Super Wheel Slot Machine – Perla Barragan of San Francisco, California, 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 machine game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
Mayor Carolyn Goodman, left, presents Vanna White with the Key to the City for 20 years of Wheel of Fortune during the 2016 G2E Convention. (Courtesy IGT)
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Wheel of Fortune slots at the Zone Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The slot machine 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 slots area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot machine game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
A gambler spins a wheel in the Wheel of Fortune slots area at the Plaza Hotel and Casino, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot machine 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, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Wheel of Fortune slot machine game celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenschmidttt
Wheel of Fortune co-host and letterer Vanna White plays the Wheel of Fortune slot machine at the 2016 Global Gaming Expo trade show. (Courtesy of IGT)
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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, left, presents entertainer Vanna White with a key to the city during the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Sands Expo and Convention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. IGT’s Wheel of Fortune slot machine is celebrating its 20th. anniversary. Review-Magazine file photo
The game’s sound effects, tones and tunes culled from the popular TV game show are just one of the reasons why IGT’s most popular slot machine has endured for 25 years.
Starting June 15 and continuing for the next few months through December 1, the company is observing “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 marked the first licensed slot machine brand and is a precursor to many other themed games featuring famous movies, TV shows and celebrities.
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And while Wheel of Fortune makes a big visual impact on the casino floor with its 250 different game variations — some of them in cabinets more than 11 feet tall — it’s the sounds they make that seem to keep fans coming back.
“You can’t walk a casino floor without hearing it,” said Boris Hallerbach, director of product management for premium products at IGT in Reno. “It’s like the games are calling the players.”
Plaza CEO Jonathan Josell has the same impression. 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 sounds of the wheel of fortune game, whether you hear it 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, the Wheel of Fortune song and the sound of those reels.
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According to Hallerbach, it started when former IGT chairman Charles Mathewson attended an awards dinner and “by a happy accident” sat next to the CEO of Sony Pictures Television. Over dinner, they talked about the potential of teamwork to develop game show collaboration on a slot machine.
“It was a bit difficult for an entertainment and television company to discuss their content on gaming machines,” Hallerbach said. “It was important to be sensitive to how we presented the slot game and experience, and we wanted some separation from the TV show and the slot machine.”
Although 1996 is recognized as the birth year of Wheel of Fortune, an important development occurred a decade earlier that created Willy’s success.
IGT introduced Wide Area Progressive Jackpots, which essentially combine machines from a wide area that contribute money into a single prize pool. IGT introduced the concept to another king of the slot floor, Megabucks.
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Ten years later, Wheel of Fortune borrowed from a wide-area progressive system and ensured that some of the game’s biggest winners became 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 that time, a small Las Vegas company, Anchor Gaming, had a patented wheel that was perfectly suited to the Wheel of Fortune game. Anchor produced slot games, including its Golden Wheel, and operated casinos in Cripple Creek and Black Hawk, Colorado, and a tribal casino in California. But his greatest contribution to the industry was providing the wheel that made the Wheel of Fortune famous.
IGT initially leased the right to use the wheel. But in 2001, IGT became a dominant international presence and acquired Anchor in a stock deal for $1.1 billion, creating Nevada’s largest publicly traded company at the time.
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“We took this wheel from Anchor and created a game that combined the Wheel of Fortune brand with strong IGT base games like Double Diamond and created something that really struck a chord with players,” said Hallerbach. “It was the first brand in slots, and people who were familiar with the TV show every night, I think, had an instant connection to the Wheel of Fortune slot game.”
With the rise in popularity of the Wheel slot and the television show, IGT’s chain of studios began inventing variations of the game that proved to be as popular as the earlier versions. IGT introduced a video version of Wheel in 2001.
As technology improved, IGT added more paylines and more titles to play in the mix, attracting a wider audience to the game.
In 2006, IGT introduced the Wheel of Fortune Super Spin, a machine that delivers the game’s bonus features to more people faster. In 2009, thanks to these extensive progressive jackpots, the Wheel awarded the largest jackpot of all time, $14.4 million, to a gambler in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Cabinets and displays got bigger for the game. Some versions had room for multiple players. The graphics have become clearer and more realistic.
When IGT first launched its True 3D display products in 2016, TV show host Vanna White met and photographed people attending the Global Gaming Expo trade show in Las Vegas. He received a ceremonial key in Las Vegas as a celebration.
IGT followed up with the 11-foot-tall Wheel of Fortune MegaTower in 2017, and in 2018 the company introduced a new visual element to the game called True 4D, in which game elements seem to jump off the video screen and into the player’s lap.
A total of 250 different game variations are offered, and today players can sit back and play while the voices of host Pat Sajak and co-host and letterer White interact with them. Players might hear Jim Thornton, the host of the TV show.
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For proprietary reasons, IGT officials would not say how many Wheel of Fortune games are installed on casino floors in 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’s been on casino floors for so long,” Khin said. “They feel very comfortable and many players have a relationship with the game that goes back a long time. Players will come to the casino specifically looking for this game. “
Voices, progressive jackpots and the game’s popularity 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 largest operators of lottery games in the world. 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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Perhaps the most recognizable Wheel of Fortune slot machine player in the country is social media influencer Brian Christopher, a Toronto actor 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 about my gambling, and the video went viral,” Christopher said of the birth of bcslots.com and his company, BC Slots.
Christopher travels all over the country, mostly in the Southwest, and comes to Las Vegas several times a year, making YouTube videos of himself playing and opening slot machines.
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