Although the technology of today’s slot machines are quite impressive, slots have actually been around for over a century.
It all began in the 1890’s…when a man named Charles Fey from San Francisco, CA conceived of a poker machine with an automatic payout mechanism.
However, poker was very complex. With so many ways to win in a game of poker, it was nearly impossible to make a machine capable of creating an automatic payout for all the winning combinations.
Instead, Fey devised a machine with three spinning reels. They contained a total of five symbols, including horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a Liberty Bell (which also gave the machine its name).
By replacing ten cards with five symbols and using three reels instead of five drums, the complexity of reading a win was considerably reduced, allowing Fey to devise an effective automatic payout mechanism.
Three bells in a row produced the biggest payoff, which was only ten nickels….
The Liberty Bell was a huge success and gave birth to a thriving mechanical gaming industry. The machine was so popular, that it was copied by many other slot machine manufacturers. Herbert Mills from Chicago produced a slot machine called The Operator Bell in 1907.
Within a year, these “bell” machines were in most cigar stores, saloons, bowling alleys, brothels and barber shops. You can still see the original Liberty Bell slot machine at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, Nevada.
In 1891, two men named Sittman and Pitt, of Brooklyn, New York, developed a gambling machine which was a precursor to our modern slot machines.
This machine was accurately based on poker. It actually contained five drums, holding a total of 50 card faces. Players would insert a nickel and pull a lever, which would spin the drums and the cards they held, the player hoping for a good poker hand.
However, with this machine, there was no direct payout mechanism. So, a pair of kings might get you a free beer, whereas a royal flush may pay out cigars or drinks. The prizes depended on whatever the local establishment was offering.
This machine proved extremely popular. Soon, many bars in the city had one or more of the machines.
Another early machine gave out winnings in the form of fruit flavored chewing gum, with symbols of the flavors on the reels. The popular cherry and melon symbols came from this machine, as well as the BAR symbol, which was derived from an early logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company.
The payment of food prizes for slot machines was a commonly used technique to avoid gambling laws in a number of states. For this reason, a number of gumball and other vending machines were regarded with mistrust by the courts.
In 1963, Bally developed the first fully electromechanical slot machine called “Money Honey”. Earlier machines had the basics of electromechanical construction as early as 1940.
However, the electromechanical approach of the 1960s allowed this to be the first slot machine with a bottomless hopper and automatic payout, of up to 500 coins, without the help of an attendant. The popularity of this machine led to the increasing predominance of electronic games. The side lever on slot machines soon became merely a decoration.
The first true, video slot machine was developed in 1976 by a group of developers under the direction of Fortune Coin Co., Las Vegas, NV.
After some “cheat-proofing” modifications, the video slot machine was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission and eventually became one of the more popular casino games on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown casinos.
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