Slot Machine History – Slot machines are considered to be one of the most profitable games on the casino floor, both for the players and the house. Just on Friday, August 27, we wrote about Nevada casinos taking in a total of $1.36 billion from patrons in July, the highest single-month gaming revenue in the state since gambling was legalized in 1931. The main reason for this record was slot machines. Slots generated more than $873.6 million this July, a 60% increase over the same month last year.
There’s no doubt that slots have become ubiquitous over the years, but the origins of this gambling invention can be traced back outside the world of casinos and gaming. Slot machines, as we know them today, go back to the late 19th century, when the earliest prototype machines were, in fact, a mere novelty. In the first of a two-part history of the slot machine, we take you through its early annals, starting with a quick visit from ancient times to the 1950s.
Slot Machine History
The invention of the slot machine is closely related to another mechanical invention: the vending machine. And the first trading machine was invented in ancient times – but the reasons for its invention could not have been more dramatically different than in modern times, perhaps naturally. The world’s first vending machine was invented in the 1st century BC in Roman Egypt.
Where Did The Bar On Slot Machines Come From?
It was created by the Roman mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria. The purpose was to give only a certain amount of holy water so that the people of the city would not take too much from the temple. The hero’s device actually allowed people to drop coins into a slot, which in turn lowered the bar to only release a certain amount of holy water so that everyone would get their fair share. From a fundamental perspective, Hero’s ancient slot machine is very similar to today’s slot machines.
From there, in the 17th century, automatons made their way to the pubs of England. In 1600s England, a smaller version of the vending machine was developed to sell tobacco and snuff. Although the mechanism of the device itself did not prevent customers from helping themselves to more than they paid for, the boxes were usually placed in a prominent place in the pub so that the innkeeper could keep an eye on them.
It was a coin-operated mechanism that further developed in the 20th century into slot machines and from there into coin-operated gaming devices. These early prototypes included, for example, a machine that had two toy horses that raced after a coin was inserted into the machine. However, it was more of a novelty than a live gaming device, as patrons could not bet or gamble on the device itself. Instead, these machines would be placed on a bar in a saloon or similar establishment and attract bets between patrons.
Bets between owners in this era also don’t necessarily involve money. In the case of most such 20th-century machines, the owner would reward winning customers with drinks, cigars, or merchant checks that could be exchanged for refreshments. However, in the late 1800s, machines appeared that actually paid their owners in coins. In the very first such machines that were built, the coins that were inserted would mostly break on the internal balance scale, where they could trigger it and throw out other coins. Devices that came a little later had a circular display and a rotating indicator that stopped or pointed to a number, color, or picture.
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We should stop our slot machine story here to say that it was around this time that the coin-operated mechanism was used to create another iconic machine: the jukebox.
The forerunner of the modern slot machine was created by Sittman and Pitt in Brooklyn, New York, according to a San Francisco News report. However, the machine was incredibly rudimentary and based on poker. He used five drums with a total of 50 card faces. Players will have to spin the game’s five reels to create a poker hand combination and win. The game proved popular, but it was difficult for operators due to the large number of possible winnings, which made it difficult to implement automatic payment.
That’s when Charles Fay came into the picture. In the modern sense, the first slot machines were invented by this American inventor of Bavarian origin. However, there is some doubt as to when Fay built his first machine. Some accounts say it was created in 1894, while others say it was between 1887 and 1895. In any case, the credit for bringing slot machines into the modern age goes to Fay. But he certainly did not intend to create such a device with a long-held ambition.
Fay had 15 older siblings and at the age of 14 he began to support the family, but also feared being drafted into the German army. This, along with the growing tension between him and his father, led Fay to go to France to work as an instrument maker. Meanwhile, her uncle made his way to America in New Jersey, and so at the age of 23, Faye decided to join her uncle. However, before going to New Jersey, Fay went to San Francisco and got a job at the Electric Works. Then he and his co-worker started a company that competed with their employer. It was while working in his own business that he invented the slot machine.
Slot Machine Evolution
Around 1898, Fay built the Card Bell, the first three-reel slot machine with automatic payouts, instead of the common five-reel games of the time. The card bell had a handle that activated the wheels when it was pulled down, and suits of playing cards that lined up to form poker hands. Fae machines usually used familiar symbols: diamonds, hearts, spades. In 1899, he created a machine that had two additional symbols: horseshoes and the Liberty Bell, and thus the iconic Liberty Bell slot machine was born.
On Liberty Bell machines, three rings in a row indicates an overpayment. Tragically, only four of the more than 100 Liberty Bell cars built by Fay survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Liberty Bell was so popular among San Francisco saloon patrons that it was quickly copied by Fey’s competitors, such as the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. But by the time San Francisco banned slot machines in 1909, more than 3,000 machines were said to exist. To circumvent the law, Fay and his competitors reverted to old methods of building machines without coin slots, using other hidden payment methods, perhaps through drinks and cigars.
Eventually, due to San Francisco’s prohibition, most of the slot machine factories moved and a large number of them ended up in Chicago.
In the early 1900s, with the legal ban on gambling and slot machines, operators came up with another way to make their machines acceptable. This was probably first done by the Industry Novelty Company around 1909, using fruit symbols on the reels. The fruit symbols indicated the different flavors of the chewing gum. Few of the cars built back then actually spread rubber.
History Of Slots
The Industry Novelty idea was then copied by the Mills Novelty Company. The Mills Novelty Company also invented the jackpot around 1916, whereby certain combinations of symbols would return all the coins in the machine. In the 1920s, slot machines were popular in much of the country. They continued to be popular during the years of the Great Depression. But while organized crime often controls the distribution of slot machines, their sales, transport and use are still limited to private social clubs. Prohibition outside of Nevada, which re-legalized gambling in 1931, was virtually complete by 1951. In the 1950s, electromechanical slot machines allowed many new payout schemes, such as 3- and 5-coin multipliers, where payout sizes are proportional. on the number of coins that are inserted before the handle is pulled.
It was only after World War II that these machines ended up being used on a global scale, as governments were attracted by the prospect of tax revenues. In 1988, for example, slot machines were allowed in French casinos, ending a 50-year ban.
What happened after governments discovered that it could be used to generate more tax revenue? That’s a story for another day, in the second part of our mini-series on the slot machine.
The History Of The Slot Machine