The Rise and Fall of Fruit Machines

Crystal Fruits Slots Image Next to Stock Market Arrows Image

Fruit machines are relatively popular throughout the UK. They’re available in many pubs in Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

However, fruit machines (a.k.a. fruities) were once far more popular throughout this country. They used to dominate the British gambling scene.

What happened? I’m going to discuss how fruities rose to prominence along with why they’re no longer quite as popular as they once were.

Fruit Machines Arose From a Legal Loophole

Charles Fey invented the slot machine in San Francisco in 1895. The earliest slots thereafter where harmless forms of gaming that offered candy and cigarettes as prizes.

But these games eventually began offering real-money prizes as they spread to casinos in Las Vegas and beyond. At this point, state and national governments began viewing slot machines as gambling.

England was no different in this regard. It began putting rules and regulations in place that dealt with slot machines.

However, British gaming regulators legalized skill-based games in the 1960s. This ruling created the loophole that spawned fruit machines.

Game developers realized that they could create a type of slot that would be legal almost anywhere—not just in casinos. They merely needed to add skill-based elements to their slots.

Row of Vintage Slot Machines

Fruities were born out of the desire to bypass gambling restrictions at the time. Developers added “nudge” and “hold” features to make their slots differ from standard casino slot machines.

Hold allows you to hold one or more rules in place after a round. Meanwhile, you respin the rest of the reels in hopes of earning a (better) prize.

Nudge lets you bump a reel up or down one position. The hope is that when you bump the reel, you’ll nudge a more favorable symbol into view.

Hold and nudge don’t exactly require the same level of expertise as, say, Call of Duty. But they did bring enough skill into the equation to make fruities legal on a mainstream basis.

Fruities Spread Across Britain

Before fruit machines, slot machines were unskilled affairs that were only legal in regulated casinos. Developer couldn’t just sell slots to random restaurants and pubs.

Everything changed when fruities came about, though. Suddenly, developers had a much larger market to offer their games to.

Pubs and arcades, meanwhile, filled with these machines. They had great success with fruities due to the combination of gambling and skill elements.

British gamblers rushed to arcades and pubs to try their luck at winning big. They appreciated the small degree of control they had over the results through hold and nudge.

Soon, a UK resident no longer had to visit a far-off casino just to gamble. They could head to the local pub and enjoy gaming no matter if they lived in a big or small town.

Slot Machines & Casinos Become More Prevalent

Fruit machines were a huge hit from the 1960s to the 80s. But then again, gaming technology wasn’t too advanced in those days.

Fruities were, for the most part, much like classic slot machines. They featured three or five reels, fruit symbols, and limited betting/gameplay options.

In the early 1980s, video slot machines began taking off in casinos. Unlike classic slots and fruit machines at the time, video slots weren’t limited by mechanical reels and basic symbols.

Instead, they gave, and still give, developers more options regarding graphics and themes. Game providers could suddenly add advanced graphics and animations.

Fruities began looking old by comparison. The hold and nudge features only got them so far when five-reel video slots were offering high-tech graphics and unique bonuses.

Video slot machines compared to fruit machines have become more and more advanced over time. They now offer 3D graphics, multiple features, movie-quality animations, and a wide variety of betting options.

FOBTs & Online Slots Add More Competition

Video slots may have been the first type of gaming to cut into the fruity’s success. But even more competition would come about in the early 2000s.

The UK saw an explosion of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). At first, betting shops were legally allowed to have as many FOBTs as they could reasonably fit in their establishments.

The sports betting industry began relying on fixed-odds terminals to bring in additional revenue. Eventually, they were banking on FOBTs for the majority of their profits.

Gaming regulators felt the need to react to the widespread growth of FOBTs. They responded by limiting each shop to just four terminals.

Group of Themed Fruit Machines

Not even this measure worked, though. The industry simply opened more shops so that they could offer four FOBTs in additional locations.

Online gambling brought yet another competitor to the fold. Unregulated online casinos have been serving the UK since the mid-1990s

However, the Gambling Act of 2005 paved the way for legal internet casinos. Suddenly, licensed gaming sites could not only offer slots throughout the country but also advertise them through mainstream outlets.

It was pretty clear at this point that fruit machines weren’t the main game in town. Land-based video slots, online slots, and FOBTs all began dominating the gaming industry.

Fruit Machines Aren’t Completely Gone – They’ve Just Been Assimilated

Fruities definitely aren’t available in the abundance that they were throughout the 1970s and 80s. Plus, most fruit machines don’t look anything like the ones from yesteryear.

Fruit machines have taken on a modern look by incorporating video slots elements. When you play a fruity today, you won’t be spinning mechanical reels and only seeing fruit symbols line up.

The current games feature entertaining animations, better-designed symbols, and more features. Rather than just offering hold and nudge, these games also contain free spins, wild symbols, scatter payouts, and/or second-screen bonuses.

Fruit machines from years past have almost disappeared. The fruities that are available today have basically been assimilated into the slots industry.

They have characteristics of old fruit machines through the form of hold, nudge, and fruit-based symbols. But they also offer graphics and features that help them stay competitive with real money slots.

Can You Still Find Classic Fruities Today?

Some gamblers have a penchant for nostalgia. Therefore, developers still produce a limited amount of classic fruit machines.

Even the classic games don’t contain mechanical reels. The latter are definitely out of style and more difficult to produce nowadays.

Mario Kart Themed Fruit Machine

Instead, classic fruities feature three reels, 1-5 paylines, and fruit symbols. They also usually don’t offer any bonuses besides hold, nudge, and wild multipliers (wild symbol that multiply wins).

Pubs in Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland may offer classic fruit machines. You can also find these games at online casinos in limited capacity.


Fruit machines were born at a time when developers realized they could exploit UK gambling laws. Thanks to hold and nudge, these games passed for skill-based forms of gaming.

Of course, the house still holds the edge even with skill elements involved. But fruities contained just enough skill to bypass UK laws and enter pubs and arcades.

The gaming situation has changed greatly in the country today. Legal casino slots, FOBTs, and online slots are available at every turn.

Developers no longer need to exploit loopholes just to serve a wider range of customers. Therefore, fruit machines don’t have the same impact that they once did.

But you can still find modern versions of fruities available today. Newer fruit machines are more of blend of slots and classic fruities.