It's not that long ago that if you were playing a slot machine, you probably were playing a game manufactured by IGT. And if it wasn't an IGT machine, it was a Bally game, or perhaps one by Sigma. Certainly, the machine had three spinning reels, with no bonuses and no video screen.
Even by the time riverboat gaming came to the Midwest in the early 1990s, diversity on the slots was slim. There was Red, White and Blue, and Double Diamonds ... and there was more Red, White and Blue, and more Double Diamonds.
The slot scene is much different today, with more manufacturers, more games and more options in designers' tool kits. In fact, there's enough variety to fill the ABCs with slot machine fun:
A is for Aristocrat, or Atronic, overseas manufacturers that have given us multiple-line bonusing games with a difference, and paved the way for the return of penny slots.
B is for Bally, an old-line slotmaker that has found new life with fresh products such as Blondie and Saturday Night Live, to go with proven favorites such as Blazing 7s.
C is for Cash for Life, Bally's progressives that give players a chance to win $1,000-plus a week for the rest of their lives.
D is for Double Diamond, still one of the most popular slots around, along with other IGT reel-spinning diamond games such as Diamonds Deluxe and Triple Diamond.
E is for Eastwood, as in Clint, who has licensed his image to WMS for a series of games that will start with two progressive "Fistful of Dollars" games.
F is for Free Spins, a favorite bonus on the Australian-style video games that have given a push to the popularity of penny and 2-cent games.
G is for Game Maker, the Bally machines that introduced Americans to the idea of being able to choose among several games at the same machine by touching an icon on the screen.
H is for Hyperlink, Aristocrat's system that adds a four-way progressive jackpot onto its established game themes. The smaller two progressives hit fairly frequently, while the others can get quite large - the best of both worlds for jackpot chasers.
I is for IGT, with a never-ending supply of new games (MASH, the Beverly Hillbillies) to go with the old (Red, White and Blue, the "Diamonds" variations).
J is for Jackpot, that top award players long to hit.
K is for Konami, a Japanese manufacturer making a splash with low-denomination video slots and licensed games such as Rocky, with images of Sylvester Stallone's movie boxer.
L is for Licensing, one of the hot trends in slot machines that brings players familiar names from The Price Is Right to Frank Sinatra to Jumble to the Munsters.
M is for Multidenominational, slots that let you choose whether to play for penny, 2-cent or 5-cent units - or maybe quarters, half-dollars and dollars - all at the same machine.
N is for Niche, a place in the casino for specialty games that may not appeal to all players. Slot directors tell me the Mikohn games I enjoy that test skill or knowledge, such as Battleship and Ripley's Believe It or Not, are niche games.
O is for One-armed bandits, once a common term for slot machines. Today, slots are mostly armless - that is, players push a button to start play instead of pulling down on a handle.
P is for Pennies, the hot new denomination on video slots with 15 or more paylines, taking bets of 20 or more coins per line.
Q is for Quarters, still the most common slot denomination in the United States, especially on reel-spinning games in Las Vegas.
R is for Random Number Generator, the computer program that determines what you'll see on the reels or video screen.
S is for Second Screen, where you'll go fishing in Reel 'Em In, select dishes from the Chinese menu in Fortune Cookie or fight off Brutus in Popeye, on your way to bonus credits.
T is for TITO, the ticket-in, ticket-out technology that makes possible penny slots and other low denominations that often pay out hundreds, even thousands of credits.
U is for Upright, the taller, narrower style of slot machine that accounts for a majority of units on the slot floor. The wider machines that sit lower to the ground are called slant tops.
V is for Video, an ever-increasing share of the slot market. Americans rejected video slots until the mid- to late 1990s, but they have been the fastest-growing area of the casino industry ever since.
W is for WMS, based in Waukegan, with its Monopoly Slots, Hollywood Squares, Reel 'Em In and other video slots, especially on its comfortable Bluebird slot cabinet.
X is for Xanadu, an Atronic game on its new e-motion video slot system, all decorated in reds, golds and blacks, with a bonus round that takes you into the dragon's chamber.
Y is for Yukon Gold in which WMS takes you prospecting for the precious metal slot players seek.
Z is for Zip, or Zero - the number of games I've found from major manufacturers that start with "Z." No doubt that'll change by the next time we recite our slot machine ABCs.