From 1975 TV Show to Modern Free Wheel of Fortune Slots Games [History]

No doubts at all, Wheel of Fortune remains one of the most successful TV shows in history. Since its creation in 1973, the syndicated program has been airing and captivating viewers for over 44 years.

Merv Griffin created the first version of the show in 1975, but then, it took about two years to get it to the TV spotlight. It then took a few years before the show became famous. It wasn’t until 1983 that the show had its night time debut that it had its big break.

Forty-four years down the line, the show has given over 250 million dollars in cash and prizes. Little wonder, the producers get over a million applications annually from people wishing to be on the show. With such stiff competition, only a few above ten thousand get the opportunity to take part in auditions. Even further, only about 600 people make it to the show. Ever since, just like any show on TV, Wheel of Fortune has continued to influence several spheres of society. Aside from the fact that it raises a few people’s fortunes every year, many industries have benefited from the show.

wheel of fortune contestants
Photo by Carol Kaelson

For some industries, the impact was widely seen, and for others, it was a silent stream of income. For instance, the fashion industry had a good time as Vanna White, a co-hostess on the show, dished out style inspiration every week. All through her time on the show, Vanna never repeated a dress twice.

For NBC and others in the TV industry, there was a booming market of over 40 million viewers in the 80’s. Imagine the enormous potential that was waiting to be harnessed. It was simply massive.

It wasn’t long afterward that the show got its influence into the gambling space. Already, the show shared similar ideologies with gambling. The only difference was, it was aired, and there were no wagers. But then, the idea was much like gambling, hoping to be selected from around a million people, spinning a wheel, and expecting a fortune.

Therefore, in 1996, IGT created the first Wheel of fortune slot, one of the best games released. Later on, from the earlier version, they made the Wheel of Fortune slot machine online free and real money variants.

To date, the show continues to be a success, and so are the slots produced from it. So, we take a look at the show’s history and it has evolved over the years.

Pilots (1973-74)

Those who say “the world belongs to those who are crazy enough to think” are correct. That was the description of the idea Merv Griffin had in 1973, ten years after his show “Jeopardy!” started to air on NBC. Inspired by Hangman and Roulette, he created the game.

In September 1973, the show had its first pilot on NBC. Chuck Woolery hosted the show at the time while Mike Lawrence was an announcer. The contestants on the show had to solve a puzzle that was similar to that of Hangman. Interestingly, the contestants in the game were all females. Before then, they had to spin the Wheel to determine their earnings if they could solve the puzzle.

The first pilot called the Shopper’s Bazaar didn’t make a hit. For Merv, it felt like everything was wrong with the show. Merv felt too many things needed to improve. First, the audience that felt unenthusiastic, the gameplay was challenging to understand and down to the filming. The then director of NBC, Lin Bolen, felt the game didn’t appeal to its audience even in the show. Lin’s conclusion, in the end, was that the show was old fashioned. All these complaints led to the creation of the second pilot in 1974.

The show was rebranded in its new pilot in 1974. Many of the complaints in the first pilot were put into consideration in the rebranding. First, the show had a new host Edd Byrnes, and Charlie O’Donnell was the announcer. The puzzle saw an increased size in the second pilot alongside the Wheel. In the second pilot, they had the gameplay simplified so that viewers could enjoy the fun. It was in the second pilot that it got its name, the Wheel of fortune.

lin bolen talking

Just like the first, the second pilot was a disaster. Then came a third that was slightly better only this time, Byrne was drunk during the show. However, this time, there were some positives. After a long session of arguments on what should be and shouldn’t be in the show, Bolen made a crazy gamble with her bosses to lose her job if the show failed in November 1974. So, when Jeopardy had concluded its airing time in January 1975, Wheel of fortune replaced it. Interestingly, the gifts used in the first and second pilots used the same prizes, worth $20,130?

Release 1975

After several adjustments, Wheel of fortune had its first debut on the 6th of January, 1975. Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford were the first host and hostess of the show. At the time, the show aired by 10:30 a.m. every day on NBC. Also, unlike what you have today, contestants had to use their money to get gifts.

susan stafford and chuck woolery

It had a 35 share on the first show, and about 20 million viewers watched it in its first week. Soon enough, it became the biggest show during the daytime on NBC, so Bolen won her bet with her bosses. She got a salary increase, and the show continued to air on the Station.

In 1976, Wheel of fortune got its airing duration extended from 30 minutes to one hour.

However, as they called it, the Wheel’s success was under threat when NBC got a new boss, Fred Silverman. Twice in 1980, Fred’s administration attempted scrapping the show. The first time, they wanted it replaced with a 90-minute talk show. After people kicked against it, they had three shows removed instead to give room for Wheel of Fortune.

The 1980s

This period in the history of the Wheel is known as the Daytime period. That was because during this period, the program aired during the daytime. The period had its highs and lows for the TV show, many of which shaped it into what it is today.

In December 1981, Woolery had a dispute about his contract, which led to him leaving the show. Pat Sajak came on board that same December to replace Woolery. Along with Susan, they continued to host the show until she left as well in 1982.

A funny fact here is, Pat was a weatherman before he joined the show. Initially, NBC rejected him, but Merv threatened to stop filming until he was accepted.

pat sajak and vanna white

Susan, however, did not leave on the grounds of any disputes. She left because she wanted to do more humanitarian activities. By December 1982, Vanna White filled the space she left behind. That was going to be her first time on-air the same way Pat came in a year before. Merv immediately named her the permanent hostess of the show. His reason for choosing her was that she shared chemistry with Pat onset. Interestingly, many of the shows in the ’80s were filmed while Pat and Vanna were under the influence of Alcohol.

Sajak continued in his capacity as a host for the show until 1989. After eight years, he had to quit after he launched his talk show. Rolf Bernischke replaced him, but he was removed shortly afterward because the show’s ratings dropped. On the 17th of July 1989, Rolf’s new replacement Bob Goen graced the show’s new season. Due to low ratings, the show had to move to CBS as NBC had to drop it. People believe the reason for the drop in ratings was because Sajak left the show.

On CBS, a few adjustments were made. The shopping format previously used had to go for a new cash-prize format. Contestants of the show could combine the amount of the prizes with the total to be won. There and then, the phrase “cash and prizes” was born.

Wheel of fortune continued airing on CBS until January 1991 when NBC took back the show. It aired for about eight months afterward until September 1991, when it became a nighttime show after 16years of showing during the day.

The 1990s

The ’90s was called the Night-time period of the show. The name comes from the fact that the show started airing at night. Between 1983 and 1997, Vanna was spinning the wheels. In February 1997, the game had its puzzle board upgraded into touch screens. Additionally, the game featured more computer technology to help save time between the rounds and switch puzzles. The show got new colors when it was aired on CBS before it finally got digital walls in 1998.

It was in this period that the show had up to 40 million viewers. Many of these viewers tuned in every night to see Vanna wear an entirely new outfit for the show. Others tuned in to see the jokes that Pat had for the new show. Interestingly, on April fool’s day in 1997, the show aired a special edition that Alex Trebek hosted. In this special show, Pat and White were contestants on the show and their winnings donated to charity.

wheel of fortune slot

The massive success of the show in this period gave rise to the production of many games. In this period, precisely in 1996, IGT developed the first Wheel of fortune slot. The game mimicked the show and had various elements from it. These elements form the game played in the bonus rounds of the game. As expected, the slot has around a wheel like that in the show. The game’s bonus round also takes a cue from the game as it happens on a podium. To win in the 5-slot game, three of the same symbols must appear. In addition to that, the punter gets access to the Bonus rounds. Wheel of fortune slot winners who played this game back then in the 80s would not forget the slot so easily.

The 2000s

giant wheel of fortune

The 2000s was the big break for the Wheel of fortune slot. The wheel envelopes that were from the 80s made way for a 24-envelope bonus wheel. In this period, they also introduced the $100,000 cash prize. An interesting fun fact is that Vanna never repeated a gown twice on the show to date.

The success of WoF attracted the attention of a talk show on E! Tv in January 2005. They described the show’s history from when they started in 1973 till then in 2005. In 2008, a new Australian rival came on board. Taking a cue from the slot, Wheel of Fortune debuted a new season with a $1,000,000 top price.

Since then, the Wheel of fortune has gotten several adaptations. At the dawn of 2000, there was a version of the game for children. They called it Wheel 2000, hosted by David Sidoni and Tanika Ray. There were loads of other shows adapted after the Wheel. A very recent example is Fox’s Spin the Wheel show. The show has similar gameplays just as the Wheel, only that its Wheel is much larger.

massive wheel of fortune
Fox’s ‘Spin the Wheel’ show, 2019

Maybe you didn’t know but, the Wheel in the Wheel of fortune measures about 6 feet at its diameter. In contrast, Spin the Wheel is six times bigger, 40 feet in diameter. But then, it wasn’t just the shows that got adoptions; there were other adoptions in games.

For instance, there was a Wheel of fortune puzzle that came out in the early 2000s. The game allowed players to try out the puzzles seen on TV. Unfortunately, there was no price attached to their winnings. The 2000s also witnessed the release of video games that mimicked the show.

It wasn’t surprising in the 90s when many slot games adapted the format of Wheel of fortune. Come to think of it, WoF itself works with a risk and reward system, the same system that slots and casinos operate on. With the status and popularity of the show, very little was needed to make these slots successful. Many of these slots were so successful, they had to be digitized, and many of them are still in play to date.

For instance, the Wheel of Fortune slot from IGT was successful after its release in 1996 that they made over 200 variants of the slot in land-based casinos. As technology continued to advance, so did IGT continue to improve their Wheel of fortune Slots. Here are some highlights of the transitional journey.

  • The original Wheel of Fortune slot was easy to play. However, it had a maximum payout of $2000, which is low compared with what we see right now.
  • This was followed by the Wheel of Fortune Double Diamond slot. Its big idea was the introduction of wild symbols and multipliers. With that, punters could win up to 10,000 dollars from playing the slot.
  • The Wheel of Fortune 3 by 4 by 5 was next. It was the first slot from IGT in the series to have multiple paylines; 5 of them. At the same time, it was the first of its kind to have a linked jackpot system between casinos.
  • In the next release, called Wheel of Fortune Gold Spin, progressive jackpots were introduced. Also, the graphics of the game got some facelifts.
  • In the Wheel of Fortune extreme spin, IGT introduced five reels. Later on, they made a variant of the game with better graphics, and they called it WoF ultra 5 reels.
  • Later on, IGT moved into the 3D space with the creation of the Wheel of Fortune Double Diamond 3D slot. The game had three reels and one jackpot to its name. Seeing its success, IGT made another variant of the game. Little changes were made to the appearance and gameplay, especially the wilds and the Wheel of fortune slot machine jackpot.
  • You would think they had exhausted the use of their creativity. However, IGT took everyone by surprise when they created the Wheel of Fortune, the New Orleans version.
  • Next came Wheel of Fortune; Winning Edges. Its unique selling point was its beauty and the presence of multiplier wilds. It later got a variant soon enough owing to its success. The sequel, WoF, Power Edges, was widely accepted. That was because it came with free spins.
wheel of fortune ultra
Wheel of Fortune slot mobile version (Ultra 5 Reels Edition)

Owing to their Land-based casinos’ massive success, IGT transformed the land-based types into the Wheel of fortune slot machine online. The latest amongst their online creations comes with 5 reels and 30 paylines. Punters can understand the Wheel of fortune slot machine strategy by playing free Wheel of fortune slot machines. The freewheel of fortune slot machine games no download is to date one of the main distinguishing factors between the online slots and the land-based types.

Asides from the Wheel of Fortune slot machine online free, punters can also play for real money with between 50 cents and $500. The Wheel of fortune slot machine jackpot is not progressive; however, it offers good winning odds. With its multiplier of about 5X and its free spins, the Wheel of fortune slot machine odds is good enough to see you claim the maximum 2500x price.

Interestingly, many other slots, even from other providers, are already imitating the Bonus wheel feature iconic of WoF slots. Notable examples include the Mega Moolah, Mega Fortune, and so on. Like IGT, they come as bonus round features, and they hold lots of potential for massive wins.

Even with the many imitations, WoF continues to dominate the market as a favorite for most punters.

wheel of fortune xbox one

Nowadays, 2020

As of today, the show retains a lot of its elements from the early 2000s. First, it kept its hosts Pat and Vanna for 37 years. The duo has signed a deal that sees them continue as hosts of the game until 2022. It remains an iconic show like it was at the beginning. Today, the show has given out over 250million dollars in cash and prizes. Looking back at their 45-year history, it is evident that the show has done so much. It has a foundation where the show honors the wishes of people with terminal illnesses. As of 2011, the show had honored 14 wishes from different people.

Moving into the future, there are plans to have a special edition of the show. In the new edition to be called Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, celebrities spin the reels to win. ABC studios believe joining the rank of other shows to have celebrities is an excellent way to increase the show’s viewership.

On the casino aspect of things, Wheel of Fortune is doing great as well. In September 2020, two-player won large sums of money on the jackpots of two WoF slots from IGT. The first jackpot, $1,235,671, was on the 12th of September on the WOF ultimate sevens game at a hotel in Choctaw in Oklahoma. Later on, on the 13th, someone else won almost triple that; $3,779,913. The second player played the WoF multi-win Triple Double Red at Lake Tahoe.

wheel of fortune jackpot

With the success of what they already have, IGT plans on increasing the size of its portfolio. In 2020, they plan on launching the Peakslant49 Wheel of Fortune.

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3 comments on “From 1975 TV Show to Modern Free Wheel of Fortune Slots Games [History]”

  1. I’m probably the only person younger than 30 that actually plays (and watches) wheel of fortune lol but that’s okay. 15+ years ago i used to watch everyday with my grandma and my brother every single day. Granted the slot isn’t like the show at all, it still gives me just a little rush of nostalgia everytime i play. Granted i play the free versions online so maybe it’ll ruin that feeling if i lose money on them, but that’s for someone else to find out. idk if you’d all it wholesome or sad but it is what it is, and i hope they make slots and jackpots of wheel of fortune for as long as casinos are legal. and to those that think it’s a cash grab, i don’t really care don’t play it then ?

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  2. Oooookay ngl i came in here fully expecting to roll my eyes at these “geek” slots lol. but you def opened up strong there with the rick and morty slot. Game of Thrones, I knew about because every damn online casino advertises it to no end lately but R&M is a pleasant surprise ? anyone know where to play it at? going to slip an anonymous note to my local but i can’t find the slot online. any of them i find gives me an error and won’t load. i like actually want to play this so bad lollllll

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