Working out today who is top of the slots is no easy business. There are literally thousands of different iterations of the slot game. However, back in the day, the slot machine was much more crude, with spinning mechanical reels and a crankshaft level to start your game.
So, let’s time travel back to a time of horses and carriages on the road and perhaps the odd radio in a house. It might surprise you to know that a New York-cased company called Sittman and Pitt created a five drum game with fifty playing cards that span round for the princely sum of a nickel a time.
Surprisingly popular, the machines could be found in bars across the city. Players inserted a nickel and pulled a lever. They would win if they lined up the cards in poker hands. However, to stack the odds in the favour of the house, the company removed the ten of spades and jack of hearts. While you might think this is a practical decision, as they had 50 and not 52 slots, the decision also reduced the chance of a Royal Flush by half.
There was no automatic payout if the person won. They got paid at the bar and it was usually in non-monetary rewards such as alcohol or cigars. We are talking about an old-style saloon here and we guess you didn’t argue with the manager.
The next step in the slot machine evolution arrived thanks to the inventive mind of Charles Augustus Fey. In fact, most history books claim he was the first slot machine, as there isn’t really a precise date for when he delivered his invention to the world. It was somewhere between 1887, so predating Sittman and Pitt, or 1895.
What made Fey’s invention so much better was that it allowed for automatic payouts. To this he was forced to reduce the complexity of the machine significantly. Instead of 5 reels and 10 slots, this machine had 5 drums and 3 reels.
It wasn’t convenient to have playing cards, so Fey replaced these with the symbols from the suits – hearts, diamonds and spades – and then added in the horseshoe and the liberty bell. The jackpot came from matching three bells and so it became known as the Liberty Bell. This slot machine was massively popular but Fey didn’t patent the design and other manufacturers quickly jumped on board.
When the US became a little more conservative and banned slot machines, the Liberty Bell continued to be manufactured. However, as there was to be no gambling and so no chance of winning a monetary reward, the prizes were changed to gum and sweets.
Around the same time, the Bell-Fruit company emerged building slots for tobacconists, bowling alleys, shops and salons. They introduced the BAR symbol to their machine called the Operator Bell.
A continued evolution
The move to a fully electric slot machine, Money Honey, didn’t happen until 1964. Even though the wheels moved with the use of electric; they were still sent spinning with the pull of a level. Designers thought it would feel too unfamiliar to have a slot without a level and so kept it as a feature.
Money Honey was also unique because it was fitted with the first bottomless hopper, which meant it could dispense 500 coins in an automatic. The machine was immensely popular and after a little time lost the lever.
If we are looking for the next big step forward, then we need to find the first video slot. It came a lot early than you would imagine, as the first one emerged in 1976. It was manufactured by Fortune Coin in California. Rather than what we know as a computer based slot, this was a modified 19 inch Sony TV. It was first played in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.
It wasn’t until it went through a serious round of cheat proofing, that the video slot was approved for use by the Nevada State Gaming Commission allowed for to spread along the Las Vegas Strip.
Obviously, the final milestone for slots is the introduction of the rise of online slots. With the invention of the internet and the ever-increasing data speeds attainable, slots could be played wherever and whenever you felt like it. The boom for this online gaming started in the mid 90s and has shown no sign of abatement. All sorts of popular casino games were adapted into the slots format and the time of immense choice and excitement began.
Now, slots are evolving to have unconventional configurations and features. Inventors are looking all the time to expand the experience of the slot and keep it relevant for our technological age.