Pub Fruit MachinesWhen it comes to thinking about places where you can play certain casino games, there’s one rather obvious option that sometimes goes completely unnoticed. Pubs up and down the country have had fruit machines somewhere on the premises since pretty much the first day that they were allowed to, giving regulars and occasional visitors the chance to have a drink and a spin of the wheel at the same time.

The more traditional fruit machines have limited options in terms of what players can get involved with, but in the modern day they have become more and more sophisticated and often allow you to play numerous different game types that fit into the ‘casino game’ bracket. Those that use them will see that they offer a similar experience to the online slot games that have become so popular with online bettors.

A Brief History of Fruit Machines

Old fruit machines in Devon

Old fruit machines in Teignmouth Pier, Devon (Billy Hicks /

In the Brooklyn district of New York City in 1891, two men named Sittman and Pitt came up with a machine that contained five drums that held fifty playing cards. Two were removed from the full deck in order to give the house an edge. It soon began to gain popularity and was installed in bars throughout the city, with players entering money, pulling a lever and eventually giving a poker hand to the player.

Prizes Instead of Payouts

Back then there was no payout method, so instead the bars would offer prizes such as cigars, shots of whiskey or a free drink depending on what the player got. At the same time that this machine was being popularised, a man named Charles Fey in San Francisco, California began developing a machine that involved three spinning reels that had five symbols on them:

  • Diamonds
  • Hearts
  • Horseshoes
  • Spades
  • A Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

The machine soon became known as the Liberty Bell and the more streamlined nature of it allowed for automatic payouts. Similar machines were also created that dished out winnings in the form of chewing gum that was fruit flavoured, with the various fruits that made up the flavours soon finding their way onto the reels. The food variant of winnings was a way of avoiding laws that banned gambling for money in some US states.

Liberty Bell Fruit Machine

The Liberty Bell Fruit Machine
Credit: Nazox [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As you can probably imagine, these were the grandfathers of the machines that would soon become known as fruit machines. The machines began to make their way over the United Kingdom in the 1960s, but the issue was that automatic gambling machines were illegal in the country at the time. As a result, Trevor Carter, who was the co-founder of Carfield Engineers Ltd, came up with the Nudge button that turned fruit machines from being games of chance once of skill. This meant that they were no longer illegal, hence their sudden proliferation around the country.

Pub Fruities Are Compensated Rather Than Random

Pub fruit machine

Toby Bradbury /

The first thing to know about the sort of machines that you’ll find in pubs is that most of them operate in a compensated manner rather than being truly random. It’s quite a confusing matter, but understanding it is key to understanding why slot machines might seem to pay out more than slot machines you play online.

A machine that is programmed to be random will use statistical probability algorithms to ensure that their target Return To Player percentage is paid out. Previous wins and losses are entirely irrelevant, with the chance of winning remaining constant throughout your playing time.

That differs from a compensated slot. With a compensated machine what has gone before is relevant to what will come next. If a machine has been below the RTP percentage that is its target then it will become ‘looser’ in order to even things out. Conversely, should it have been too generous then it will tighten up for a period in order to create balance.

Whilst the prize distribution in both cases is determined entirely by chance, with randomised machines each spin of the wheel is essentially starting afresh whereas that’s not the case with compensated ones. For that reason it can feel as though compensated machines suddenly become more generous and random ones are always playing tight, taking your money in a drip, drip, drip fashion.

The other key thing to realise is that Return To Player percentages are figured out over ten thousand plays or more on compensated machines and one hundred thousand plays of more on random ones. That means that you won’t necessarily be guaranteed a payout of ninety-five pence per every pound gambled on a machine with an RTP of 95%.

Fruit Machines Tend to Have Worse RTPs

Part of the balance for Fruit Machines when it comes to their seeming generosity on account of how loose they are is found in the fact that their Return To Player average percentage tends to be much worse for the punter than on the sort of slot games that you’ll play in online casinos.

Pays Little Often Rather Than a Lot Occasionally

Whilst the law says that machines must be capable of making a payout on every spin, machine manufacturers get around this by paying a little often rather than a lot occasionally. It means that you might get seventy pence back for your pound for several goes in a row, but little by little the machine is chipping away at your stake money.

No Minimum Amount Applied

There’s also no minimum amount that needs to be applied to a slot or fruit machine. The lower the Return to Player percentage is the less chance there is that players will keep coming back to play, so manufacturers and owners of machines tend to set them quite high in order to keep people coming back, knowing that they’ll still win in the long run.

The lack of minimum payout, when the minimum RTP in the United States of America sits at 75%, means that less scrupulous owners can set their machines to have a Return to Player percentage of as little as 70%. This is normally the case on the machines that you’ll find at motorway service stations or in some pubs, where the need to ensure repeat business is much less than somewhere like a casino.

The Class of Fruit Machines

UK Gambling Commission logoBecause of the different nature of fruit machines, they are also classified differently to the likes of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. They are usually put into Class C, depending on what they offer and where they’re located. Gaming machines that fit into Category C are technically allowed to also offer games from Category D, although the usually don’t when you’re talking about the types of fruit machines you’d find in a pub.

Category C

According to the Gambling Commission, the maximum stake on a Category C machine is £1 and the maximum payout is £100. Pubs nowadays are allowed a maximum of two Category C machines, though it’s different for other venues such as Members’ Clubs and bingo halls. They need to be licensed by local authorities, which can issue gaming machine permits. If you want to have one you must have one of the following:

  • 2005 Act casino operating licence
  • 1968 Act casino operating licence
  • general betting standard operating licence
  • pool betting licence
  • non-remote bingo operating licence
  • AGC licence
  • FEC licence
  • alcohol licensed premises
  • gaming machine permit

A gaming machine technical licence is the requirement for companies that wish to actually manufacture fruit machines, with different types available depending on the company. Obviously all machines on a premises that has the correct licence type must meet the gaming machine technical standard laid out by the UKGC.

Testing Required

When it comes to testing the various machines, it must either be carried out by an independent laboratory or else via the processes laid out by the manufacturer under strict conditions. The key thing about the Return to Player average is that it must be displayed clearly for users to see, but it doesn’t matter what the RTP is as, as mentioned above, there is no minimum RTP percentage. The RTP represents how much will be paid out over a length of time, as opposed to over a playing session. This will naturally vary from player to player.