History of the Slot Machines – Mechanical to Computerized Electronics
Games of chance have been in it existence for centuries. While the exact origins of many of today’s casino games are unknown, we do know that the most popular and profitable gaming device was invented in the United States. It is the slot machine and it was invented in 1887 by Charles Fey in San Francisco.
This uniquely American invention has gone on to take over the world of casino gaming, even propagating to bus terminals, lounges, and pubs in England, they’ve become hard to avoid. A “fruit machine” is the British term for a Slot Machine, or “one-armed bandit.”
Fey’s invention came about 1895, and by 1907 Fey had teamed up with the Mills Novelty Company to produce the first bonafide slot machine, the Mills Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell featured a cast iron case, with a Liberty Bell embedded on the front of the machine. The machine’s reel selections had pictures of playing cards (hearts, spades, and diamonds).
Many larger gambling supply manufacturers tried to buy the manufacturing and distribution rights, but Fey refused. However, in 1907, Herbert Stephen Mills, a Chicago manufacturer of arcade-like machines, began production of a machine very similar the Fey’s Liberty Bell. The Machine Mills produced was called the Operator Bell.”
The most important innovation in poker machines came in 1901 when Charles Fey added the “draw” feature. On the first pull, all five drums of cards began to spin. When they stopped, the player had the option of improving his hand by pushing corresponding buttons to hold selected cards. A second handle pull would spin the remaining cards and the final hand would appear.
According to Fey, “When I built the original draw poker machine, I found it to be the most consistent money maker in counter games that I have known.” A later adaptation, Skill-Draw, “is the same game with all the old fascination, modernized to meet present day operating conditions.” This game became so successful between 1935 and 1941 that Fey gave his top Skill-Draw salesman a new LaSalle automobile.
The fruit machine wasn’t far behind. In 1910 the Mills Company introduced a slight variation to the Liberty Bell and called it the Operator Bell featuring the now famous fruit symbols. Sources have it that over 30 thousand of these cast iron machines were made, up until about 1915, when wood cabinets were introduced to help control costs.
The original slot machines were mechanical devices and some cheats tried various ways to beat the house. People tried everything from the use of magnets to drilling a hole through the side of the machines, all in an attempt to influence the mechanism.
There was even a legal method discovered by a few that involved a style of pulling the handle that controlled the drop of one or more of the reels. This increased the players’ odds greatly, and caused the casino operators some concern until a method was devised to remove this advantage.
Electronics reared their ugly head when the sixties rolled around. Nevada Electronics’ solid state “21” machines were a big deal, and by the mid-1970s, other manufacturers had built solid state 21, dice, roulette, horse racing, and poker machines. The most successful of these was the Dale Electronics’ Poker-Matic, which could be found in most Nevada casinos.
In 1975 the Fortune Coin Company introduced the first video bell slot machine in Las Vegas. Bally in 1976, built a black and white video poker machine and eight months later the Fortune Coin Company returned the favor with a color version.