It is considered that slot machines have appeared in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. However, that’s not so. In the early 1970s, the company owned by a Swedish hockey player Bo Billing, set about hundred foreign exchange machines in the Soviet cruise ships (“Maxim Gorky”, “Lev Tolstoy”, etc.), which went abroad. In March 1971, the same firm opened the first experimental hall of slot machines in Gambling House in the Estonian city Mustamäe, and by the end of the decade smuggling slots have appeared at many resorts in the south of the Soviet Union.
Legal operation of slots was initiated by the of USSR Council of Ministers decree issued in 1987. It allows each ministry to have no more than one foreign trade association. In time of the State Committee for Foreign Tourism “Intourist” was formed as such association; the employers were charged to develop new services for foreign tourists, due to which it would be possible to increase revenue.
Dmitry Slobodkin, the presiding commissioner of The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Tourism, the hospitality and entertainment industry, was vice-president of “Intourservice” in those years. He said that at first it was supposed to attract wealthy foreign tourists in another way (the new series of gift, credit cards, duty free shops, etc.). And a Dutch colleague of Mr. Slobodkin, Hans van Zonneveld and CEO of the joint company the SVT in the Antwerp port offered use the slots in order to get foreign currency.
Just in three months in a number of hotels of the State Committee for Foreign Tourism (in Moscow, “Intourist” and “Cosmos”, in Sochi “Zemchyzina” and “Dagomys”, in Yalta “Yalta”) 226 slots were set up. Some of them were rented from the Dutch and Swedish partners under the terms that they would get a part of the receipts, and more than half was given by the largest Spanish manufacturer Recreativos Franco (the Soviet side received all the revenue from operations of slots of that company). The slot machines were modern, with a wide range of games and of very high quality – reels and screen games (video poker, dice video games, etc.), with a complex system of counters and the ability to connect to the jackpot (it is said that some of them are still used in the provincial cities). These slots were very popular among Soviet citizens who had some accumulation, even though officially they were intended for foreigner.
Less than a year it became obvious that the income from the operation of slots has exceeded all expectations: the daily revenue per machine was up to 350 rubles- at the time it come to two months’ salary of a qualified expert. In February 1989 during the board of the State Committee for Foreign Tourism, which summed up the experimental operation of slot machines, have been named the following figures: just in Yalta for two months the slot machines have brought profit of $ 94 million (the dollar at that time was worth 8 rub. 92 cop.), and for the next four months, when it was allowed to play on rubles the profit came to 980 thousand rubles.
The opening of the slots which could accept rubles has become a kind of national project to raise the state economy, which was in a deep crisis (a sudden decrease of production, there was a shortage of essential goods, the external debt was increased in several times, etc.). In March 1989 was issued a decree of the CPSU Central Committee and USSR Council of Ministers under the high-sounding title, “On measures for financial recovery of the economy and to strengthen the circulation of money in the country in the period 1989-1990 and during the 13th five-year plan.” Within the framework of this resolution it was charged to every organization to make every effort in order to increase revenues. Then The State Committee for Foreign Tourism sent several letters to the Finance Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Committee on Social Affairs with a proposal to use the successful experience of operating slot machines which accepted foreign currency and allow use rubles. The same year for the organization of gambling in the country was created a joint Soviet-Spanish company “Fortune”, which was headed by Dmitry Slobodkin. It became the largest joint venture in the country with registered capital of $ 12 million and with the staff of 1.5 thousand employees.
Following the signing of all agreements in the Soviet Union from Spain came 2.5 thousand slot machines, which have been installed during half-year in many cities – Moscow, Leningrad, Minsk, Kiev, Kishinev, Tbilisi, Tashkent, Stavropol, Kislovodsk, Novorossiysk, Odessa , Smolensk, Tambov, Saratov, Togliatti, etc. The area for gambling houses (in hotels, entertainment areas, shops or separate rooms), was rented, and sometimes some interests of revenue were allocated to their owners. As long as the daily revenue from the operation of slots was fantastic, nobody was the loser of this form of cooperation. For example, in a Moscow grocery store “Novoarbatsky”, which became one of the first “ruble” points in the capital, at the expense of income from the slots rooms was provided almost all the pay-roll fund. The coin boxes were set to 20-kopeck coin –it was the price of one game. “Fortune” even signed a special agreement with Sberbank in order to coins with that nominal value always were into operation.
The slot machines weren’t supplied to the Soviet Union just from Spain, but other European countries did it. According to Spanish law, the slot machines produced by Recreativos Franco fell under C category and were allowed to be installed only in casinos, because they haven’t restriction of the amount of bets, therefore, of win. The slots which were classified as B (Dutch and German) have a limit on the bet and win, so they could be installed in public places. In the Soviet Union no one paid attention to all these niceties: the activity of gaming rooms wasn’t regulated by law, and therefore the gamblers preferred to play the C-type machines, because it was quite possible to get a big win.
No wonder that the clever players quickly adapted to cheat, competing in the sophistication and demonstrating an excellent knowledge of the laws of physics. Here is just one of many examples. In the hall of a The State Committee for Foreign Tourism hotel the floor was covered with synthetic carpet, which accumulated static electricity. The player hit a slot with a coin, than the circuit carpet-player-coin was formed, and the picture on the screen of the slot changed. It was possible to do such manipulation any number of times and finally win.
The tricks with disconnecting the power supply acquired the mass character. The idea was when you turned the slot on after an emergency shutdown (for example, because of a power cut) on the screen would light up the same picture. This rule doesn’t always work with our slots: many successful gamblers arrived just in time with the combination, by switching the toggle for several times, which was located on the rear of slot. After the exposure of several swindlers who acted in such a way, it was decided to hide the toggle inside the case and modify the software so that when the power was off, the screen image hadn’t changed. The Spanish could only wonder at the ingenuity of our gamblers.
The gamblers, just the other way about, avoid the risk of being cheated, – says Dmitry Slobodkin. “Although at the time we hadn’t had to compete with anyone, into the mind of employees of “Fortune” we introduced the idea that everything had to be done for a client, because only at client own expense they get paid”, – he recalls. The software of slot machine is arranged so that after a certain number of games installed so-called average schedule of winning percentage (it was 83.4% for all slots of the company “Fortune”), which is one of the main consumer properties of the machine. The slots have to play to win – this golden rule was kept, and the degree of confidence for the gaming rooms was very high among the gamblers.
In confirmation of that fact is the sensational story of the phenomenally large gain, which occurred in Pyatigorsk. In a game room was a power cut because of the spike, one of the machines closed, after that he spent 24 hours just playing to win. As a result of the game, it was about $ 200 thousand, To “Fortune” it was no trouble to prove the injustice of the outcome of the game, but it was decided to do in a different way. A congratulatory letter was sent to the lucky gambler and the full gain was paid, which after some time he lost from top to bottom. The story spread throughout the North Caucasus and, of course, benefited the reputation of “Fortune”.
For many confirmed gamblers the real value wasn’t money, but it was a moral satisfaction of beating the machine. It came to that one player buy first a winning combination at a loss – this one paid in two times more than was his gain just in order to replenish his list of victories and to boast of it to his competitors. Furthermore, some of the players managed to play together and the three of them on the same slot, competing with each other, it disconcerted the foreigners. Many gamblers have their favorite administrator of gambling rooms: for example, the visitors of the gambling room in the “Intourist” hotel believed that the administrator Nadia brings good luck.
The gambling in those years was more pathetic passion, rather than a serious passion. Just the history of 80 years “grandmother of Las Vegas”, almost the iconic character from Sevastopol, deserve attention. She made a modest bets, but she played almost every day for years.
The own production of slots didn’t exist in the Soviet Union for a long time. The new imported machine was worth $ 4.5 thousand, the used one was rather cheaper –it cost $ 1-1.5 thousand, but at first few people believed in earning with gambling. With the lapse of time, enterprising people realized that the operation of slot machines, like any other business activity may yield a profit. Those who was well up in field of technologies, engaged in assembling of self-made slots – they cost a bit, so that’s why they were sold out quickly and they were installed everywhere. In the fact that it’s possible to organize the production of slots by the Soviet experts without seeking help of the Western ones, we were finally convinced in the early 1990s.
In 1991, during the currency reform, initiated by Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, all the 20-kop. coins were withdrawn from circulation, and the owners of gambling rooms faced with the need to reprogram the currency detectors; it was technically difficult to realize. The factory in Spain, where such an option was provided on just one computer, asked for the reprogramming of each currency detector (and we would remind you that there were 2.5 thousands of slots then) $ 100. The Soviet Union has to refuse the Spanish services, and a little bit later it was reached an agreement with Sevastopol “techies” who have made all the work for 60 thousands rubles.
The 20-kop. Coins were replaced by tokens. The tokens were made of brass on the Leningradsky Metallichesky Zavod (alas a result there were produced and distributed by region 8.5 tons of tokens); the brass was bought in Kazakhstan. The brass token get the hands dirty – by the characteristic dark divorce on the fingers you could easily recognize a confirmed player. In addition, storage, transportation and re-count of tokens required additional expenses. Then it was decided to introduce the slots with the ability to play on credit.
The gambling in the country gathered speed. At the same time with the slots’ rooms of began to appear Western-style casinos. As long ago as the August 1989 in Moscow hotel “Savoy” was opened the first casino and the most part of its visitors were foreigners. Although there were just three tables in the room, the profit of six months exceeded $ 800 thousands.