History of Slot Machines: From the First Invention to Modern Gaming

Historians have tracked gambling beyond 3,000 BC! It's believed that the Greeks were big advocates of gambling on sports, a trait later adopted by Romans. Of course, gambling at that time differed greatly from what we know now. For example, humans didn't think of slot machines until the late 19th century. That's when the history of slot machines started.

If we look at land-based and online casinos now, we can see an overwhelming quantity of available slot games to choose from. But it wasn't like this in the early days. What it was like is actually the topic of our discussion in this guide.

Welcome to the slot machine history class with Slotsmentor.

The History of Slot Machines Started with a Poker Machine

By all standards, poker is classified as the most popular gambling game ever. The history of poker dates back to 1829. Apparently, the Americans tweaked the rules of Poque (a game of bluffing popularized by French settlers) and came up with poker.

But we're not here to discuss the history of poker, are we? We're here to discuss the history of the slot machine. Poker made a cameo simply because the very first "machine" to resemble slots was a poker machine.

It was 1891. Sittman and Pitt, a company based in Brooklyn, NY, created a cast iron machine to play poker. According to records, it had 5 drums that housed a total of 50 cards. The machine had a coin slot and a lever. To play, you had to put in a nickel and pull the lever.

The 50 cards inside the machine would then shuffle by spinning the drums before stopping on a 5-card combination.

This innovative poker machine managed to get traction pretty quickly and soon started popping up across bars, restaurants, and entertainment halls across the city.

The reason public halls could offer this machine was that it was never a "real money" machine. Instead, it offered players free beer, free food, or free cigars.

In case you're wondering why it used 50 cards from a standard 52-card deck, it was simply to give the house an edge. Most historians believe that the removed cards were 10 of Spades and the Jack of Hearts. As a result, it would be extremely hard for players to get a royal flush.

A Bavarian Immigrant Changed The History of Slots

If the poker machine was to get more popular, we may have never had the infamous slot machines. It was the staggering number of potential payout combinations that made it impossible for the poker machine to be autonomous.

Who invented the slot machine, you ask? It was Charles Augustus Fey. Being a mechanic in San Francisco, he knew the mechanics of things pretty well. He came up with his own version of the slot machine and decided to call it the Liberty Bell.

The exact timeline of when Charles invented the Liberty Bell or the first slot machine is not clear. Historians have narrowed it down to sometime between 1887 and 1895.

This machine was simpler as it had only 3 reels instead of 5 drums. So, by modern definition, it was a classic slot!

Also, Charles eliminated the cards and used only 5 symbols. These symbols were:

  • Horseshoes
  • Diamonds
  • Hearts
  • Spades
  • And the Liberty Bell

It was the last symbol that intrigued Charles to name the machine. It's safe to say that he was very fond of America. Otherwise, why would he use the iconic symbol of American independence as a symbol of his new invention, right?

Similar to the poker machine, the Liberty Bell also had a coin slot and a lever. As players inserted coins and pulled the lever, the reels will spin. It was a single payline machine that only paid out when all 3 symbols on the window matched.

Slots history also shows that the largest payout was 50c or 10 nickels, a lot of money at that time. As you'd expect, it was only possible when players landed 3 Liberty Bell symbols.

Just like the poker machine, the Liberty Bell also spread like wildfire across California before it was banned due to the Penal Code enacted in 1872.

Good for Charles, the machine was hugely in demand in other states. At some point, The Mills Novelty Company stepped in and started mass production to meet the demand. In case you're not aware, the Mills company is the manufacturer of many coin slots in Vegas history.

You can still take a closer look at these machines if you want to. All you have to do is visit the Nevada State Museum and find the Fey Collection.

How Slots Got the Name "Fruit Machines"

If you read gambling publications online from time to time, you may have seen the term "fruit machines” or "fruit slots" used from time to time. Sure, the games that use fruits as their primary symbols are called fruit machines. But there is also a story.

In 1902, slot machines (poker machines or Liberty Bell machines) were banned across America. But neither the operators nor the slot machine manufacturers wanted this amazing invention to go to waste. So, they adopted the new law.

Instead of offering real money, these machines started offering novelty items like chewing gum or candies. And to match the theme, the symbols were also changed to fruits and candies. This is how the legend of fruit machines began.

Another very popular symbol in this class of slots is the BAR symbol. The history of slot machines shows us that the BAR symbol was introduced by Operator Bell, a machine produced by The Mill Novelty Company around 1907.

All the types of machines we discussed in our slot machine history guide until now were mechanical. And these mechanical machines reigned the gambling world until 1964!

A New Era in the History of Slot Machines: Electromechanical Slot

Money Honey is credited as the first-ever electromechanical slot machine. Bally's Corporation is the inventor of this machine, a company still going strong with multiple manufacturing plants and B2C casinos.

When exactly the history of computer video card slots started has been a point of conflict between historians. Some believe it was 1963 while others believe it was 1964.

The reason Money Honey is an "electromechanical" slot is simple. The game started with a pull of the lever, a mechanical action. The reels inside, however, were controlled electronically. To maintain fair results, the electronic reels were connected to a microchip that played the role of a Random Number Generator (RNG).

This is also the first machine to have a bottomless coin hopper, a feature that modern slot machines have to pay coins.

It doesn't matter if it was the new technology or the bottomless hopper but the Money Honey slot became extremely popular among players. It basically laid the foundation for a future with electromechanical slot dominance.

Behold the True "Video" Slot

People who spend time in online casinos are very much familiar with the term "video slot". Did you know that there are mechanical video slots too? In fact, they have been around since 1976!

This time, it was Fortune Coin that developed the machine. Although the company had roots in Las Vegas, the R&D for the project was done in California. The engineers repurposed a 19-inch Sony TV as the display to rewrite the history of slots in Vegas!

It took some more time for the developers to upgrade the security of the machine and make it cheater-proof. Once approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission, this version of the slot machines started becoming popular across Las Vegas casinos.

A Bonus Game is the Last Nail in the Coffin

The latest variant of the machine, according to slot machine history, is the Reel'em titles introduced by WMS. Sure, bonus rounds on a completely different screen are a very common theme for online slots. But it wasn't until 1996 that physical slot machines got this feature.

It was also the 90s when slots started packing a far stronger punch compared to legacy casino games like Blackjack, Roulette, or Poker. Data from that time shows that many casinos generated over 70% of their income from slot machines alone!

Online Slots: The Latest Trend

The last stage of the history of slot machines is undoubtedly the online slots. These are very much inspired by actual slot machines in terms of how they look, sound, and feel. In fact, there are many direct adaptations of land-based slots that you can find across online casinos!

The advent of online slots opened Pandora's Box to developers in the industry. They're no longer limited by space or technology to go crazy on slot themes or the number of paylines.

For example, Megaways slots with up to 117,649 paylines only exist online. It's not physically possible to accommodate these lines on an actual machine!

As long as you understand the types of slots, you can start playing them for real money anytime you want. But make sure you also understand how to use slot machine tips and the rules explained in the paytable.

Also, keep in mind that slots are completely based on luck so don't fall for the gambler's fallacy.

Final Verdict

Technology has come a long way in the past 100 years. We're glad that the history of slot machines also evolved with it. What started as a simple mechanical machine has now turned into a billion-dollar business tool for casinos across the world!

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