Slot machines are among the most popular games today. They are played all over the world in one form or another: gambling powerhouses like Las Vegas and Macau have countless one-armed bandits across their casino resorts, thousands more can be played online at the JackpotCity online casino and similar outlets, and there are countless others played casually on smartphones and computers through social casinos like Slotomania or MyVegas.
Slot machines are everywhere, offering quick fun or big wins to their players. Their history, in turn, is longer than you imagine – and it starts with a San Francisco mechanic called Charles Fey who gave them their current form.
Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell
The first gambling machines, developed by New York-based engineers Sittman and Pitt, was a lot more like modern-day video poker than a slot machine. It had a drum with 50 cards on them, and players could win based on the combination of five cards landing on the machine’s win line. It was beloved by the players but inconvenient for the operators – due to a large number of potential winning combinations, the machines couldn’t pay out winnings without the help of an operator.
At some time between 1887 and 1895, San Francisco-based mechanic Charles Fey devised a much simpler machine: instead of five drums, it had three reels, and instead of 50 card faces, it only had five symbols: horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and the Liberty Bell. This simpler mechanism allowed him to build an automatic payout mechanism (the biggest win was paid out by three bell symbols on the win line). Fey even created a mechanism that could tell real nickels from fake ones. As you might expect, his machines were extremely popular – he could barely keep up with the demand.
As the technology evolved, so did the slot machine. Its mechanics became increasingly complex, and electronics were added to the mix. The first electromechanical slot machine was built by Bally Manufacturing, made famous by its slot machines and pinball machines founded in the 1930s. The game, called Money Honey, was capable of paying out up to 500 coins. Launched in 1963, Money Honey became extremely popular, pushing electronic gaming machines into the mainstream.
It took almost two decades for the slot machine to lose its lever and gears, transitioning into a computer. The first video slot machine was built by Fortune Coin Co., a Las Vegas-based startup in 1976. It used a 19-inch monitor and was mounted into a full-size cabinet. The first video slot machines went on trial at the Las Vegas Hilton and – after being approved by the Nevada Gambling Commission – they spread all across the Las Vegas Strip.
As the internet went mainstream in the 1990s, it was just a question of time for slot machines to find their way online. The first online casinos emerged in the mid-1990s, offering their users games just like their real-life counterparts – only without the hassle of flying across the land, booking a hotel room, and dealing with the crowds at the gaming tables. And they have proven to be very popular.
Today, there are hundreds of online casinos offering players thousands of slot machines and other casino games available all over the world. Slot machines are available in the greatest variety – there is literally one for every taste, with themes ranging from movies and music to exotic animals and Egyptian myths. And, of course, there are plenty of them that replicate – in form or function – the original Liberty Bell slot machine Charles Fey built more than 120 years ago.