Slot History

Slot history lesson of the day! The Casino Heroes blog explains the history of slot machines.

The beginnings

The first true precursors to the modern slot machines were developed in Brooklyn, New York in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt Company. These machines were based on poker, as players pulled a lever on a machine to get a poker hand over 5 wheels. The prices weren’t directly paid out, but were instead in the form of drinks, cigarettes etc. in the bar.

Although this type of machine proved to be very popular, it still had a flaw in that the number of possible poker hands made paying out very difficult. In the meantime, Charles Fey in California had devised a simpler mechanism consisting of three wheels and five symbols (the Liberty Bell). There is no doubt that Fey is the father of slot machines. It’s been well over 100 years since he created them, but in all essence the machines are still the same.

Fey’s slot had a total of 5 symbols: Horseshoes, diamonds, spades, heart and the liberty bell. These stem from poker, but the foundation still stands, and these symbols are still seen in slot machines all over the world.

These machines were programmed to pay out automatically. The biggest wins were 20 coins for hitting three liberty bells, while the smallest payout was 2 coins for 2 horseshoes, with many differing payouts in-between.

In 1907 Fey decided it was time to get some help with his burgeoning slot machine empire, and thus he teamed up with the Mills Novelty Company. They created the Mills Liberty Bell, which was just a version of the original, but it took the concept further by putting the machine in a cast iron case, and that is the design that is still prevalent and used by most modern slot machines.

Prohibition and beyond

As an answer to the US making gambling illegal, the 1920’s and 1930’s saw major changes in the industry, and Mills made the machines much quieter, thus more viable for establishments wanting to feature them. They were also made more colourful and attractive to the average punter. Grandiosity was the key for this era.

Nevada legalised gambling in 1931, which opened up a huge market for gambling, and thus for slots as well.

With there now being legal gambling again, the slot machines spread in popularity, and to the surprise of pretty much everyone, they earned the casino more money than even the table games could.

Electro-mechanical machines

Before the introduction of electro-mechanical slots, most slots were just mechanical, but by the end of the 1950’s, the electro-mechanical machines came in full force. Early examples of this, like the Big Bertha, cost a whopping $150,000 to produce, which is nearly $1.5 million in today’s money. This machine was powered by a five-horse power motor, while it had eight reels, making it nigh on impossible to hit the jackpot. In fact, the odds of winning the jackpot were 25 billion to one. That’s because each reel had 20 different symbols.

In the mid-60’s Bally introduced an electro-mechanical slot called Money Honey. This moved away from the original design, mainly internally, while externally, it was pretty like before, with all changes being cosmetic. The fact that they were powered by electricity, and the use of microprocessors made it possible to utilise sound as well, which gave another dimension of immersion.

Here come the computers

The next revolution, or perhaps rather an evolution, came in the 1980’s in form of the computerised slot machines. This meant that the diversity in the games grew, as it was much easier to program machines so that they could offer different things. It also meant that bills could finally be accepted, making it potentially a whole lot more lucrative for casinos, as less time was spent changing money.

Today the slots make up about 70 percent of an average American casino’s income. They are everywhere in these casinos, and it’s usually what meets people as they enter the casino.

It is however online that slots have seen the most growth over recent years. There are thousands of online casinos offering slot machines with huge jackpots and anyone could become a millionaire by just depositing a few bucks.


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