New Wheel Of Fortune Slot Machine – Perla Barragan of San Francisco, Calif., plays a slot machine in the Wheel of Fortune slot area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
Mayor Carolyn Goodman, left, gives the key to the city to Vanna White for 20 years of “Wheel of Fortune” slots during the 2016 G2E convention. (courtesy of IGT)
New Wheel Of Fortune Slot Machine
The Wheel of Fortune slot area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The slot game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
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Gamblers try their luck in the Wheel of Fortune slot area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
A gambler spins a wheel in the Wheel of Fortune slot area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
A gambler plays in the Wheel of Fortune slots area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
Wheel of Fortune co-host and letter spinner Vanna White plays the Wheel of Fortune slot machine at the 2016 Global Gaming Expo (courtesy of IGT)
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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, left, presents entertainer Vanna White with the key to the city during the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Sands Expo and Convention Center on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. IGT’s Wheel of Fortune slot machine celebrates its 20th anniversary. View-photo of the log file
The game’s sound effects, tones and melodies drawn from the popular televised game are just one of the reasons why IGT’s most popular slot machine has survived for 25 years.
Starting June 15 and running through the next few months until December 1, the company is celebrating “25 Weeks of Wheel of Fortune,” a silver anniversary tribute to the brand that includes special giveaways through the Wheel Facebook page.
IGT says Wheel of Fortune marks the first licensed slot brand and is the forerunner of many themed games featuring prominent movies, television shows and celebrities.
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And while the Wheel of Fortune makes a big visual impact on the casino floor with its 250 different game variations — some of them in cabinets that are more than 11 feet tall — it’s the sounds they make that seem to keep fans coming back.
“You can’t walk on a casino floor without hearing it,” said Boris Hallerbach, IGT’s director of product management for premium products in Reno. “It’s as if the games are calling the players.”
That’s the same impression Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel has. The downtown property has a Wheel of Fortune Slots area, where a mix of different machine variations are grouped together.
“It’s iconic,” Jossel said. “It’s the sound of the game, everyone knows those Wheel of Fortune sounds, whether you hear them at the airport or in the casino. It’s the first sound you hear when you arrive in Las Vegas and the last sound you hear when you leave. It’s almost synonymous with Vegas, that Wheel of Fortune song and the sound of those reels.”
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According to Hallerbach’s testimony, it began when former IGT president Charles Mathewson attended an awards dinner and “by sheer coincidence” sat next to a Sony Pictures television executive. Over dinner, they discussed the potential of teaming up to develop a slot show co-op game.
“It was a little difficult to get an entertainment and television company to consider their content on slot machines,” Hallerbach said. “The sensitivity of how we presented the slot game and the experience was important, and we wanted to have some separation from the television show and the slots.”
While 1996 is considered the birth year of the Wheel of Fortune, a decade earlier a significant development occurred that would create much of the Wheel’s success.
IGT has introduced wide area progressive jackpots, essentially linking machines from a wide area that contribute money into a single prize pool. IGT introduced the concept with another slot king, Megabucks.
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Ten years later, Wheel of Fortune would borrow a wide-area progressive system, ensuring that some of the game’s biggest winners would become millionaires.
The earliest Wheel of Fortune game that came out didn’t even have a wheel. It was just a three-reel nickel mechanical slot game with a game-show theme.
Around this time, a small Las Vegas company, Anchor Gaming, had a patented wheel that was a perfect fit to incorporate into the Wheel of Fortune game. Anchor made slot games, including its Wheel of Gold, and operated casinos in Cripple Creek and Black Hawk, Colorado, and a tribal casino in California. But his greatest contribution to the industry was delivering the wheel that made Wheel of Fortune famous.
IGT first leased the rights to use the wheel. But in 2001, IGT grew to a dominant international presence and bought Anchor in an all-stock deal for $1.1 billion, forming, at the time, Nevada’s largest publicly traded company.
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“We used Anchor’s wheel in the process and created a game that combined the Wheel of Fortune brand with strong IGT core games like Double Diamond and created something that really had a positive impact on players,” said Hallerbach. “It was the first brand in slots, and people who were familiar with the show on television every night, I think they had an instant affinity for the Wheel of Fortune slot game.”
With the popularity of the Wheel slot and the rise of TV shows, IGT’s network of studios began inventing variations of the game that proved to be as popular as the earliest versions. IGT introduced a video version of Wheel in 2001.
As technology improved, IGT added more paylines and mixed more denominations into the game, attracting a wider audience to the game.
In 2006, IGT introduced the “Wheel of Fortune Super Spin”, a vehicle that gets more people to the game’s bonus features faster. In 2009, thanks to those wide-area progressive jackpots, the Wheel delivered its biggest jackpot of all time, $14.4 million, to a gambler in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Cabinets and displays have become bigger to play with. Some versions had room for multiplayer. The graphics have become sharper and more realistic.
When IGT first promoted its True 3D screen products in 2016, the TV show’s Vanna White met and took pictures with people attending that year’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. As part of the celebration, she received the ceremonial key to the city of Las Vegas.
IGT followed with the Wheel of Fortune MegaTower, just over 11 feet tall, in 2017, and in 2018 the company introduced a new game visual, True 4D, in which game elements seemingly jump off the video screen and into the player’s lap.
A total of 250 different variations of the game are offered, and today players can sit back and play while the voices of host Pat Sajak with co-host and letter flip White interact with them. Players could also hear Jim Thornton, the announcer of the television show.
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For proprietary reasons, IGT officials won’t say how many Wheel of Fortune games are installed on casino floors across North America where the game is most popular, but Nick Khin, IGT’s chief operating officer for gaming, said it is in the thousands.
“Players are very loyal to the product; they trust the game because it has been on casino floors for so long,” Khin said. “They’re very comfortable, and many players have a relationship with the game that goes back a long way. Players will come to the casino specifically looking for that game.”
The sounds, progressive jackpots and familiarity of the game have allowed Wheel of Fortune to develop a diverse player base.
Another way IGT keeps the Wheel in front of people is through lottery tickets. IGT is one of the world’s largest operators of lottery games. In the United States, the company sells lottery tickets in 25 states. West of the Mississippi River, they can be purchased in Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and Texas.
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Probably the most recognizable Wheel of Fortune slot machine player in the country is social media influencer Brian Christopher, an actor from Toronto who moved to Southern California to try to make it in Hollywood and eventually became a YouTube sensation.
“One day, I posted some funny videos of myself gambling, and those videos ended up going viral,” Christopher said of the genesis of bcslots.com and his company BC Slots.
Christopher travels across the country, mostly in the Southwest, and comes to Las Vegas several times a year, making YouTube videos of himself playing and explaining slot machines.
He acknowledges variations