A History of Slot Machines

With a history spanning 200 years, slots have made their mark, even adopting various names, such as pokies and fruit machines. Check out this page to get to know these much-loved casino games better...

The history of land-based slot machines

Slot machines have an interesting history. Read this page to learn about how they were made, when they were first released and what playing one of those first machines was like. It’s amazing how much they’ve changed over the years and you’ll be surprised how old slot machines are.

The First Ever Slot Machine

The first appearance of slot machines occurred in San Francisco in the late 1800's. These first slots had card numbers instead of fruit or other symbols, usually with five reels of ten cards each. The payouts with these early slots were not money but free drinks or cigars.

It wasn’t until 1887 (although some claim it was 1895 or perhaps 1899) that the first slot machine as we now know it appeared. Invented by a car mechanic, Charles Fey, this first slot machine had a payout table, a large handle on the side, and a coin acceptor with a special mechanism to detect the use of fake nickels or slugs. It had 3 spinning reels and 5 symbols; spades, diamonds, hearts, horseshoes and the Liberty Bell, which is how the slot machine got its name. A spin of three Liberty Bells in a row paid out ten nickels.

In the late 19th century in San Francisco, Charles Fey created the first slot machines, which has three reels and was named Liberty Bell.

Ironically, after a few years the use of slot machines was banned in California. Yet the Liberty Bell was extremely popular and many orders for it came from other states. Other manufacturers tried to buy manufacturing rights for the Liberty Bell but Fey refused.

Not easily stopped, others copied Fey’s idea for a slot machine, including Herbert Mills in Chicago. In 1907 Mills produced the Operator Bell slot machine. Mills was the first manufacturer to use fruit symbols on the reels and introduced machines that paid out in fruit-flavored gum to avoid prosecution under anti-gambling rules. He updated the original Fey machine by adding ten new symbols and making the machine more compact for easier moving and installing. Mills’ slot machine became more popular than Fey's machines.

Initial Electro-mechanical and Video Slot Machines

Electro-mechanical and video slot machines changed the slot industry forever, as did the Internet, which spawned online casino slots and much more.

Mechanical one-armed slot machines were the standard until the early 1960’s when Bally Technologies, Inc. developed an electro-mechanical slot machine called Money Honey. Electronic microprocessors were used to improve gameplay by making the machines more tamper-proof, allowing for multiple-coin bets and providing automatic payouts.

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s when a video slot machine using a color monitor and microchip technology was introduced. Created by the Fortune Coin Company, this slot machine provided better odds and more controlled payouts.

Ironically, many players mistrusted the technology since they couldn’t see the actual reels spinning. The video slot machine was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission and became increasingly popular in Las Vegas. The company and its technology were purchased by International Gaming Technology (IGT) in 1978. IGT marketed and further developed the technology, including the ability to link multiple slot machines together. IGT invented the first progressive jackpot slot machines in 1986 when they released Megabucks.

Slot Machines Today

The technology allows video slot machines to provide much more than feature-rich entertainment.

Many video slot machines today may look on the outside like the traditional one-armed machines and may even allow the player to pull down the lever or insert an actual coin but that’s where the similarities end.

Today’s slot machines have no mechanical parts at all and rely on increasingly faster and more powerful processors to provide features such as rich graphics, 3-D images, surround sound, and interactive bonus games. Dozens of software companies have been created since the 1990s and many of the traditional slot machine companies have created entire high-tech divisions dedicated to producing feature-rich slot machines that can be played not only in casinos but online and using mobile devices.

The technology allows video slot machines to provide much more than feature-rich entertainment. Modern day machines possess none of the mechanical limits that the original slot machines had. Today slots incorporate computerized random number generators that that create thousands of random numbers per second to truly make the outcome of a spin random.

Slots now can have many more than the three traditional reels and offer a large variety of symbols, pay lines, and bet sizes. The expansion of possible combinations of play leads to the potential for enormous payouts. Slot machines are now millionaire-makers with record wins of almost $30 million about ten years ago and some recent jackpot wins of over $10 million!

General Gambling Laws

In most jurisdictions, it is not illegal to play casino games or other games of chance online. Games involving play money tend to be completely legal, while those that use real money can be problematic in some ways. However, it is usually not illegal for a player to gamble.

What may be illegal is the transfer of funds to a gambling site that is not licensed by the jurisdiction in which you are located. It’s usually not individuals that are prohibited from sending cash to an online casino, but rather financial institutions and entities, such as banks, credit unions, and credit card companies. If you are in a jurisdiction that does not allow the transfer of funds to an online casino, you may find it difficult to do so. However, chances are you may fund your account via a wire transfer service or by using Bit Coin. Withdrawing funds may take a little extra effort.

In many jurisdictions, online gambling laws are vague. If this is the case, then chances are you’ll be able to play easily and without incident. It’s also very easy to play online slots and other games in countries that readily license Internet gaming sites.

The bottom line is it’s a good chance it’s safe to play if the online casino allows you to register for an account.