History of Slots – Once Upon a Time…
Probably the absolute biggest reason online casinos like BitStarz even exist is because of an invention made a long, long time ago. Slots have changed the face of casino gaming, reinventing the way any player has a fast flutter. It’s safe to say that the history of slots is a wild ride, which has helped define the casino world as we know it.
It is hard to imagine the history of slots started way back in the late 1800s. In order to dive deeper into the origins of the reels and find out when were slot machines invented, we first need to head back to 1891 and take a look at the company Sittman and Pitt. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, Sittman and Pitt took it upon themselves to come up with the first coin-operated gambling machine, which was the precursor to the version of slots we so happily can enjoy today.
This version was based on poker and had 5 reels, using 50 different card symbols. It quickly became a popular machine to have and you would find at least one of them in most bars around the city. In order to play, you would have to stick a nickel in the slot and then pull the lever which would make the reels start to spin. Hoping to land a good poker hand, customers would keep playing.
At the time, they still hadn’t figured out a mechanism where the machine would be able to pay out wins directly so instead you would get your winnings from the bar. You were not able to get any monetary return, instead you were paid in terms of free drinks, cigars or pretty much whatever was on offer at your local bar at the time.
As time went on, the house felt a need to improve the odds and increase their own edge so it was decided to remove two cards from the deck and the ten of spades and jack of hearts were given the boot. This adjustment made it twice as hard to get a royal flush and in some cases the reels would even be rearranged in order to make it even tougher for the players to win.
Since there are so many ways of winning in the game of poker, it made it even more difficult to figure out a way to make automatic slot machine payouts from the machine possible. It is around this time that a man known as Charles Augustus Fey comes into the picture and adds his name to the history of slots and the history of slot machines.
The History of Slots Starts Here
Although the history of slot machines refers to Fey as the man who invented the first slot machine, it has never been pinpointed exactly in the history of slots when this came about but somewhere between 1887 and 1895, Charles Fey managed to put together a much simpler machine, even using an automatic slot machine payout mechanism.
In order for this to happen, he decided to reduce the number of spinning reels from five down to three. However, that wasn’t enough to make it work the way he wanted it to, so he made the decision to really simplify it by only using five slot machine symbols. The chosen slot machine symbols were horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and the now world-famous liberty bell.
This is how the first-ever slot machine to be released got the first slot machine name Liberty Bell, as three bells in a row resulted in the biggest slot machine payout available, which was a staggering 50 cents at the time. In the history of slot machines, this first step was crucial and that first step came in the form of the legendary Liberty Bell slot.
Living in San Francisco, California, a place where gambling was banned, Fey could not apply for a patent for his design resulting in several companies copying his highly praised money machine.
The Liberty Bell slot machine was a huge success and regardless of the ban, he was still not able to keep up with the demand from other locations around the country.
If you would like to take a look at one of his creations, you can take a trip to the Nevada State Museum. There is a version of an 1899 Liberty Bell that is part of the Charles Fey Collection for the world to see and a whole bunch of other important memorabilia and slot machine imagery from the
Liberty Bells All Over the Place
As the interest around the Liberty Bell slot machine rapidly grew, the competition couldn’t wait to copy the machine to also start profiting from the hype. The first copy out of the gate was produced by the Herbert Mills Company in 1907, with the company making the controversial decision to stick with the name Liberty Bell. The name had made an impact on players all around and secured its place in the history of slots, even if they were effectively stealing the name from Charles Fey.
By the following year you would find Liberty Bell slot machines almost everywhere. Tobacco stores, saloons, bowling alleys, barber shops and even brothels would have a slot machine in their establishments, as these all-action gaming machines really made an impact on the history of slots.
Not to confuse the already existing audience, the first gambling machines coming out of the Herbert Mills Company had the same reel symbols as the original Liberty Bell. But shortly after launch, new gaming machines came out using flags and other more patriotic slot machine symbols and slot machine icons.
Welcome to the Fruit Era
Most of us recognize fruit as classic slot machine symbols, but why and when did the fruit slot machine symbols start to appear in the history of online slots?
Even though the slot machine was officially banned in 1902 it did not slow down the manufacturing process, but since cash prizes were no longer an option, they had to figure out a different solution. This is when the era of the fruit machines started, which changed the history of slots as we know it, taking it in a new, fruity direction.
The new gambling machines had a gum vending machine attached to it and since the gum on offer was fruit-flavored, lemons, cherries, plums and oranges started to appear as common slot machine symbols on the reels.
This was also the beginning of one of the most recognizable and classic slot machine symbols in the history of slots other than fruit, the bar symbol. Inspired by the Bell Fruit Gum Company logo, it made its way onto the reels and as a result, also made its way into the history of slots.
The bell symbol was kept in subsequent slot machine releases and to get around the tough restrictions, prizes were now instead paid out in chewing gum and sweets, matching whatever the flavor was on the reels.
It was in 1907 when Herbert Mills made an impact on the history of slots and came out with a slot machine they called the Operator Bell. The following year, you could find these gaming machines all over the US. With the new set of common slot machine symbols proving to be surprisingly popular, other companies (like Watling, Caille, Jennings and Pace), started manufacturing their own slot machines, sticking to the proven concept of the fruit symbols.
The One-Armed Bandit
As time passed, gambling machines remained mechanical and for a player to be able to spin the reels the classic lever on the side stayed in place for many, many years. To start the game, you would simply grab the lever and pull it. This would stretch a spring on the inside, gradually stopping the reels from spinning, before you let it go.
Because of the manual involvement to get things going, players were convinced they could learn how to control the game and influence the slot machine payouts. This led in many ways to the game’s success and is also how the slot machine earned the well-known nickname “One Arm Bandit”.
The popularity of slots across the US continued during the 1920s and even through the 1930s regardless of the great depression. However, as much of the business surrounding gaming machines was controlled by criminal organizations, it led to an increase in legislation and tough restrictions.
By 1951 there was pretty much a complete ban outside of Nevada. Nevada had legalized gambling back in 1931 and was not affected by the ban and as such secured their spot in the history of slots.
It wasn’t until after World War II that gambling machines started to make their comeback into the worldwide society, as government after government realized the potential of gambling tax revenues.
Bally Makes a Move Into the History of Slots
One of the biggest players at the time was the Bally Manufacturing Corporation, founded in 1932. Their first game was named Ballyhoo and this is the reason for the company name, Bally. Starting out making pinball gaming machines in Chicago, they quickly rose to become industry leaders and after manufacturing airplane parts during World War II, they made the decision to expand into the gaming industry by making major improvements to slot machines. Their focus in the late 1950s was flipperless pinball, bingo and slot machines together with vending machines.
Bally continued to be a powerhouse in the slot machine industry, securing a massive 90% coverage of the world’s slot market. Taking the next step in development, they managed to complete the first fully electromechanical slot in 1963, and gave it the flashy name “Money Honey”.
Because of their new approach, Money Honey (not to be confused with the super hot BitStarz slot Honey, Honey, Honey of course) became the first slot where players could get their wins paid out directly from the machine. This new technology resulted in the lever quickly losing its importance and would soon become obsolete, although its position in the history of slots was secure and it can still be found on many slot machines as a prop.
The Addition of the Skill Stop
As its popularity grew and more people wanted to play, there were still some gaming laws to adhere to. The New Jersey gaming laws required players to be able to at least have some sort of control and impact on the game.
In order to overcome this requirement, a guy named Zacharias Anthony came up with the idea of adding a “skill stop” button to the slots in the early 1970s. With the addition of a stop button, players would have the possibility to decide when to stop each reel by pressing a button, which would allow a certain degree of skill to be involved in the game needed to get around the requirements.
The skill stop was put into about 50 different versions of the Bally slot machines and since the typical machine would normally come to an automatic stop in less than 10 seconds, they needed to add some small weights to the timer to extend the automatic process.
It took a little while to figure out how to get this to work. By the time it was finally approved for arcades by the renowned New Jersey Alcoholic Beverages Commission (ABC), the information had already hit the streets and all other competitors began to add the new button.
Just as predicted, the new Bally gaming machines became a monster hit in New Jersey and with the newfound technology they decided to destroy all of their older unconverted slot machines, as they had now quickly become useless.
This was the early days of Bally, but as you may know, the company went on to be extremely successful and is still a powerhouse to this day, with its own Bally’s Las Vegas hotel among many other triumphant business adventures. Bally has had a major impact on the history of slots and to this day is still producing leading online slots, even if other online slot makers these days have them beat on the innovation front.
Say Hello to the Progressive Slot Machine
1986 was another revolutionary year in the history of slots. This was the time where International Game Technology (IGT) presented the first-ever progressive slot machine.
Instead of having a fixed jackpot for a game, they were able to create a sort of link between their gambling machines from various locations and join them all together in order to produce a much bigger jackpot. As more people played the game it was like feeding the monster as the jackpot would grow accordingly. The history of slots has a soft spot for this revolutionary addition and the game that was used was fittingly called Megabucks, although if you want a jaw-dropping progressive jackpot slot these days you best take a look at Mega Moolah.
Connecting gambling machines in the US over phone lines through a modem technology, IGT would guarantee that they would be funding the first million dollars of the jackpot. On top of that, depending on how many people would play their gaming machines, the size of the jackpot would then be able to grow even more. As a result of this brand new technology, players would flock to Megabucks hoping to be the one to pocket the monster jackpot and become an instant millionaire.
In Reno, Nevada, less than a year after the launch of this new technology, the first big progressive jackpot was won. A player was able to win $4,988,842.17 on February 1, 1987 – talk about a history-making win.
The Transition to Video Slot Machines
What would be next for the slot machine? The next step in the history of slots would be taken by the Las Vegas-based Fortune Coin Company. In 1976 in the town of Kearny Mesa, California, they developed the first-ever video slot machine. By adding a slightly modified 19 inch Sony TV screen to the unit, they were able to make a much nicer display and create a smooth gambling experience.
After going through some proper testing and modifications to prevent cheating, it went on its first trial at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and soon got the stamp of approval by the tough Nevada State Gaming Commission. The word quickly spread around town and with this new “kid” on the block, the new generation slot machine quickly became the hottest thing on the Las Vegas strip.
As technology continued to make major progress, it was time for the first American video slot to offer its players a new experience. In 1996, WMS Industries launched a game called “Reel ‘Em In” which would be the first video slot to feature a second screen bonus round. When the player triggered the feature, a new screen popped up where you could enjoy a bonus game filled with cash prizes.
World Wide Web Means World Wide Slots
It was in the mid-1990s when the internet boom hit and the online casinos started to reach the market. Slots were not the first casino game to make the digital move, but it didn’t take long until they joined blackjack and roulette and provided the bulk of the entertainment available.
Thanks to computers, slots for online casinos don’t have the same restrictions as land-based ones. As such, they have been able to offer a lot more imaginative and fun features than their land-based competition.
The amount of slots and developers keeps increasing and even though the companies manufacturing slots for land-based casinos are pretty meager, there are limitless possibilities online. For example, one of the bigger iGaming software companies has over 500 different slot titles in their portfolio and you can find a ton of them in the BitStarz game lobby.
Slots Terminology You Need to Know
Considering the extended history of slots and the journey slot machines have gone through on its way to where it is today, just like most other things it has managed to pick up some “interesting” nicknames along the way.
Poker Machine – A nickname used in the early days for Sittman and Pitts invention.
Coin Machine – One of the earliest terminologies based on the inserting of the coin.
Chewing Gum Dispenser – Due to the illegality in many places, the gum dispensers were added in an attempt to disguise their true purpose.
Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) – During the 1980s the slots that were powered by an electronic system were referred to as an EGM.
The Stand Ups – A reference to older slot machines that were played standing up. One example would be the very early penny arcades.
Reel Spinners – The early slots before the invention of video slots.
Video Slots – Some refer to the digital slots simply as Video Slots.
Betting Units – Perhaps more of an official name than used buy players. Mostly used in the U.K. and referred to as FOBT’s (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals)
One Armed Bandits – Based on the early days where the big lever on the side was needed in order to start the spin.
Liberty Bells – The first ever slot machine was named Liberty Bell and this was the name commonly used for that specific type of machine.
Pokies – The most common name in Australia and New Zealand, where Pokies is short for poker machine.
Puggy or Puggies – Scottish slang for something playful and meant as a term of endearment.
With the amount of online casinos on the market and land-based casinos still going strong, besides becoming more and more interactive and virtual reality focused, who knows where new developments will take the humble slot machine next.
What you can count on is that BitStarz will keep up with the latest technology and provide you with the absolute latest slots on the market. In the history of slot machines, there’s only one thing that is certain… the next step is never far away!