One-armed bandit, fruity, puggy, pokies, or just slots… wherever you’re from and whatever you call it, the humble slot machine has been around since the 19th century and remains as popular as ever. Available at both land-based casinos and online, with a variety of games to choose from, there’s huge international appeal. For those playing in a bricks-and-mortar casino, Play slot games, the spinning of the reels, noise of the slots and ker-ching of money is more than enough to entice and excite; while in the online environment, companies have set out to replicate that experience while players can enjoy a game from the comfort of their own home. There have been some incredible advancements over the years, but first, let’s take a look at where it all began for slot machines.

Who invented the slot machine?

The very first origins of a slot machine surfaced in 1891; however, it wasn’t until 1895 that car mechanic Charles Fey was accredited with the title ‘inventor of the first slot machine’.

As mentioned, the first slot machine was developed in New York by Sittman and Pitt in 1891. The game wasn’t anything like we are used to today and was very much based on poker – consisting of five drums and a total of 50 playing cards. These machines were incredibly popular in New York bars and soon made their way to countless pubs. Players were invited to insert a nickel, the drums would spin the cards and the object of the game was to land a strong poker hand. However, the pay-outs weren’t automatic and winners would have to go to the bar and receive their free drink, or round of drinks, or whatever the prize may be. But the house could remove cards, thus putting the odds in the bar’s favour, so that it was harder to get a royal flush; and the drums were also changed around to decrease the player’s chances of a win.

Fey invented a machine similar to what we know today, four years later. His Liberty Bell was the original design with only three reels, but unlike the previous version of a slot, this was able to pay-out automatically. Fey’s machine also contained other symbols (not just those found on playing cards), including horseshoes and liberty bells (hence the name). Like the slots we are familiar with, the symbols needed to line-up in order to pay-out – and Fey had massive success with competitors copying him. The original Liberty Bell can no longer be played, but can be found at a museum in Reno, which displays gambling memorabilia and antique machines.

The banning of slot machines

In 1902, slot machines that awarded monetary prizes were banned by many states in the US and this paved the way for fruit machines – with the prizes consisting of sweets or chewing gum. These machines used fruit symbols, which still appear today. In 1907, Herbert Mills produced a machine called the Operator Bell and the following year, the slot was found in most tobacconists, bowling alleys and salons. It was the first slot to feature the ‘BAR’ symbol we recognise today, as well as fruit symbols such as melons and cherries.

How the slot machine developed

After Mills’ machine, the slot machine remained purely mechanical and it wasn’t until 1964 that the first fully electronic machine was released. To start the Money Honey by Bally, players needed to pull the lever; however, the reels were entirely electric and the machine had a bottomless hopper which allowed of an automatic pay-out of up to 500 coins.

A decade later, video slots were introduced and that’s when the industry really took off. The first video slot was manufactured by Las Vegas-based company Fortune Coin. The game had a 19-inch display screen and was first made available at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. After some cheat-proofing and modifications, it was deemed suitable by the Nevada State Gaming Commission and then it became hugely popular on the strip.

Video slots weren’t introduced to online casinos until 1994 and initially, they matched land-based casinos. Developments have seen differing numbers of reels on games, progressive jackpots and multiple bonuses; as well as a wide range of themes and symbols. Companies have continued to be innovative to ensure that slots remain as popular as ever.