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The evolution of slot machines

26 Feb The evolution of slot machines


Slot machines have always seen a steady increase in popularity since they made their debut in 1891. 

Traditionally speaking, the games consist of a minimum of three reels, rows, with symbols that represent different payouts, depending on the combinations that appear. A player will press a button or pull a lever to set the reels in motion, in the hope of receiving a handsome payout. 

In the modern day, thousands of varieties of slot games can be found online, and with themed games offering different ways to boost your bankroll and travel to new worlds – the ever-evolving technology leads us to wonder where the future of Slots lies. 

As one of the most popular casino games out there, slot machines can be found in pubs, bars, arcades, bingo halls, casinos and even service stations all over the world. But the question remains: how did slot machines become so popular? And most importantly: where did they come from? 

Read on to find out how slot games evolved into what we know and love today. 

The very first slot

In 1891, a slot machine was developed by Sittman and Pitt, a company based in New York. The game had five drums and 50 playing cards, and the aim was to line up winning poker hands on the reels. The game was found in many bars, and players would insert a nickel to play, pulling a lever to spin the reels. The house edge was increased by having the 10 of Spades and Jack of Hearts cards removed from the machine, making it harder to get a royal flush. As the term ‘slot machine’ referred to a standard vending machine, this machine came without a payout system, so players would claim their prizes in the form of free drinks and cigars from the bar. 

The Liberty Bell 

Charles Augustus Fey is often accredited as the inventor of the first slot machine – as sometime between 1887 and 1895, he created a machine that did have automatic payouts. Fey’s machine, the Liberty Bell, consisted of three reels, and five symbols that replaced the playing cards. The symbols included hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes and a liberty bell. The highest payout being triggered by a combination of the latter. The game became widely popular, and the design was copied by many others. 

The slot ban

In 1902, slot machines were banned, but the Liberty Bell didn’t stop being manufactured. Cash prizes could no longer be won, so fruit machines were created. These machines featured symbols such as cherries, oranges, melons and grapes, and prizes were paid out in chewing gum and sweets of the winning flavours. 

In 1907, Herbert Mills, a manufacturer from Chicago, created a slot machine called the Operator Bell, and a year later, this machine was found all over the US: in bowling alleys, shops, salons and bars. It was during this time that the familiar BAR symbol appeared on the reels, representing a styalised chewing gum packet, much like what players would hope to win. This was also the logo for the Bell-Fruit Gum company, whose gum often featured in the slot machines as payment for landing winning combinations. 

Electronic Slots

By 1951, Nevada was the only state that had legal slot machines, and 1964 saw the creation of the first fully electronic slot machine. Money Honey, released by a company called Bally, saw the three reels being operated electronically. The machine still had a familiar lever for players to pull to initiate gameplay, but this was the first slot machine to have a bottomless hopper (payout reserve container), which allowed the machine to make payouts of up to 500 coins. Eventually, the lever was replaced with the button that features on most machines today. 

Video Slots

Fortune Coin was the name of the Las Vegas based company that manufactured the first video slot in 1976. The game was displayed on a modified 19-inch Sony TV, and was initially only available in the Las Vegas Hilton hotel. Soon after, the game was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission and became hugely popular along the Las Vegas Strip. 

In 1996, a video slot called Reel ‘em was created. This was the first slot machine to include a bonus round on a second screen, with additional payouts to be won. Slots began to dominate casinos, and now take up over 70% of the casino floor, being responsible for roughly 70% of their income as well. 

Online Slots

It was in 1996 that online casinos began to rise, when Cryptologic created the first online gaming platform that offered casino games with an integrated online payment system. At the start, online casinos only offered classic table games such as Roulette and Poker, but as the demand for Slots was so high, it wasn’t long before these were added. As technology has evolved, so have the games, transforming into the masterpieces we know and love today.