Slot Machines: An Inside History

The First Slot Machines

Most experts believe that the first slot machine was developed by the Sittman and Pitt Company in Brooklyn in 1891, although some credit the invention of slot machines to Bavarian immigrant, Charles Fey. The dispute is due to the fact that Sittman and Pitt’s machine was very different from anything resembling a modern slot machine.

Sittman and Pitt’s machine was made of cast iron and used standard playing cards. A random five-card sequence would be generated after players inserted their coins. Then, using the same rules as poker, players with better hands would be allowed to keep playing and eventually cash out.

Drawbacks of the Sittman and Pitt Machine

Initially, Sittman and Pitt’s slot machine was developed to improve efficiency in saloons. The idea was well-conceived, but it had two significant limitations:

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    Lack of a money dispensing mechanism.

    The machine lacked a feature for dispensing money, which created serious debates over what rewards winning players should receive. And since saloons were on the hook to offer free drinks, cigars, and other rewards – and because the rules varied between saloons – players couldn’t always be certain what they’d receive for winning hands.

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    Use of a 50-card deck instead of a standard 52-card deck.

    The machine only had 50 cards, rather a standard 52 card deck, limiting players’ opportunities to be dealt winning hands.

A few years later, Fey developed his own version of the machine – known as the Liberty Bell slot machine – which sought to improve on this model.

The Liberty Bell Slot Machine

Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell slot machine departed from Sittman and Pitt’s machine in two substantial ways:

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    The use of reels with different symbols instead of cards.

    Unlike Sittman and Pitt’s machines, the Liberty Bell used reels with different symbols instead of cards. These reels had diamonds, spades, hearts, clubs, bells, stars, and horseshoes as symbols – the same symbols still used by some slot machines today.

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    The ability to dispense coins to winning players.

    The Liberty Bell machines could actually dispense coins to winning players. Players would receive between two and twenty coins, depending on the combination of their reels.

This machine was very well received in saloons throughout the United States, causing many other companies to start producing them. The introduction of the Liberty Bell slot machine line is seen as the beginning of mechanical gambling.

Other Companies Improve on Fey’s Design

While the Liberty Bell closely resembles modern slot machines, the machines it inspired incorporated several new features that today’s gamblers will recognize. For instance, about a decade after the first Liberty Bell machine was produced, Mills Novelty Co. produced the Operator Bell slot machine, which was the first slot machine to have fruit for slots.

Debates Over Regulation Transpire Across the World

As slot machines became more widely produced, jurisdictions across the world debated the need for regulation. Politicians in the United States had a rather puritanical outlook during the 1920s, so they sought to strongly restrict – or even outright ban – slot machines.

As slot machine manufacturers struggled to grow their market share in the United States, they expanded their marketing efforts abroad. The European markets, in particular, grew rapidly during the 1970s, thanks to more lenient regulation. Contrasting regulatory philosophies between the United States and Europe still exist, which has allowed online gambling to become a stronger industry in Europe.

Electronic Generation of Slot Machines

Slot machines continued to evolve over the years, driven in large part by our increasing reliance on electronics and technology. Bally Manufacturing, for example, released Money Honey, the first entirely electronic slot machine in 1963. Bally’s machine retained the lever that was used in more primitive slot machines, though other manufacturers would go on to get rid of it altogether.

The initial benefit of electronic slot machines was that they were more reliable and convenient to use. However, future generations of electronic slots became even more sophisticated. In 1996, WMS Industries, Inc. developed a series of slot machines called Reel ‘Em In that came with a second screen, allowing players to earn special bonuses that weren’t available with prior slot machines.

Wider Array of Choices

While slot machines continued to evolve over the years, gamblers still had limited options at their disposal, until manufacturers began to introduce different types of slot-style games. Here are just a few of the options that are currently available to casino patrons:

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    Progressive Slots

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    3-reel Classics

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    5-reel Video Slots

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    Bonus Slots

Patrons can still find many of these electronic slot machines in casinos around the world. They were also important in laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the slots-style games offered on online gambling sites.

Online Slots

Online slots haven’t made the slot machines in casinos obsolete, but they’ve certainly changed the course of the gaming industry since the launch of the first online gambling software and online gambling in 1994.

Since then, the online gambling industry has grown faster than anybody would have ever predicted. There were only 15 online gaming sites in 1996, but that figure increased to 200 by the following year. Many different forms of online gambling have been made available over the years, but slot machines remain one of the most popular.

Mobile gambling, in particular, is on the rise, and it’s likely that demand for mobile slots will increase in the future as well. The existing digital gaming industry is currently estimated to be worth about $3 billion, but its value could rise as mobile gaming becomes more popular.

What’s Next in the Ever-Evolving Future of Slot Machines?

Although slot machines have been a popular form of gambling for more than a century, they continue to evolve. As new technology and features become available in the near future, it’s likely we’ll see even more growth and engagement with this fun digital gaming option.

What do you think will be the future of the slot machine? Share your predictions by leaving a comment below.