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The Changing Sounds of the Slot Machine

As you walk through a bank of slot machines, music might not be the first thing you notice. The neon colours, flashes of light and HD graphics often trump the chimes and dings. But close your eyes and for some, it sounds like a symphony.

“It’s very percussive, high bells and bubbly sounds,” says Aaron Little, lead guitarist for Orangeman, a band that regularly plays in Ontario casinos. “Most of it is in a range much higher than middle C on a piano, and it has a certain quality that definitely keeps you alert.”

John Acosta, leader and producer of the Bee Gees Gold tribute band, lives his life playing in casinos around the world. He puts it more succinctly: “The sounds of slot machines say, ‘It’s on! Let’s do this!’”

Sound and music reach us in fascinating ways, and slots are no exception. Over the last few years, several books have delved into this very subject, including Musicophilia by neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. “The emotional responses to music can be unbelievably complex and mysterious and deep,” Sacks writes. Consider how many memories are made singing your favourite songs with friends, and you get the picture of how powerful sound can be.

Traditionally, many of the cascading melodies of slot machine music have been tuned to the key of C Major so that whole banks of machines mesh together sonically. This was to avoid the unpleasant auditory experience of listening to two competing sounds, however times are changing.

In recent years, slot machine sounds have evolved with the tastes of players. According to Sherri Francis, Slot Operations Manager at OLG Casino Brantford, today’s machines increasingly incorporate music, dialogue and sound-effects licensed from a vast spectrum of TV and film franchises, including everything from The Walking Dead to the Wheel of Fortune. Many machines include the biggest hits of rock and pop icons such as KISS and Michael Jackson, and these artists tend to want their music to remain in the key they intended.

When it comes to a player’s go-to machine, you can’t judge a book by its cover. “You can have a young player who likes the Elvis machine and a more experienced one gravitating to ZZ Top”, Sherri says.

“You would be surprised sometimes about the favourite machine of a particular player,” Sherri continues, “If you ask them why they like a particular machine, it’s about how the game plays.”

Today, slot machine sounds are designed with the care and attention given to the flashing lights and graphics because they are seen as every bit as important to the overall experience. The technology brought to the sound is now cutting edge, including 3D sound engineering and surround sound speaker on the gaming floor.

Sherri points out another recent sonic evolution:

“In the last decade or so, the games have switched over from tokens to tickets, which has changed the ambiance,” she says. “Where you used to hear the clanging of real tokens coming out of the machine during a jackpot win, you now hear the electronic sounds announcing wins and more bonus rounds.”

Whether it’s clangs or dings, it’s all music to a slot player. As for what’s next for the sounds of slots? We can’t predict it – just like the outcome of every spin.

Want to know how slots really work? Learn more here.