When we’re playing slots these days, particularly online, we often think of them as super modern and cutting edge. But every game has got to start somewhere and the history of slots is fascinating.
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When does the history of slots begin?
You have to go way back to the late 19th century to trace the history of slots back to its roots.
In 1891, a company based in New York started mass producing the first really popular slot machines. Sittman and Pitt designed a game with 50 different playing cards and five drums. The fact that so many slots games include playing cards to this day in their games is a homage to the history of slots.
These old slots machines were mostly installed in pubs and each spin was $0.05.
How did the old slots machines work?
The primitive slot machines would be surprisingly familiar to people nowadays. You had to pull a level for each spin and you’d get a payout if poker hands were lined up across the reels. And the name one-armed bandit has stuck around to this day.
But way back at this point in the history of slots, payouts were far from automatic. You’d have to show the bartender, who’d give you your winnings in cash occasionally, but mostly in drinks or cigars.
What you won depended entirely on what the pub in question wanted to offer up.
New kid on the block
However, some people say the true inventor of the slots machines we know and love today was Charles Augustus Fey.
As the story goes, sometime between 1887 and 1895, he created a slots machine that had automated payouts. To do this, he swapped the drums for reels and the playing cards for symbols.
Diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and bells. Do they sound familiar? They’re also wildly popular symbols for slots to this day, but their origins lie deep in the history of slots.
It cost $0.05 for each spin and the most you could win per round was $0.50. The top payout occurred when a player got three bells in a row. And that’s how the machine got its name, The Liberty Bell.
When a player pulled a lever, that stretched the spring inside the slot machine and started spinning the reels. It’d start of quick and then slow down, ending up on a random combination.
These one armed bandits gained a notoriety, with players trying out special ways of pulling the lever to get results. Of course, because it produces random results, their efforts were more than likely in vain.
However, poor Fey didn’t get around to getting a patent so it was copied by lots of other people and he never got the true remuneration his revolutionary invention deserved.
Following public outrage, slots machines were banned from 1902. But the emerging industry didn’t see this and an end to the history of slots.
Instead, they saw it as a challenge to find ways around the ban. They decided to swap the regular symbols for fruity new ones. And instead of giving out cash prizes, they’d dish out sweets and gum.
That’s how the fruit machine term for slots started catching on, and it’s still popular to this day.
Electricity in the air
Slots machines remained mechanised until the swinging sixties. It wasn’t until 1964 that the first electronic slots machine was launched in the Bally casino in Las Vegas.
The slot machine Money Honey still had the lever, so ubiquitous with slots play for so long. But it was all electronic. And the payouts were impressive, meaning winners could scoop up to 500 coins on one spin.
Eventually the lever was removed as new versions of these machines were released into the wild.
The next big innovation in the history of slots was invention of the video slot machine by Fortune Coin Co. It launched in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel in 1976 and played out on a modified 19-inch TV screen. The company was later bought by the well-known IGT.