Slot Machine History


The history of slot machines began in California in the 1880’s and 90’s. At the time, gambling was very popular and many forms of slot machines existed. Charles Fey, a 29 year-old Mechanic, began manufacturing slot machines at his workshop in San Francisco during this period. He created the original reel, bell slot machine called the “Liberty Bell”. This “Liberty Bell” is considered to be the original ancestor of all modern American slot machines.

The Liberty Bell featured a cast iron case and originally had cast iron feet with toes. The machine’s reel strips depicted playing cards, the king, queen, and jack. The machine also originally had a bell that rang when you hit a winning combination. This original machine can still be seen today in a collection at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno Nevada. The same basic design is still used in slot machines today.

The San Francisco Chronicle described Fey’s machine as follows: “A machine featuring 3 reels mostly hidden with Horseshoes, Spades, Diamonds, Hearts, Bells symbols on reels. The device is operated by depositing a nickel in a slot to release the handle, when the right combination of symbols stop in the window the player is awarded coins ranging from 2 on 2 Horseshoes to 20 for 3 bells. Most of those present agreed the machine should be a great success.”

Slot machines could best be described as semi-legal during this period. By paying the players, slot machines were made illegal and eventually banned in California. Charles Fey continued to produce his machines regardless. He was eventually arrested and fined. During Fey’s lifetime, it was never legal to own or produce slot machines in California.

In 1910, the Mills Novelty Company introduced a slight variation to the Liberty Bell and called it the “Operator Bell”. This machine had a goose-neck coin entry and featured the now famous fruit symbols, which are still used in many of today’s slot machines. The era of cast iron machines ended in 1915 when Mills introduced slot machines with less expensive wood cabinets.

In the early 1930s, the Mills Novelty Company made a number of additional changes that revolutionized the industry. First, it designed its machines to be much quieter, know as the “Silent Bell”. It also introduced a double jackpot that assured players that one could win twice in quick succession.

Slot machines began to spread across America during the 1930’s. In the late 1940’s Bugsy Siegel added machines to his casino in Las Vegas, the Flamingo Hilton. Some slot machines offered cash prizes but many offered other prizes including candy and gum. The bar symbol still found on many slot machines was actually a symbol for a piece of chewing gum or candy. Slot machines were originally intended to entertain the wives and girlfriends of high rollers.

However, in a short time the revenue from slots began to surpass that of the table games. By the 1980’s, slots were as popular as tables games, and slot machines became even more popular in the 90’s. They now account for over two-thirds of casino revenue in the United States..

Modern slot machines are governed by random number generators. These are used to determine the symbol combinations that appear when the reels are spun. Most slot machines are programmed to payout between 80 and 99 percent of coins played which includes jackpot payoffs. Slot machine jackpots have also matured from a few dollars to multimillion-dollar progressive jackpots.

Much of slots popularity can be attributed to the fact that no skill is required to play. This has given slot machines a general appeal to the masses, unlike table games that can sometimes be intimidating. With the creation of video slot machines, the games have become even more entertaining and enticing. Slot machines can be expected to continue to be a cornerstone of the gaming industry in the future.