A Brief History of Slot Machines

A brief history of slot machines
Reading time: 5 minutes

Did you know that, on average, there were 151,260 gaming machines in the UK in 2022?

And this figure actually fell from a decade high of 184,387 in 2020, just before the outbreak of Covid 19.

This will tell you just how popular slot machines are in the UK gambling scene.

When we think of slot machines we think of the shrill musical notes, the flashing lights, the crackling of coins ejecting from the machine closely followed by the scream of ‘Jackpot’.

But this is just one of the many pictures, made famous by pop culture and media, we have in our mind about the famous ‘slot machine’.

In fact, slot machines have had many different reincarnations in their 130-year lifespan.

This article will look at the history of slot machines, from their humble beginnings to the modern-day versions we see today. Also, it will imagine what the future may hold for slot machines.

In the Beginning…

The original idea for the first slot machine as we know it today can be traced back to the late 1800s when a New York-based company called Sittman and Pitt created a machine that was based on poker. This machine had five drums that held a total of 50 playing cards, and the idea was to get a winning poker hand. However, the machine did not pay out cash prizes, and the prizes were determined by the establishment that owned the machine, typically free drinks or cigars.

The name ‘slot’ machine, also came from the name given to automatic vending machines before the 20th century. ‘Slot’ was short for ‘nickel-in-the-slot’.

1891-1964

The first true slot machine was invented in 1895 by a man named Charles Fey.

Fey’s machine, which he called the Liberty Bell, was a simple machine that had three reels and five symbols – horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a Liberty Bell. The simplicity of a winning hand meant the machine could be depended on to read winning reels and give cash payouts. As it was not patented by Fey, the Liberty Bell machine quickly became popular and was soon installed in bars and saloons all over San Francisco.

The period between 1891 and 1964 saw quite a few changes to the slot machine. Charles Fey continued to refine his machine, and in 1907 he introduced the first slot machine that had an automatic payout mechanism.

However, in 1902, gambling laws in the US saw an official ban on slot machines. This led to the introduction of fruit symbols on these machines. ‘Fruit machines’, as they became known and still are in the UK, would distribute chewing gum and sweets rather than cash prizes.

The first slot machines originated in the 1890s

The ban on slot machines would last long after the appeal of chewing gum machines had waned. However, the state of Nevada had legalised gambling to encourage tourists to visit the newly formed city of Las Vegas.

This was the only place you could find slot machines, and as a result, nothing really innovative happened with the mechanical reels. However, this was all about to change after WWII.

The ’60s & ’70s

In 1964, Bally introduced the first electromechanical slot machine. This machine used electrical circuits instead of mechanical parts to determine the outcome of the game. The introduction of the electromechanical slot allowed for more complex games and the ability to offer larger jackpots. These new types of machines had 3 and 5-coin multipliers, where the sizes of the payouts became proportional to the number of coins inserted before the lever was pulled.

It wasn’t long before another innovation would revolutionize the slot machine industry.

Video Killed the Radio Store

In the mid-70s, the first video slot machine was introduced in Las Vegas. This machine used a television screen instead of physical reels to display the symbols. The introduction of video slot machines allowed for even more complex games and the ability to offer bonus features and other advanced features. The game was first released in the Hilton Hotel, before getting official approval from the Nevada State Gaming Commission. After this, the machines were found all over the Vegas strip.

However, these machines lacked the thrill of pulling down on the handle, the sounds of the reels falling into line, and the jangling of coins cascading into the put below to signal a win. With this, it wasn’t long before traditional slot machines saw yet another rejuvenation.

Rise of the Modern Slot

The 1980s and 90s saw the true rise of modern slot machines.

In 1986, a company called International Game Technology (IGT) introduced the first progressive slot machine. This machine allowed players to win a large jackpot that would grow with each game played until it was won. The introduction of the progressive jackpot changed the slot machine industry forever and made slot machines more popular than ever before.

These machines also offered expanded themes and bonus features that made the games even more entertaining. The themes of the machines ranged from popular TV shows to popular music.

In addition to the expanded themes, slot machines began to offer bonus features such as free spins and mini-games that allowed players to win even more money. These features made slot machines even more popular, and they quickly became one of the most popular forms of gambling entertainment in the world.

Cyber Slots in your Pocket

The very late 90s and right throughout the 00s saw the rise of online slots. There was initial scepticism at the advent of these slots, as casino operators feared that it would signal the end of brick-and-mortar casinos and physical machines.

Authorities were also concerned that it would encourage gamblers to play slots on illegal and black-market sites.

However, the popularity of online slots quite simply exploded, and since the first online slot from Microgaming, an online slot machine called Cash Splash, there have been hundreds of online slot games created on a yearly basis. This is due to the simplicity of developing them, along with the constant advancements in technology which mean they are constantly evolving in terms of better graphics, sound effects, and unique bonus features.

In the mid-00s, the mobile phone industry encapsulated online slots, and in 2005, Pub Fruity was launched. The game fully emulated a classic pub fruit machine.

Then in 2008, with the release of the iOS App store, a whole new world for slots to thrive in was opened. Players no longer had to visit casinos to play online slots.

Mobile online casino slots

Where we are now (and where we could be going…)

With an almost unlimited number of online slots to play from, from an infinite amount of game developers, more and more people than ever before and playing slots.

While our classic favourites throughout time have been brought into the 21st century, casino software developers continue to push the boundaries with every new casino slot they release.

The industry is forever being greeted with new bonus features, constantly improved sound and graphics and innovative themes, but where does the future of slots lie?

The journey of slot machines is far from over. With technology constantly evolving, the future looks exciting for online slots.

Virtual reality, augmented reality, 5G, user avatar customisation, non-fungible tokens, etc. all have the potential to bring a completely immersive experience to slot players in the future.

Slot machines have come a long way in the past 130 years, just imagine what the next 130 years hold in store.

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Samantha Davies
Samantha Davies
Senior Editor
6 Articles
1 Reviews

With more than 300 player accounts at various online casinos under her sleeve, there is no other person than Samantha who knows more about the different online casinos in New Zealand. She is our expert casino reviewer and works as a Senior Editor.

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