The History of Slots

Whether you gamble or not, odds are you have seen or played a slot machine. These one-armed bandit, fruit machine, poker devices have had many names associated with them over the years, but slot machines have been the casual name for it in general.

Since its origin, people would insert a coin or token and pull a lever or push a button to make the machine go. If something was won, the device would pay out or drop something into the bottom so that you could retrieve it. A similar style is still used today, although many of them are flashier and look more attractive.

The Terminology

The original term of Nickel in the Slot Machine had been used for vending machines. This was true up until the early stages of the 20th century when they predominantly became gambling devices.

The first slot gambling device was created around the 1880s in the US, but it was more for looks than anything such as two horses racing one another in a bar or something similar. These machines later allowed bets that would pay out cigars, drinks, or other refreshments.

Slots Are Born

Charles August Fey is the man that is credited to building the first coin-operated gambling machine in San Francisco. Around 1894, he built his 4-11-44 machine that proved to be popular.

It was so popular in a local saloon that he quit his job and decided to build these full time in a factory. It was later around 1898 that he came home with another addition.

The Card Bell was the first three-reel slot machine that had automatic cash payouts. These were designed with card suits that would make poker hands.

Then he made the Liberty Bell machine. This one has card suits too but also included bells. If three bells lined up, it meant a top payout. However, during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, only four survived out of more than 100 that he built.

Law Steps In

Years went by as these became popular. He would actually have copycats that would make competitive slot machines, but he proved to make them better.

However, forces or law and clergy tried to put a stop to these machines. Around 1909, when there was a ban on them in San Francisco, it was estimated to be around 3,300 of these machines active.

Fey came up with the idea to work around the law, so he built his machines to pay out something like drinks or cigars, and had no coin slot. Operations eventually moved to places like Chicago to continue on their production.

Slots Over The Years

Leading up to the 1920s, you would see machines that were transformed into “chewing gum machines,” or at least they tried to make it look that way. These would actually dispense chewing gum, and the symbols would actually show gum or fruit. Some even had “jackpot” symbols that would pay out the coins in the machine if the right combination was hit.

From the ’30s to the ’50s, you would see organized crime taking these machines over. Shady characters would use these machines in their places or rig them in a way to take your money. They would primarily use them illegally or in private clubs.

Legislation would improve these machines significantly over the years and into the early ’80s and ’90s. France would even allow these in 1988 after a 50-year ban. Jackpots would start to be more lucrative, and multipliers would be added.

Fast forward to today, and you have a mix of brick and mortar casino slots and online slots. Both are some of the most popular ways to play slot machines, with online ones becoming the newest trend.

These types of games for both have many new additions and feature games that are modeled after TV shows, characters, and even celebrities.


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