Slot machines are featured heavily at almost every casino in the world, both land-based and online, primarily because they are so popular.
If you walk into any land-based casino, you’re likely to see several machines, and in some of the bigger venues you’ll find hundreds of them. At many of the leading online casinos, you’ll find a massive variety of virtual games available.
The history of these gambling machines goes back many, many years. There’s some debate about who originally came up with the idea, and when, although there are two widely accepted accounts of how slots first came about.
On this page, we briefly cover the history of slot machines. We look at the two versions of how they were invented and discuss how they have developed over time into the devices we’re familiar with today.
There are at least two different accounts of the original invention of slot machines. One is that the first device was the Liberty Bell machine, invented by an American named Charles Fey in 1887.
It was relatively simple, featuring just three reels and five symbols: a Liberty Bell (hence the name) along with a horseshoe, a heart, a diamond, and a spade.
The other version is that Fey didn’t develop his machine until later, in 1895, and that the first device was in fact inaugurated in 1891 by two men named Sittman and Pitt. This machine was loosely based on poker, although there were only 50 cards used.
These 50 cards were featured on five spinning drums (10 on each), which would display a five-card poker hand on each spin. The better the hand displayed, the more a player could win.
There were some similarities and differences between these two devices. Both required a player to pull a lever to start the reels or drums spinning, and it was this aspect that led to slot machines being known as one-armed bandits.
The basic principle of both was also the same in that players inserted a coin and won certain amounts based on the result of the spin.
One of the main differences between the two was that the Liberty Bell had a mechanism that automatically dispensed coins depending on the result of the spin, while the machine developed by Sittman and Pitt did not.
There were many more possible combinations due to the five reels instead of three and the use of playing cards instead of just a few symbols.
It was perhaps this key difference that made the Liberty Bell the more popular of the two. Although both devices were produced in numbers and installed in bars, saloons, and other venues, it was the Liberty Bell that really started the slot machine boom.
Other companies soon began to manufacture their versions of these early devices, and the slots industry was well and truly established.
The early machines served a purpose and certainly attracted the attention of plenty of people who enjoyed playing them. They were, however, somewhat basic. Over time they became more and more sophisticated with a number of improvements made.
There have been a number of notable developments in the history of slot machines. A particularly significant one occurred when a Chicago-based manufacturer was the first to use fruit symbols on the reels.
This became something of a standard, and even to this day many games still feature fruit symbols. In some parts of the world, slot games are still referred to as fruit machines.
Perhaps the most significant development was many years later, in 1963, when Bally Manufacturing made Money Honey.
Money Honey was the first fully electronic slot machine, and it changed the industry dramatically. Games could be started by pressing a button rather than pulling a lever, and several new features were introduced.
These included being able to hold reels for the subsequent spin or nudge reels to try to make winning combinations.
The electronic games evolved even further, and soon video slots appeared. Physical reels weren’t used, and instead, everything was displayed graphically on a video screen. This led to the introduction of second screen games that featured additional bonus rounds where the reels displayed would change to a different screen at which further payouts could be won.
The next big development was near the end of the 20th century when online casinos started to populate the Internet.
Most of the early online casinos offered a range of slot games, and pretty much every single one still does today. Slots are easily among the most popular casino games, with literally hundreds of different varieties found.
These games have evolved substantially since the initial versions. You’ll now find games based on all kinds of different themes, with loads of rules and features. Some of them have progressive jackpots which increase over time, potentially growing to huge sums of money.
The companies that develop online slot games are continually improving what’s on offer and are constantly looking for ways to innovate and provide something unique.