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The History of Slot Machines

Slot machines are the most popular casino games! Nowadays, there are thousands of different slots to choose from, both on the Internet and in land-based casinos.

This article will explain the development of slot machines over the years.

1891 – Poker Machines

Poker machine from 1891

The origin of the very first slot machine dates back to 1891! Created by Sittman and Pitt, New York, the machine included 50 playing cards. These poker machines were popular in bars, where players would insert a nickel and then pull a lever. Payouts were made for certain poker combinations. To improve the house edge, two cards were removed from the machine: the ten of spades and the jack of hearts. This cut the odds of getting a Royal Flush by 50% (the best of all the poker hands).

The machine had no direct payout mechanism so players would go to the bar to collect their winnings, which were non-monetary in nature and took the form of free drinks and cigars. That’s why this poker machine was not considered the first slot machine in history.

1894 to 1898 – Liberty Bell Slot Machine

Liberty Bell slot machine with automatic payout

Charles Fey was the inventor of “the first real slot machine”. He started working on his first prototypes in the back room of his workshop and in 1894 he succeeded in making the Liberty Bell slot machine. By designing a device with automatic payout, Charles Fey had managed to create an extraordinary slot machine.

The popular game featured reels adorned with various symbols, including horseshoes and the liberty bell. When players aligned 3 bell symbols, they received 10 coins.

1900 to 1930 – The History of Fruit Machines

Operator Bell fruit machine

Despite bans on slot machines, Charles Fey continued to manufacture devices. Of course, he was not alone; other manufacturers had also invested in this thriving new industry. As cash prizes could no longer be distributed, the era of fruit machines was about to begin. These machines used fruit symbols, and prizes were paid out in chewing gum and candy.

The system of rewarding winners with cigars and drinks was phased out.

In 1907, Chicago-based manufacturer Mills produced a slot machine called the Operator Bell. By 1908, the machine had been installed in most tobacconists, bowling alleys, stores and saloons. The BAR symbol that we are familiar with nowadays was introduced to slot machines at this time, and it actually represented a pack of chewing gum.

 From 1930 to 1964 – The History of Mechanical Slot Machines

Slot machines remained mechanical for many years. To start the game, players had to insert a coin into a slot and then pull down a lever. This set the reels in motion, and a spring gradually stopped them from spinning. The mechanism gave players the feeling that they could control the game and the outcome, which was one of the reasons slot machines were so popular.

1964 – Electromechanics

Ballys electromechanical machine in 1964

The first electromechanical slot machine, the Money Honey, was designed by the Bally company in 1964. Pulling a lever was still required to start the game even though the reels were entirely electrically driven.

For players at the time, it would have been too unfamiliar to press a button, so the lever was kept to give players a feeling of control. It was a slot machine that could make automatic payouts of up to 500 coins in one go. The popularity of the Money Honey game led to the increasing predominance of electromechanical slot machines. Around 1967, machine levers were replaced by buttons.

1976 to 1978 – The History of the First Video Slots

Fortune Coin video slot machine

The first video slot machine was developed in 1976 in Kearny Mesa, California by the Las Vegas–based Fortune Coin Company.

A modified Sony TV was used for the display! The video slot was presented to the public at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, and the following year, it was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. This type of machine was revolutionary, and ushered in a new era in gaming.

In 1978, Fortune Coin Company was acquired by the IGT group, now the world’s leading manufacturer of video slots.

1986 – Introduction of Progressive Jackpots

Progressive jackpots were first introduced at major Las Vegas casinos in 1986. The first progressive slot machine was Megabucks, developed by International Game Technology (IGT). Every time a player wagered on Megabucks, a percentage of the bet went towards the main jackpot. The aim of this process was to create a jackpot that had no limit. When a player hit the jackpot, the prize pool was automatically reset to its seed amount: 1 million.

In 1987, a lucky player made history by winning the Megabucks jackpot of $4,988,842.17.

Even today, Megabucks remains a top game in US and Canadian casinos. Of course, innovative changes have been made to the progressive slot machine, such as the development of a video slot for online casinos.

From 1996 to 2024 – Bonus and Jackpots

Megabucks slot and progressive jackpot

From 1996 to the present day, a variety of video slots have made their appearance. Some have bonus features with multipliers, and others have wheels of fortune offering the chance to win massive jackpots. There are also progressive jackpot slots on which the luckiest players can win millions of dollars.

Of course, classic 3-reel video slots are also still very popular. These games are easy to use, and can sometimes be played from as little as 1 cent per spin. The top video slots are those offering jackpots of at least $10,000.

The mechanical slot machine designed by Charles Fey laid the foundation for today’s classic 3-reel video slots. Fans of old games are always keen to try their luck on vintage-style machines and online casinos feature video slots that are reminiscent of Fey’s machines.

Popularity of Online Slots

The Internet boom of the mid ’90s led to the development of the first online casinos. At first, only classic games such as roulette and blackjack were available. The first online slots appeared in 1994. 3- and 5-reel video slots are the most popular casino games on the Internet.

The Digital Era and Mobiles

The first Smartphone, the iPhone, was released in 2007.

Although online casinos had already been around for more than a decade, mobile gaming marked a turning point. In just a few years, online gaming providers have developed hundreds of mobile slots. Available on mobile casinos, these games allow Smartphone users to play real money slots.


Tribute to Charles Fey by Anthony

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