May 2019

A Quick Spin Through The History Of Slots

by Christine in Features category

You might already be a longtime fan of slots. Or maybe you’ve just started to dip your toe into the immersive world of these games. And there’s also a chance you’ve never even been tempted to spin a reel. But wherever you stand on these games, you should know that the history of slots well worth delving in to.

This history stretches back well over a hundred years, has had its fair share of controversy and, as you might imagine, innovation.

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A slot is born

This magical tale stretches back to late 19th century New York. Drinking establishments all over the city were getting strange machines installed at the bar.

These were the first primitive slot machines. The machines had 50 playing cards and five drums. You’d pull the lever on the side of the machine and cross your fingers that you’d get a good poker hand would appear across the drums.

If you got a strong hand, you’d point it out to the bar keep who’d give you your prize. These prizes were entirely at the discretion of the bar, but often they’d dish out drinks, cigars and sometimes cash.

Quickly gaining in popularity, the punters started nicknaming the machine the one-armed bandit. This name has stuck to this day.

Noticing they were on to a good thing, Sittman and Pitt started mass producing these machines from 1891.

Make way for automation

The first major innovation in slot machines happened just after they were first created. Charles Augustus Fey created a machine that automatically dishes out prizes.

There is a bit of dispute over the exact date he created these machines, but people tend to put it between 1887 and 1895. But one thing that everyone knows is he never took out a patent for his invention, which means he was never got rich off his innovation.

So what did he do differently? His machine used reels and symbols instead of drums and playing cards. That made it possible to automate the payouts.

We’re betting you’re familiar with the symbols he picked out as they’re still used frequently in slots games. He inserted the classic good luck symbols of diamonds, hearts, spades, horseshoes and the famous Liberty Bell, which the machine was named after.

The lever also appeared on this iteration of the slot machine. But this time, a random combination of symbols would be revealed thanks to the lever stretching a spring in the inner workings of the machine. It’d start out fast and get slower, a pattern even modern digital slots follow today.

Players would try their best to outsmart the machine, convinced that their own special way of pulling the lever would produce better results. We’re guessing it didn’t really work out that way…

Each spin cost a player $0.05 . The Liberty Bell was the highest value symbol and if you got three in a row, you’d get the maximum payout of $0.50.

A fruity solution to a legal problem

Just a few years after slots became mainstream, the authorities cracked down on them in an unexpected twist for the history of slots. In 1902, they were banned. This could easily have spelled disaster for slot machines, but the innovators refused to give up.

The machines were reborn to get around the new laws. The symbols were swapped out for pictures of fruit and the coins were ditched in favour of sweets.

Now when a player pulled the lever and lined up fruit symbols, they’d get sweets matching the flavour. How sweet is that? This period in slots left an impression on the industry, with many of our favourite games to this day having fruit symbols. Plus, we still call them fruit machines in lots of parts of the world.

Electric shock

Bally, Las Vegas sent shockwaves through the industry when they unveiled Money Honey in their casino in 1964.

This was the first electric slot machine and had comparatively huge payouts of 500 coins. Soon plenty more electric versions were released and, in time, designers started ditching the lever en masse.

Video rebirth

Just a decade later, Fortune Coin Co changed the game again. They launched the first ever video slot machine in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel in 1976 in a move that would forever change the history of slots.

Punters played this game on a modified 19-inch TV screen and never looked back. This innovative company was now hot property in the industry and was eventually bought by IGT.