When Were Slot Machines Invented?

10 December 2016

Let’s face it, over the centuries people have created any number of ways to gamble.  It is even said that Keno, an ancient form of lottery invented by the Chinese helped to fund the building of the Great Wall of China.  Today we associate slot machines with online casino bonus software but their origin is not that much older (at least when we take the whole sweep of human history in to account!).

Whenever you see a machine with three or more spinning reels operated by a single lever at the side then you are in the presence of a slot machine, variously known as fruit machine, the slots, or pokies depending where you are from in the English speaking world. The lever today is mostly gone from designs but a number of new machines keep it as a kind of homage to history.

The precursor of the slot machine was developed in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt in New York.  Although it proved very popular there was no direct payout mechanism – this was considered too complicated as it used five drums.  If you won you had to show the proprietor of the bar and a prize would be given from a pre-written list.  As the prizes depended on the proprietor they could vary enormously.  What was needed was a simpler payment mechanism.

This came about in 1895 when San Francisco based  Charles Fey invented a system based on three spinning reels and five symbols: the Liberty Bell plus horseshoes, diamonds, spades and hearts.  This simplified the complexity of reading a win which meant that payoffs could be made.  The biggest was set if you managed to get three bells appearing in a row – the princely sum of 50 cents would be yours.

Ironically, California banned what became known as the Liberty Bell but Fey found it hard to keep up with demand elsewhere!  This is generally seen as the beginning of the mechanical gaming device industry.  By the turn of the century Fey’s machines (and their copies) were all over the continental United States.

It would take until 1963 for Bally Manufacturing to develop the first fully elctromechanical slot machine.  Known as the Money Honey it was the precursor of all electronic games which followed.  The lever would become defunct (we could even say vestigial) with the advent of these machines.  Fast-forward to today and the online games we play still echo these first machines.  The internet would seem quite foreign to those people who played the Liberty Bell back in the 1890s but the overall concept remains the same.



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