outpaces its competition and heads up new advances in the gambling industry. That’s something you can bet on!