The Fascinating History of Slot Machines

by Enrico
Updated How To Win On Slots? 🥇Guides, Tips and Tricks!

Every gambler (and even most non-gamblers) are familiar with slot machines as we all know them today. Originally, the phrase “slot machines” could be applied to all machines that involved automatic vending, in addition to being used to identify gambling machines. As many historians will tell you, the term didn’t start restricting itself to only the gambling machines until the 20th century. At that time, a British-specific term took off as well, that term being “fruit machine.”

History of Slot Machines

Here’s an interesting nickname for slot machines that you may not know – the one-armed bandit.

As one of the most popular games in the history of casinos, slot machines rule the gambling scene. There are thousands that you can pick from to play, and many people just enjoy sitting back and letting the reels spin. However, many don’t know exactly how slot machines came about, how they changed over time, and how they came to be the games we know and love today.

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Just can’t look towards the future without learning from the past. Here, we’re going to be going over the history of slot machines and all the interesting details involved.

1891 – Sitman and Pitt Light the Fuse

The very beginning of the slot machine phenomenon can be traced all the way back to the late 19th century – yes, slots really are that old. In the year 1891, New York company Sitman and Pitt invented the first slot machine, which used a total of 50 playing cards and 5 drums.

It quickly launched into popularity, showing up in bars across the city and state. Players would pay a nickel, and then they would pull the lever to start the game. Winning payouts were for getting a line of poker hands on the 5 reels. Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is.

Sitman and Pitt removed two of the cards in the name of a higher house edge and profit – the jack of hearts and the 10 of spades. The odds of getting the best hand, a royal flush, were halved as a result. This early slot machine also didn’t have a way to issue prizes directly, so players would have to go to the bar to receive their winnings.

At this point in time, there was no money paid out to winners – all prizes were things like free cigars, free drinks, and more. This kept it within the lines of America’s much-discussed gambling laws, as gambling was considered illegal at the time.

1887 – 1895 – Say Hello to the Liberty Bell

Let’s step back in time a few years. Charles Augustus Fey is believed to actually have invented the slot machine a few years before Sitman and Pitt, but unfortunately, there is no solid evidence. We know that it happened somewhere between 1887 and 1895, so the title of the actual inventor may always be up for debate.

Whenever it actually happened, Fey did invent the first slot machine that would automatically payout winnings. He found that if he made it easier for the machine to recognize a win, the machine would then be able to payout. This cut out the need for any human interaction, thus allowing the machine to be self-operational.

He achieved this goal by decreasing the 5 drums down to only 3 reels. The playing cards were replaced with symbols – Fey chose to use hearts, spades, horseshoes, diamonds, and an image of the now world-famous liberty bell. Players could win the highest of payouts for lining up 3 of the bell symbols, and so Fey called the new machine The Liberty Bell – no prizes for creativity here.

Fey’s creation took off in terms of popularity. However, Fey never patented his slot machine design, and as such, it was used by other manufacturers to create their own slot machines. If only Fey had been savvier at the time, as the entire slots industry has been built on the back of his early creation.

1902 to 1908 – The Operator Bell Makes a Big Splash

In 1902, slot machines were banned federally in the United States. Even under restrictions, Fey’s Liberty Bell kept being manufactured, and people began to work around the law. Machines could no longer give out cash payouts, which brought about the invention of the fruit machine.

The fruit machine, named for the symbols of fruits on the game, paid out prizes in forms of candy and chewing gum that coordinated with the winning fruit flavor. Again, this was all in a desperate attempt to skate around US gambling laws.

Herbert Mills, a Chicago manufacturer, came out with the Operator Bell slot machine in 1907, and by the next year, it too had enjoyed a real boost in popularity. Just like its predecessors, the Operator Bell could be found in a variety of locations, including bowling alleys, salons, tobacconists, and other shops.

This machine is where the famous BAR symbol comes from, one that we see often even today. It’s a nod to the Bell-Fruit company’s logo, with it being truly immortal in the world of casino play.

Just a Pull of the Lever…

For half a decade, slot machines would continue to be manufactured and would be completely mechanical. Much like the slot machines we know today, the game would begin with the pull of a lever. Pulling this lever would stretch the spring that would set the reels to spinning and then slowly stop. This was a manual game, of course, and players were sure they could influence the outcome of the game to win. This only caused the machines to become even more popular, and the slang nickname “one-armed bandit” comes from the lever itself and has been eternally attached to this form of a slot game.

1964 – Bally Hits the Big Time with Electromechanical Slot Money Honey

We began to see a revolutionary approach to not just slot machines, but all machines. 1964 saw the release of Money Honey by Bally, which was the first slot to be completely electromechanical. The game was sort of a hybrid between machinery and electricity – electricity operated the reels but the lever was still mechanical.

Money Honey was the very first slot machine to have what was called “a bottomless hopper.” This allowed the machine to issue 500 coins as an automatic payout, and this machine began to replace the other machines that were popular at the time. In fact, this was the machine that inspired more electromechanical slots to be made, kick-starting a brand-new trend in the world of slots.

Though Bally had plans to make the machine fully electric, they feared that players would find a game without a lever unfamiliar, and wouldn’t play it. However, soon after the new design of slot machines began to take off, companies began to remove the lever and shifted things in a fresh direction.

1976 to 1978 – The First Video Slot Debuts

Manufactured by Fortune Coin, the first actual video slot made its appearance in 1976. Fortune Coin was a Las Vegas company, and they created a new type of slot machine in Kearny Mesa, California.

Using a 19″ Sony TV, Fortune Coin modified it and presented the new machine to the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. They began to work out bugs, including modifying the machine, as well as adding some methods to stop cheating.

Following those changes, the machine got approval as a proper casino game, courtesy of the Nevada State Gaming Commission. It would then become massively popular, just like every slot machine before it. Fortune Coin would then be acquired by IGT – a name that we know very well today.

1996 and Beyond – The Emergence of the Bonus Round

In 1996, the next big development came in the form of “Reel ‘Em,” a slot machine released by WMS Industries Inc. As the first video slot to start bringing in the idea of a bonus round on a second screen, WMS enjoyed immense popularity and raised the popularity of slots in casinos as a result. It’s safe to say that the second-screen bonus experience has been truly game-changing, as we still see this feature made use of today.

By triggering the bonus round, “Reel ‘Em” would then take players to a different screen with a different game, the bonus game. The idea of winning payouts in addition to payouts from the game itself was a favorite among players. After the release of “Reel ‘Em,” slot machines started to take up more and more space in casinos, to the tune of 70%, as well as being responsible for around the same amount of a casino’s income.

The Rise of Online Slots

The Internet launched into our lives with a bang in the 90s, and one of the first things developed was the original online casino. Keep in mind that these early online casinos were nothing like the flashy, sleek casinos that we know today. Only a few classic games were available, like blackjack and roulette, but slots began to be added after only a short period of time. They quickly took over the online casino industry just as they did the physical casinos, and remain as the majority of online casino game catalogs today.

Online Slots with a Brand-New Approach

Online slots started out as internet copies of their physical counterparts, as that was what made the most sense. They retained the same amount reels and symbols, and the same designs. As computer programming began to advance, game variations began to emerge in the form of new themes, new layouts, and new structures. Five reels, innovative layouts, all of these things exist today. Symbols can change based on the theme of the game, and bonus rounds and bonus games are imaginative, no two the same.

As the years go on, the number of slot games and developers keep increasing. Though there is a limited number of those who manufacture physical “one-armed bandits” anymore, online slots see no such limitations.

Currently, there are more than 100 online slots developers around the world. Some companies are small and provide only a select few games, but others are powerhouses of the industry with game portfolios that are seemingly endless. Microgaming, for example, is one of the oldest suppliers of iGaming software, with a catalog of over 500 different online slots games. Experts have estimated that, with all online slot companies combined, there are over or around 2000 different slot games available to play. This means that online casino entertainment certainly isn’t in short supply.

Jackpot Slots Payout the Big Bucks

Jackpot slots joined the online slot rush in recent years and have only continued to rise in popularity and payouts. Cash Splash was the very first slot to be termed a “jackpot slot,” and was developed and released by Microgaming. The payout for this first slot was moderately high – not life-changing but still enjoyable. Now we see even more jackpots, complete with some incredible prizes, such as Mega Moolah – the cash-laden progressive jackpot slot that’s played around the world by millions.

Mega Moolah has high payouts, to the tune of millions, that people regularly win. In addition, the world record for the biggest payouts from online slots is held by Mega Moolah’s payout of an incredible €17.9 million. You can find this exciting and generous slot at many of the world’s top online casinos if you’re interested in trying your hand at earning a few million.

Another great progressive jackpot slot that’s set the casino world on fire, with payouts of over €17 million as well, is Mega Fortune by NetEnt. Overall, there are around 15 slots online that have paid significant jackpots out, and if you’re wanting to try your hand at jackpot slots yourself, you can hop right over to this jackpot to try your luck.

The New Era of Slot Machines

Today, with graphics and computers evolving even further, we can even find slot machines in our pockets. All you need is a smartphone and some spare time in order to join the action. Thanks to designers all over the world, you can take slot machines with you on your cell phone or tablet and play anytime, anywhere.

You can bet that even more changes are coming to the online slots world – the industry is constantly innovating, and they keep coming up with new and fresh ways to keep players entertained. RPG slots and more are all in the pipeline by all accounts, so keep your eyes peeled, as when it comes to slots, the best could still be yet to come.

The Future Is Now…

Caught your breath yet? The history of slots, both offline and online, is nothing short of huge. It’s safe to say that this kind of casino game has been on a massive journey, especially in recent years. Odds are you’ve got your online slots information fix for the day, but if you haven’t, check our quick FAQ below that should address some of the minor details we might have missed above.

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Questions and Answers

Giving you a little extra information, here are some quick and dirty facts from the article above that should help you get to know the world of slots better before you start spinning the reels.

There’s some debate, and it generally depends on who you are talking to, but it appears to have been around the year 1891. It was based off of the poker machine designed earlier, and was the very first to offer payout that was automatic.

The term came along with any automatic vending machine, and was later only used for gambling machines. The “slot” part refers to where you would put your coin in, even though online slots today can’t even accept coins through a physical slot.

The symbols that lead the way were the horseshoe and the bell. In addition, you could find symbols from playing cards on almost any slot machine. Although, if we were going to put our money on any slot machine symbol being the oldest, we would probably say that it’s the bell.

If you have been keeping up with us, it was named the Liberty Bell, and was an invention of Charles August Fey.

You might have heard that some players have the “knack” for picking a winning slot machine, but again that is nothing more than an old-fashioned casino myth. There’s no tried-and-true way to get a winning spin, as slot machines are based in luck and very little luck – just like other casino games. That said, it’s always possible to use RTP (return to player) and other statistics to find slots with high payouts, this is probably the most input you can have.

This might just be the most commonly asked online casino question. The truth is that while there might have been a few dodgy slot machines released in the past, times have changed, and matters are much more clean-cut these days. The introduction of the Random Number Generator (RNG) has changed the way physical and virtual slot machines function – ensuring fairness at all times.

It’s a little complicated to explain, but don’t worry, as slots have evolved to the point that they are really random and not just claiming to be.

The truth is that they can do this, but it’s not a particularly common occurrence, despite what some classic casino myths will have you believe. For a casino (especially an online casino) to change the payout percentage (or RTP) would require plenty of paperwork, along with back and forth between both the game provider and gambling authorities. To be honest, it isn’t really worth the casinos time and effort to do this.

Nope, there is no secret or cheat code that’s going to let you ride the reels to a jackpot win. As we mentioned earlier, an RNG ensures that the results of an online slots spin remain random. Some “experts” might claim that you can actively control the outcome of a slots or online game, but the truth is, besides altering how much you wager and the slot you play, the actual final result of a game will always be out of your hands.

Yes, we can say that they are absolutely worth playing. But this does come with a condition, only bet what you can afford to lose. Slots are a high-risk game, which means you’re throwing your cash to the wind and hoping that it swings back around with a little extra added on top. Pure luck is what you’re depending on and as long as you understand that, you’ll find that online slots are well worth the time and money to play.

Oh boy, is this a common, albeit silly, question. Hollywood movies and tall Las Vegas tales have messed with reality when it comes to slot games and the whole idea of “loose” machines. The truth is, there is no such thing as a loose machine or a tight machine for that matter, it’s all a creation of the casino to help push players towards certain machines.

Instead of looking for a loose slot machine, just play the games that you enjoy and you can’t go too far wrong.

Squeezing in one last question and one that is certainly important – over the history of slots, game volatility has certainly baffled a fair few players. When discussing slot volatility, you’re talking about how often the game will payout, obviously, it’s not as straight forward as during the days of the Liberty Bell. Higher volatility slots pay out more cash but less often, while low volatility slots payout less but much more frequently.

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