A brief history of slot machines

When we picture casinos in our head, we often see the ubiquitous rows of Las Vegas style slot machines, all lined up, crowds of people walking between them or sitting bathed in the lights and sounds. In fact, a mental view of a casino doesn’t normally include the sounds of cards being shuffled, it is normally a soundtrack of bells and sirens and coins hitting the metal coin trays.

CasinoPlay looked into the history of these machines that changed the gambling and casino world and gave birth to cities like Las Vegas and Macao.

Most histories credit Charles Fey with the invention of the slot machine, but it was actually a New York company – Sittman and Pitt – who invented the very first drum machine system. There is no concrete evidence of when Charles Fey’s machine was invented, but it seems to have been between 1887 and 1895.

A happy accident of fate? A bit of luck? We don’t know, but what we do know is that, whoever the original inventor was, they certainly introduced one of the most popular gaming systems the world has ever known.

Did you know? The term slot machine comes from the original name: nickel-in-the-slot machine, a reference to the slot that you put your coin into.

1891

Sittman and Pitt develop a five-drum gambling machine based on poker. The five drums had a 50-card deck and payouts were based on poker hands, although the ten of spades and the jack of hearts were removed to make it more difficult for players to hit a Royal Flush.

While these are technically poker machines, they are one of the first gambling machines to use the reel or drum system.

The machines were set up in bars and it cost a nickel to play with prizes being free drinks or food or cigars.

1887 – 1895

Charles Augusts Fey of San Francisco, the man most commonly named as the ‘father of the slot machine’, invents the precursor to the modern slot machine. He simplifies the system by using only three reels instead of five drums like Sittman and Pitt. This allows his machines to have an automatic payout system.

Fey’s original slot machine was called the Liberty Bell and featured five symbols: horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell symbol. The biggest wins came from matching three Liberty Bells, hence the name.

1902

Slot machines are officially banned and cash prizes are outlawed.

1910

Mills Novelty Co. updates the Liberty Bell machines in collaboration with Charles Fey and introduces the fruit symbols (and the name ‘fruit machines’) for oranges, lemons, plums and cherries. This was to circumvent the anti-monetary gambling laws and winners were often ‘paid out’ in packs of fruit-flavoured gum. This was also the first time the BAR symbol was used – it came from the logo for the Bell-Fruit company.

Did you know? Mills was also the inventors of Coca-Cola’s very first cooled-bottle vending machine.

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1916

Mills introduces the first ‘jackpot’ mechanic. By lining up certain symbols, the machine paid out all the coins in the machine at that time.

1931

Gambling is legalised in the city of Las Vegas; Nevada and the boom of casino growth begins.

Did you know? Las Vegas, or ‘Sin City’ as it nicknamed due to the various gambling, drinking and prostitution laws, is actually a global leader in the hospitality industry and boasts more AAA Five Diamond hotels than any other city in the world.

1940

Flamingo Hotel sets up its first slot machine, and the first slot machine in Las Vegas.

Did you know? French casinos banned slot machines until the year 1988.

1964

Bally releases Money Honey, the first electromechanical slot machine. The reels were electrically operated but players still needed to pull a lever to set them in motion. It is the first slot machine with a bottomless hopper.

Did you know? The lever mechanism on early slot machine is why they became known as ‘one-armed bandits’.

1975

The Fortune Coin company releases the first true video slot machine, a machine that uses a modified Sony 19-inch monitor to simulate the reels and a logic board for all functions.

1986

Various slot machines are electronically linked across different casinos. This creates a jackpot pool where a percentage of every players deposit is put into a super jackpot that can be won by one player – the start of progressive jackpots. IGT’s Megabucks slot machine is generally credited as being the first true progressive slot machine.

Did you know? Progressive slots games and national lotteries pay out the largest jackpots in all gambling.

1990s

The rise of the Internet and the legalising of online casino by nations such as Antigua, Malta and Gibraltar opened up an entirely new avenue for gamblers and for gambling companies.

InterCasino is the first online casino and offers players 18 games.

Microgaming pioneers the development of dedicated secure online gambling software and introduces the world to the first online slots games.

2000s

Technology answers the need for mobile connectivity and wi-fi-enabled smartphones become commonplace. The technology progresses at an astounding pace and mobile phones eventually begin to dominate the marketplace and replace a host of previously essential tools such as cameras, music players and portable computers.

With this rise in the processing power of mobile devices like phones and tablets, the online casino industry sees an opportunity and begins developing platforms that work across mobile devices and allow players to enjoy their favourite online casinos games from anywhere in the world where they can get a secure wi-fi signal. Online slots games lead the way for the industry, followed by table games and eventually even Live Dealer games.

The future

Technology allows slots games developers to add even more immersive elements to their games – 3D, VR, AR all start becoming adapted into the slots world. Smart watches offer slots games.

The online casino world, driven by slots, goes from a few games to an industry estimated to be worth over US$100 BILLION by the end of 2025.

history of slot machines