Slot machines are ubiquitous in the world of gambling. While they started their lives inside casinos, they have found their way into many other establishments now too. Their use depends on where you are in the world, as different countries set different rules. Where in some countries it can only be found in casinos, in most of the west, you don’t have to travel far to find a slot machine.
Today, slot machines can be found in casinos, high street betting shops, clubs, bars, pubs, airports, train stations, motorway service stations, and even on some piers in seaside resorts.
But where did the slot machine come from, and how was it created? Here is its history.
The First Slot Machine
Slot machines were invented by Charles Fey in 1895. Fey lived in San Francisco and worked as a mechanic. He created an entirely mechanical, three reel machine that used gears and levers to make it work.
Fey named the first slot machine “Liberty Bell” since each of the reels featured an image of the cracked Liberty Bell. It worked exactly like most slot machines of the 20th century, with the user pulling down a lever to start the reels spinning.
The machine’s jackpot was set at 50 cents and it paid out if all three reels landed on the Liberty Bell image.
It still exists today, and can be seen at the Liberty Belle saloon in Reno.
Fruit Machines and One Armed Bandits
In the UK, slot machines are often called fruit machines. This comes from the fruit images traditionally used on the reels. The original Liberty Bell used images of playing cards, but by the early 1900s they were replaced by the now ubiquitous pictures of fruit.
This was because slot machines were widely banned across the United States, so Fey and other manufacturers adapted the devices to dispense chewing gum instead of money. The gum would be released from the machine if the reels lined up to three pictures of gum.
The other commonly used term “one armed bandits” comes from the fact that the machines were originally controlled by a long lever (or arm), usually found on the right side of the machine. The user pulled it down to activate the reels.
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw slot machines switch from using mechanical systems, to completely digital machines that had no spinning reels, but instead used video screens to display the moving images.
This change was done for two primary reasons. Firstly, it increased the security of the devices, making them more difficult to tamper with.
Secondly, it made them more versatile allowing manufacturers to make the games more exciting by creating different versions with augmented features, bonus rounds and modifiers.
Video slot games are not exclusive to physical casinos though. Many online casinos also allow gamers to play free slots, often having hundreds of different themed games. This allows players to be immersed in the latest features, bonus rounds and promotions with a plethora of options that can keep them entertained for hours.
Online slots began in the mid to late 1990s, when online casinos started taking off. They were an accessible game that had almost no rules to understand, making it easy for new players to online casinos.
Just like video slot machines inside casinos, online video slots have developed significantly over the years. There are now hundreds of versions of slot games for players to choose from, with themes ranging from Ancient Egypt all the way to outer space. They’ve also been made available for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Slot Machine Competitions
There are even tournaments for slots players, similar to tournaments for poker and other games. They do not have the same following as other games, and some tournaments seem to have only run for a couple of years. However, some still exist including one that takes place in physical casinos across South Africa.
The Future of Slot Machines
Slot machines have come a long way since they were invented in the 19th century. They’ve found themselves in more places than Fey could ever have imagined, and they’ve evolved way beyond the mechanical device he first created.
The future of slots is likely the development of video slots in both real world and online casinos, with new versions being created regularly to offer a fresh experience for regular customers.