History of Slots: From Bars to Online and Mobile Slots

Today, no casino would be complete without a slot machine, the flashing lights, noises and clatter of coins that accompany a win are synonymous with the excitement and fun of the casino. Slot machine games have also become hugely popular online and on mobiles, with a seemingly endless supply of fun and big jackpots. The slot machine feels like a classic that has been around forever, but is in fact a relative newcomer to the casino game stable.

The first slot machines were developed by the Sitman & Pitt company of Brooklyn, New York in 1891. These machines were based on the game of poker and consisted of 5 reels of cards. The player put in a nickel, pulled a lever and was presented with a poker hand, the strength of the hand determining whether a prize had been won. The machines became very popular in the bars of New York at the time. There was no automatic payout available but a winner would claim his or her prize from the barman. Prizes were usually a cigar or free drink.

Due to the complexity of winning hand combinations in poker, making these ‘poker slot machines’ pay out a prize automatically was impossible with the technology available at the time. It fell to a man called Charles Fey to come up with a solution to this problem. Fey, a German immigrant to the US who had settled in San Francisco, realised that by replacing the poker cards with a simpler arrangement of symbols, and reducing the number of barrels from 5 to 3, the winning combinations could be made smaller, and automatic payout from the machine made possible. Fey’s original machine used 5 symbols; diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and a liberty bell, a row of liberty bells giving the player the highest jackpot. Fey’s machine was a huge success, and he was soon working extra hours to make enough machines to meet demand. Due to the handle on the side of the machine and their habit of taking your money, Fey’s machines quickly earned the moniker ‘one-armed bandits’.

In 1907 Fey decided to team up with another company, the Mills Novelty Company, and together they evolved new and improved versions of Fey’s machine. They also negotiated a deal with a chewing gum company, the Bell Fruit Gum Company. As part of the deal the Mills Novelty Company agreed to replace some of the games symbols with pictures showing the fruit flavours of the chewing gum. This is where the cherry, watermelon, oranges and apples pictures come from. The machines paid out prizes of flavoured chewing gum, sidestepping the gambling regulations at the time, hence why slot machines are called fruit machines!

The 1930s and 40s saw the popularity of slot machines grow as the Vegas casinos installed them with a view to providing entertainment on the side of the traditional games such as blackjack and roulette. The appeal of the slots was underestimated though and revenue from the machines soon topped the money being taken from the tables. The machines being played in the casinos of the 40s weren’t hugely different from Fey’s original version. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the electrification of the machines moved them further towards the modern game. The first electromagnetic game was called the ‘Money Honey’ and the incorporation of electric components meant that it could showcase the flashing lights and blaring acoustics that we now associate so strongly with slot machines.

Slot machines have continued to move with the times, the 80s saw the slots move into the computer era with the first video screen games arriving in casinos. This technology opened up the possibilities of more imaginative, themed games and also meant that more than one game could be played on the same console.

The arrival of the internet heralded a new age for slot machines. Although they had always been popular in casinos, the internet opened up a much bigger, global market. There are now a huge variety of online slot games available, with jackpots going into the millions. Games vary from those based on blockbuster films and TV shows, to fun themed games and the classic fruit machine style games, with slots such as Rainbow Riches and Cleopatra becoming “famous” in their own right. Mobile slot games, offered by most of the best online casino sites, are another area of massive growth giving people access to a world of exciting slot machine fun from their mobile phone.

The slot machine has evolved with the times, but was has remained constant is the buzz, excitement and the possibility of hitting that jackpot.