I’ve got a bit of a love / hate relationship with Fruit Machines (or ‘Puggies’ as we call them in Scotland). I guess they’re called Slot Machines or One Armed Bandits in America, but that’s a slightly different kind of game I think. More of that later.

For me, Fruit Machines were in that trifecta of ‘flashy-lighty’ machines that drew my attention as a young kid, along with arcade machines and pinballs. Pinballs were a pretty rare sight for me where I lived, and arcade machines were an obvious draw but I only really saw them on special occasions like day trips to the coast or long motorway drives, but fruit machines seemed to be everywhere. They’re obviously designed to attract people to them, and to a little kid like myself who loved video games and electronic gadgets, these big arcade-shaped machines lighting up like a Christmas tree, always used to fascinate me.

One of my earliest fruit machine memories was one Sunday lunchtime when I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. We used to go out for a pub lunch every Sunday in the bar at our local tennis club. Any sort of sports club bar like that would always have a fruit machine. I seem to remember the one they had was a Scooby Doo themed machine, or something like that. One day I was sitting with my family having my scampi and chips, and we just heard this ‘cha-ching’ noise, signifying that someone had won a prize on the fruit machine. But the noise didn’t stop. It just went on and on. The guy had won the £100 jackpot and it was paying out in 10ps. The bar manager ended up having to give the guy a bag or a box to scoop all the coins into. I remember how exciting that was to me at that time.

That experience sticks in my mind, because I always had a sense of awe around these machines and the power they had to give out prizes. Luckily for me I was no good at them. Lucky because, who knows, I might have spent too much money on them if I had been any good at them. Nowadays, I do enjoy a little flutter in general every so often, but nothing regular, just special occasions like The Grand National, World Cups or occasional trips to the Casino. And it’s so easy nowadays as an adult to have a flutter, in terms of walking into one of many bookies on every high street, or gambling online such as the Betfair online bonus, or it being easier to get into casinos these days. But back in the day being a young adult in the 90s the main way to gamble was to play fruit machines. And like I said, luckily, I was rubbish, otherwise I could have put a lot of money into them.

Obviously the majority of the game is luck, but there are still lots of complex nuances and tips & tricks that you can learn over time. I had two friends who were experts, and I used to watch them for hours and still never learn the rules. I never knew how my friends learned their tricks either, as there was no internet back in those days. They were kind of similar to pinballs in some ways because if you knew how to play it properly you could get into extra features or sub games in some cases. On Fruit Machines, if you get a certain sequence on the main reels then it let you go up the lights into the sub game that takes place on the main vertical part of the machine. This is when the lights really start flashing and it gets quite exciting. Often these games include skill stops or Hi/Lo guesses or mini games like that. And although you get a sense of being in control, I’m sure that the majority of it all is predetermined.

I think one of the main differences between fruit machines in the UK and slot machines in the US, is the concept of Holding and Nudging. I believe this was due to some UK gambling law that said in order to be able to win prizes the game had to have an element of skill, and not just be pure luck. So they introduced the concept of choosing to Hold a reel, and let just the other two reels spin, thereby increasing your changes of completing a full line, and also being able to Nudge a reel so that you could look up to see what item or fruit was coming next on a reel and nudge it down one, thereby controlling the playing field slightly. This led to players using tactics and learning nuances, cheats and tricks about how machines played. I think that these cheats were often false, but they gave the player the sense of controlling their destiny a bit more. One main ‘trick’ was to ‘Hold after Nudge’, where you would nudge a reel down and then hold it, and this would apparently increase the chances of the machine paying out on the next spin. I certainly do remember my friends demonstrating situations like this and they would often get a payout. I never quite got it myself, but it was great to watch.

The one thing I did learn from my friends is that it’s mostly about timing. If you’ve been watching someone else pump 10ps into a machine for 30-60mins without getting any prizes out and they walk away, then that’s your time to slip in, and the chances are the machine will pay out reasonably quickly. But even that is quite subjective. What exactly is the best time? It all seemed a bit too risky for me and I would rather spend my money on arcade machines where I knew what I was getting.

The jackpots you can win on these machines vary quite a bit. I remember our members-only golf club had a public bar, where the fruit machine there had a top prize of about £20 or maybe £50, but I think the machine in the members-only bar had a prize of about £200.

Obviously gambling can be a big problem if done to excess. It can become addictive and so has to be done responsibility. I believe new laws are being put forward to reduce the prize limits on fruit machines in the UK. I’m sure this news will be received as good and bad by various people/companies. One thing that may arise from it is that cheap fruit machines might popping up on eBay. Who knows, I might pick one up and put it on freeplay just to have a nice ‘flashy-lighty’ machine in my retrocave. I just like hitting the buttons, watching the flashing lights and playing the games. There’s something quite satisfying about fruit machines, even just watching them. The noise of the reels going ’thump’ is very satisfying, and I’m 100% sure that’s all on purpose. The psychology that goes into these things, the noises, the lights, the games, must be fascinating. There are some very cool themed machines too. I’d just have to work out which retro theme I would like! Very possibly this awesome Bullseye one!