Slot Machines: Who Made Them and How Did They Evolve?

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How much do you actually know about slot machines? This popular casino game has a long and interesting history from a simple machine being popular in bars to an online game being played worldwide.


The first-ever slot machine

Before we get to the first-ever slot machine, we should mention its precursor. In 1891, Sittman and Pitt, a company based in Brooklyn, New York, developed a machine based on poker that had five drums and held a total of 50 card faces. Players needed to insert a nickel, pull a lever, and hope for a good result. In order to improve the house’s odds of winning, the jack of hearts and the ten of spades were typically removed from the deck. What is more, this machine has no direct payout mechanism, which meant that the winners were awarded a free beer, cigars, or some other non-monetary prize that the establishment that housed it could offer. The machine gained popularity quickly and many bars had at least one.

Then, Charles Fey of San Francisco came up with a simpler design that had an effective automatic payout mechanism. Sometime between 1887 and 1895, he devised a slot machine that had only three spinning reels with five symbols: hearts, spades, diamonds, horseshoes, and a Liberty Bell. Seeing as how three bells in a row lead to the biggest payout (10 nickels), the machine was named the Liberty Bell. Due to its popularity, its design was copied by many other manufacturers as Fey did not apply for a patent and could not keep up with the demand.

After only a few years, in 1902, the Liberty Bell was banned in the USA. As the ban meant that no cash prizes could be distributed, manufacturers changed the symbols to fruits and thus the era of the fruit machine started.

How did they evolve?

As governments worldwide were reeling from World War II, some of them turned to gambling as a way to increase tax revenue. Nevada legalized gambling even earlier, in 1931, while France allowed slot machines again in 1988, after a 50-year ban.

With the 1950s came electromechanical slots that allowed new payout schemes like the 3- and 5-coin multipliers. The first fully electromechanical slot appeared in 1964 and was called Money Honey. It operated electrically and no longer required the lever to be pulled to start the game. However, it was kept in order not to alienate the audience. The machine was able to pay out up to 500 coins at once.

Fortune Coin, a Las Vegas-based company, manufactured the first video slot in 1976. It became a huge hit after being approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. The next step in the evolution came in 1996 when “Real ‘Em” was released. This video slot machine was the first to offer a second screen bonus round where additional payouts could be won.

Finally, with the rise of the internet in the second half of the 1990s, online slots started being developed. In the beginning, online casinos only offered blackjack and roulette but online slots were added quickly after.

Why are they so popular?

Slot machines are often considered to be one of the most popular casino games, if not the most popular. Why is that so? 

As explained by blogs such as BestOddsSlots, slots require an entirely different approach than table games. This is the case because they are completely randomized. Even though players can apply some strategies in order to boost their chances of winning, the final result doesn’t depend on the player's skills but on the Random Number Generator. All of this means that slots are very easy to use and even beginners can enjoy games and win jackpots. What is more, compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online slots provide their players with even bigger prizes, along with bonuses and free rounds that allow players to try the game before starting the real play.

It’s also not unusual to see slots in movies and TV shows nowadays. Remember Twin Peaks or Oceans 13 with Brad Pitt or Casino with Robert De Niro, etc? This, combined with the fact that they can be played wherever and whenever most certainly contributed to the popularity of the game.

What versions are there today?

With all the technological advancements, it’s only normal that slots would continue to develop further. Nowadays, there are many variants, both online and in land-based casinos. There are many themes that players can choose from that range from celebrities and popular media all the way to food. Having so many options available means that everyone can find a theme that suits their affinities.


While you don’t need to know the entire history of the slot machine in order to play, it’s always fun to learn some interesting facts about our hobbies.

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