Brief History of the Slot Machine

GambleScope Research Team

Slots are an ever-present of the land-based and online casino - in fact, they’re the world’s most popular casino game of all time, by far. Almost every casino has them, in abundance. Slots come in many different themes, have all sorts of exciting and thrilling gameplay features, and all have their very own style and uniqueness. Though today’s slots are very technologically advanced and diverse, they haven’t always been that way. Here’s a look at the history of slots, covering where they came from, how they evolved and where they are going.

Early Beginnings

Before the first slot machine (as we know it) came into being, a very similar kind of device was invented. In 1891, Brooklyn-based company Sittman and Pitt developed a lever-operated poker machine with a total of five drums displaying cards. Players had to enter a nickel, pull the lever, and hope to land a winning combination poker hand. Two cards were usually missing to stack the odds in the game’s favour, this could be considered the house edge. However, the machine didn’t pay out in real money: winners had to collect their winnings from the staff at whichever establishment they were playing. Prizes awarded were at the discretion of the vendor; for example, if you were at a bar, you might win a free drink and some cigars for a flush draw.

The Liberty Bell: First Real Money Paying Slot Game

The first foray of the slot proved its vast potential and mass appeal, but it was far from the finished product, For one, there were too many winning combinations, and at that time it was nearly impossible to make a poker machine automatically pay out for every win. So, a much simpler and more straightforward gambling machine was conceived by a Mr Charles Fey from San Francisco. The mechanism he devised was very similar the original poker machine, though with only three drums and five different symbols: diamonds, hearts, spades, horseshoes and the Liberty Bell. The exact date for the launch of this first slot machine is largely unknown but thought to be between 1887 and 1895. This game is considered to be the very first slot machine because Fey was able to come up with an automatic payout system that worked effectively. The first slot machine was straightforward in design and had but a few winning combinations: the top prize was awarded for landing three Liberty Bells in a row (hence the name ‘Liberty Bell), which returned the player with a payout of 10 cents. Unfortunately for Charles Fey, he didn’t patent his design resulting in many copies evolving to cash in on the slot machine’s runaway popularity.

Commencement of the Fruit Machine Era

Despite Liberty Bell machines enjoying much success, in 1902 they were banned in Fey’s home state. However, they still proved very popular elsewhere. It wasn’t long before a successor came along: the fruit machine. These worked in pretty much the same way as Liberty Bell machines, though they featured various fruits as symbols instead of playing cards. Fruit-flavoured sweets and pieces of fruity chewing gum were paid out on a win to circumvent gambling laws prevalent at the time, hence the name ‘fruit machine’. Fruit machines took off in places where the Liberty Bell machines were banned. They became very popular in all sorts of entertainment and social venues, including pubs, bars, arcades, cafes, and inevitably land-based casinos.

The Electromechanical Slot – A Key Development in Slot Game History

In 1964, a company called Bally Technologies released the very first electromechanical slot. It was very much the same as the Liberty Bell and fruit machine slots, except that the reels weren’t operated mechanically by the lever. Instead, they were driven electronically (though players still had to pull the lever to spin them). Electromechanical slots gained pace throughout the 60’s, and in 1976 the very first bonafide video slot appeared. Developed by the Las Vegas-based company Fortune Coin, it debuted with a 19-inch Sony Trinitron colour TV screen displaying the reels. Soon after its launch at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, the brand new video slot quickly became a massive hit throughout Vegas and beyond. With players able to spin the reels by pressing a button, there was no longer a need for the lever. However, many slot machines still feature a lever to recreate the classic slot machine experience. The next significant development came in 1996. Up until this point, video slots had just used a single display throughout the whole game. Inevitably, this all changed when WMS Industries Inc launched a video slot with a bonus round. Once the bonus round was activated, the screen display would change, and players could win an additional payout, which commenced the evolution of game features such as bonus rounds, wilds, scatters, and gambles etc.

Only a Matter of Time Before Slot went Online

The online casino emerged in the mid-nineties when casinos came online, and more people became connected to the internet. Throughout the late 90s and early 00s, the online casino movement gained momentum, as did online slots. At first, they resembled the more basic slot machines that were common to land-based casinos at the time, with usually just three reels and a small number of payouts. Over time, they became more and more advanced, thanks in part to ongoing technological innovations and the increasing speeds of the internet. It soon became common for online slots to have five reels, along with bonus rounds and all sorts of other features not seen in land-based slot machines, including things like wild and scatter symbols. Graphics steadily improved as well, with many more recently released online slots offering very high-quality graphics that make for a much more immersive gaming experience. Though online slots have gained an increasing number of features and come in an ever-growing range of themes, the demand for the simple, classic slots remained. A typical online casino has hundreds of video slots, and invariably, some classic slots will be present to cater for the needs of the lovers of these types of easy to understand, easy to play, slot games. Slot classics are stripped-back online slots replicating the style of slot machines from several decades ago. They usually just have three reels, are themed after fruit machines and the like, and are a lot simpler to play thanks to the lower number of features.

What is the Future of the Online Slot Game

So what does the future hold for the slot game? For the gambling industry as a whole, the next big thing is set to be virtual reality casinos. The era of the VR casino is already upon us. The first fully-fledged virtual casino that lets you play for real money was launched by Slots Million in 2017. It offers more than 40 of the casino’s most popular games, including some slots. It offers two options; you can view the virtual reality casino in 3D on your desktop computer without goggles, or you can use an Oculus 3D headset for the full and immersive virtual reality experience. Casinos started off as being land-based. Then came online casinos, followed by mobile casinos. Now it looks as if virtual reality casinos are going to be the next big thing. Slots are sure to be a crucial part of this new casino experience.