A Guide to Slot Symbols

Aaron Mitchell
Written byAaron MitchellWriter
Fact checked byTobias LindbergFact Checker

Many people worldwide play slots and are acquainted with the variety of symbols that appear on these machines and online games. But where do these symbols originate from, and what do they represent?

Whether it be the lucky 7 symbols, the cherry, or the liberty bell, slot players have long questioned how these symbols came to be used so widely in classic gambling slot games. Continue reading this guide to be transported on a journey through the slot symbols, including which one is the oldest to be used in the gambling world.

What are Slot Symbols?

Almost everyone will have seen symbols used in slot machines at some stage in their life, with these game symbols being used throughout the world for decades on various real-world slot machines, including slots online. Even those who have never actually played themselves in order to see the slot machine symbols, they're frequently used on TV to advertise the classic slots game that so many people know and love.

It's matching a combination of these slot machine symbols that determines what, if anything, a player has won. In the earliest days of the invention, the winnings had to be paid out manually, but in 1895, the symbols many will recognize today were introduced as part of upgrades to the game that made payouts automatic. Three suits of cards were left on the machines (diamonds, spades, and hearts), which now had only three reels, and the lucky horseshoe and liberty bell were also added to the mix. It's hard to know when the lucky 7 became a prominent feature in the classic slots game, but the number has always been considered fortunate by gambling punters.

Poker and the Early Slot Machines

Many may have been led to believe that the retro fruit machines often found in casinos were the first example of slot machine icons that were presented. This isn't the case, however, as the humble slot machine symbol goes back much further than the fruit machines most are familiar with today. In the 19th century, American bars, poker machines, and wheels of fortune games were extremely popular, and these pre-dated the slot machine. Due to the popularity of poker-based games, when the first slot machine appeared around 1891, it's only natural that the initial slot symbol was based on poker. These early slot machines had five reels, and they showed card faces as their symbols.

These first slot machines became known as "one-armed bandits" as it was possible to go bankrupt when playing them too much, hence the "bandit" term, and the lever used to spin the reels made up the "one-armed" part of the phrase. As menacing as a one-armed bandit may sound, these machines were much loved and became successful in many bars and casinos. The connection to the beloved poker-based machines, and the possibility to win big cash prizes, contributed to the success and popularity of the classic slots game.

Why do Slot Machines have Fruit Symbols?

When trying to find out what the slot machine symbols mean, many will think of the fruit icons that are known and loved today. While not featured in the early examples of slot machines, these fruit symbols have come to be synonymous with these machines right across the world in gambling spaces. The original "one-armed bandits" truly lived up to their name, and as it was becoming common for people to lose all of their money on these machines, they were actually banned when far-reaching measures were introduced. However, nobody likes being told what they can't do, and people don't want to give up these machines completely, which is when fruit machines started being produced in the 1900s.

Always looking for technicalities around the ban, businesses changed the original symbols of the machines to ones representing bubble gum flavors, and instead of winning cash prizes, it would be gum that the machines gave out instead. The early fruit machines became a fun way of promoting gum to the masses, and as bubble gum typically has fruit flavors, this is where the fruit-based symbols came from. The exact name of the company is disputed, but when the Bell-Fruit Gum company decided to release their own fruit machine, they opted to include the company logo as it resembled a bar of gum. This logo is what changed into the BAR symbol that many will recognize today.

The Different Kinds of Slot Symbols

The classic slots game has changed a lot since it was first created! Morphing beyond just a few symbols representing fruit-flavored gum, all manner of symbols can now be recognized in online casino slots such as those reviewed at SlotsRank. But what are the different slot symbols that can now be found, and what do they all mean? Continue reading because here are details about exactly those questions.

Standard Symbols

The move of slot games to the online world has opened up a whole host of opportunities. No longer dependent on reels, online slot game creators have been able to add a lot of excitement to the traditional format of the game by adding more graphically advanced symbols and fascinating new elements to the games. However, the standard symbols are still necessary for any slot-based game. Slots online have been able to bring everyone new and more advanced themes, sometimes based on TV shows and movies, which means the standard symbols are often card-based and will show characters or symbols relevant to the theme of that particular game. It could be said that this use of card-based images for the standard symbols is a return to the original poker-based symbols in the classic slots game.

One will find that the Jack, Ten, Queen, and King are commonly found throughout various online slot machine icons. The higher-value symbols will often be more representative of the theme of the game, such as a medieval theme, and may have more exciting 3D graphics to go along with them. These standard symbols will represent varying values of a win in a game but won't indicate a more special kind of win, such as a multiplier or bonus game.

Wild Symbols

Increasingly common and sought after in online slot games, wild symbols are unsurprisingly popular with players due to their ability to drastically increase the chance of winning in the game. These symbols come in different forms but are generally used to stand in place of another symbol when the game checks for a winning combination. For instance, if there are four lucky 7s and a wild symbol, then the wild can stand in for a 7 and trigger a win.

Constantly advancing the technology behind the games, online slots are now also using different kinds of wild symbols that bring various features to a game. An expanding wild will grow in size and replace any symbol that they cover, increasing the chances that the symbol becomes part of a winning payline. A walking wild will stay on the reel for several spins and will typically move from reel to reel until it exits. A sticky wild is similar, staying in place on the reel for several spins. Among the rarest of these wild symbols is the multiplier wild, which will increase the size of the player's winnings.

Scatter Symbols

The scatter symbols are rarer but are highly sought after by slot game fans who are always looking for ways to win prizes more easily. The benefit of landing a scatter symbol, varying by game, is that they usually can appear anywhere on the board for their bonus to be triggered and don't have to be on a conventional payline to take effect. Depending on the game, it may be necessary to have three of these symbols on the board at once rather than just one on its own, but as they can be anywhere on the board, the chances of them being activated are higher. The bonus awarded from a scatter symbol can range from a multiplier of the last placed bet to free extra spins.

Bonus Symbols

These symbols often have more ambitious graphics and, while sometimes different, typically trigger bonus games that tie into the slot's overall theme. Of the slot machine symbols, it's these bonus symbols that can add some real excitement to a round of spins online. The bonus games all depend on which slot is being played but will often require more interaction from the player, so paying attention to any instructions is recommended. Slot machine games are renowned for their simplicity, however, so these bonus games are never so complicated that someone would struggle to play, with the simple nature of slots being maintained.

A further bonus symbol that can appear in these online games is one that only appears at certain points of a game, for instance, during a round that was triggered by some free spins. These bonuses again can vary, but will often apply multipliers to winnings and potentially additional free spins.

Multiplier Symbols

Among the rarest to find, these slot game symbols do exactly as would be expected; they multiply a player's winnings by a varying amount. For instance, a win may be multiplied by four or five should one of these symbols appear on a winning line.

Stacked Symbols

Stacked symbols are a recent addition to online takes of the classic slot game and have quickly become popular with players. These symbols will take up a larger amount of space on the game reels, meaning they're far more likely to become part of a winning payline. This increasing chance of winning is what drives the popularity behind the new symbols, and in many ways, they function in similar ways to the wild symbols. New ways of these symbols functioning are being released all the time, with more and more games taking exciting steps to improve what's on offer. Checking the paytable of a game is always recommended for players, as this will detail what symbols are in the game and what cash prizes are possible.

What is the Oldest Slot Machine Symbol?

The symbols that appeared on the oldest known slot machine were the horseshoe, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a bell. This machine was created by Charles Fey in 1895, and any of those symbols could be considered the oldest to appear on a slot machine. Regardless of which of these symbols is considered the oldest, they are all part of the classic slot machine symbols and have been used worldwide for decades since, still commonly featuring in both physical slot machine games and online slots.

As this guide has shown, slot machines have a long history, and the symbols that appear on them have been around for generations of gamblers. Despite being banned at one stage, many people today love having a go on a good old "one-armed bandit."

About the author
Aaron Mitchell
Aaron Mitchell

Aaron "SlotScribe" Mitchell, Ireland's very own slot enthusiast, effortlessly merges the classic tales of the Emerald Isle with the digital spins of today. As a prolific writer for SlotsRank, he unveils the magic behind the reels, captivating readers across the globe.

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