How FOBTs Killed the Fruit Machine

Skull on a Crosshair With a Fruit and Betting Machine Background

The name fruit machine has become synonymous with the UK gambling scene. Fruit machines (a.k.a. fruities) were once the most-popular form of gaming in the country.

Then…fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) came around. FOBTs, which are still largely popular throughout the country, have all but put fruities out of commission.

I’ll discuss more on how FOBTs took over the UK gambling industry and put a massive dent in fruit machines’ popularity. I’ll also discuss if you can still find any fruities today.

Rise of the Fruit Machine

Slot machines were the first type of gaming to feature spinning reels and symbols. Starting in San Francisco in the late-19th century, they spread throughout the United States and, eventually, other countries.

The UK began adopting slot machines in the first half of the 20th century. But like many nations at the time, it also had restrictive rules on the matter.

By the 1960s, though, lawmakers approved many forms of gambling, including casino slot machines. They even legalized skill-based gaming in pubs and arcades.

Of course, British Parliament didn’t necessarily intend to create a loophole that allowed arcades and pubs to offer widespread gambling. But this is exactly what happened.

Closeup of a Fruit Betting Machine

Game developers realized that they could legally provide gambling machines outside of casinos if they just added skill-based elements. Hold and nudge were born from this idea.

Hold refers to a feature where you hold one or more reels in place after a spin. You then respin the other reels in hopes of earning a larger payout.

Nudge lets you bump one or more reels, so that they move up or down one position. This is another feature that’s designed to help you collect more payouts and larger prizes.

Nudge and hold add just enough skill to the equation to where fruit machines became legal. They also enable developers to sell their games to a much bigger market beyond the casino.

Fruit Machines Ruled UK Gambling Market for Decades

Fruities were an instant hit throughout the UK. Many gamblers rushed to these machines under the illusion that they could control the results to a larger degree.

Hold and nudge can be strategically used to boost winnings. However, they don’t add enough skill to the equation to circumvent the house edge.

Some players at the time didn’t realize this, though. They believed that, much like with other arcade machines, they could use their skill to largely influence the results.

Classic fruities combined popular elements of casino and arcade gaming. They used the same basic gameplay model as slots with a dash of skill added in.

Soon, gaming centers and pubs filled with these machines. A gambler could easily play a fruity just by walking to the nearest pub or entertainment complex.

Fruit machines remained the standard of UK gaming for a few decades. They eventually had to compete with slot machines, but they still held a prominent place in the market.

FOBTs Entered the UK Market in the Early 2000s

Video slots weren’t quite a death-knell to fruit machines. They were only legal in land-based casinos, which doesn’t appeal to everybody.

Meanwhile, fruities could be found at many non-gambling businesses. They had more mainstream appeal as a result.

However, a major competitor entered the scene in the early 2000s. Fixed-odds betting terminals started appearing at British betting shops.

Row of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

An FOBT is similar to both a fruity and standard slot machine. It features the same type of cabinet, betting options, and gameplay. Therefore, gamblers had little trouble adjusting to these terminals.

As an added bonus, FOBTs also cover a wider range of games than fruities and slots. They can feature a blackjack, bingo, roulette, slots, or virtual horse racing game.

After seeing the popularity of these machines, betting shops quickly rolled out countless FOBTs across the country. Soon, Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales had access to countless new gambling terminals.

Gamblers Quickly Take to FOBTs

The influx of fixed-odds betting terminals gave UK residents more opportunities to gamble than ever before. Much like with fruities and arcades, one could quickly reach a nearby betting shop if they wanted to play an FOBT.

These machines were so widespread that they eventually began causing social problems in the country. Problem players lost so much money on FOBTs that lawmakers dubbed them the crack-cocaine of gambling.

Politicians eventually felt that they needed to take action. In the mid-2000s, they placed a limit on how many terminals a shop could offer.

This limit reduces the amounts of FOBTs to four per establishment. However, the industry found a way around this issue.

Major operators like Bet365, Ladbrokes, and William Hill started opening betting venues in nearly any vacant building they could find. They countered the FOBT limit by launching more shops in order to provide more terminals.

Soon, fruit machines became a distant memory as FOBTs spread like wildfire. Many gamblers enjoyed being able to play a variety of electronic games rather than just basic fruities.

Fruities Are More Like Regular Slots Today

Fruit machines haven’t completely vacated the UK gambling scene. Instead, they’ve simply evolved into something different.

Fruit games of the past often had 3 or 5 reels, 1 to 20 paylines, and limited features behind hold and nudge. These machines were still popular decades ago, because gaming technology wasn’t overly advanced back then.

Furthermore, the competition was limited to casino slot machines for years. It wasn’t until FOBTs came around that the fruity industry truly had to worry.

Classic fruit machines are in limited supply today and remain relics of gambling’s past. Modern fruities boast more paylines and features.

Rather than merely spinning the reels and holding or nudging, you might unlock expanding wild symbols, random wilds, free spins, and win multipliers.

Companies that still develop fruities realize they need to pack more entertainment into their games. They’ve adapted by essentially making fruities seem more and more like regular slots.

Of course, fruit machines have always been an offshoot of slots. Now, however, you can’t tell as much of a difference between the two types of machines.

Will These Games Be Around in the Future?

Again, fruit machines aren’t like they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. They’ve evolved to become more like modern real money slots.

You can still tell a fruity by its patented fruit symbols and hold and nudge features. However, these machines also boast more bonuses, animations, and high-quality graphics than ever before.

Will the classic fruit terminals of years’ past still be around? Probably not. But the morphed versions that include modern features will likely be here for decades to come.

UK Based Fruit Gambling Machine

Developers gradually added more entertaining aspects to these games over time. I imagine that they’ll continue the evolution of fruit machines moving forward.

Classic fruities may eventually vanish from business floors completely. At best, they’ll be sold at auctions like classic slot machines from the 1960s and before.

Again, though, fruit machines are still going to be around in some form or another. Eventually, you might not even be able to pick them apart from regular slots.

Conclusion

Fruities boomed thanks to a loophole in British laws during the 1960s. Developers seized the chance by adding hold and nudge to what were essentially classic slot machines.

Fruit machines enjoyed widespread success afterward. Many gamblers appreciated being able to use some skill to increase their winnings.

Competition, however, is what eventually started the downfall of fruities. Video slots already provided stiff competition, but FOBTs brought yet another powerful rival to the market.

Fruity developers began realizing that they couldn’t continue drawing large numbers gamblers with classic fruities. That said, their modern games are blends of fruit and slot machine elements.