The origins of the slot machine
You’ll see them in pubs, clubs, bookmakers, hotels and casinos to name but a few – but what is it that makes slot machines so entertaining? Perhaps it’s the colourful themes, sound effects, the bright lights or of course, the chance to win instant cash prizes.
Ever since slot machines have been made widely available and accessible, the interest in them has continued to increase as software and gaming developers continue to improve users’ experience to make them as enticing as possible. But where did it all begin? Let’s take a look through the history of the slot machine. Before we do, be sure to check out the latest online slots via Betfair.
19th century development
You have to go all the way back to 1891 to trace the origins of the slot machine, which was developed by New York based company Sittman and Pitt. As you can imagine, the slot machine was fairly basic compared to what we know today and contained five drums with a total of 50 playing cards – with the aim of making a winning poker hand to be awarded a pay-out.
These slot machines would typically be found in bars and casinos, costing just a nickel to play and the user would have to pull down a lever to start the game. It wasn’t often that users won, as the house edge was increased as the ten of spades and jack of hearts were removed, cutting the chance of getting a royal flush in half.
Although Sittman and Pitt are recognised as being the company to develop the first slot machine, Charles Augustus Frey is credited with actually inventing the first prototype between 1887 and 1895. Frey altered the way slot machines worked somewhat and replaced the existing five drums with three reels.
Frey also replaced the playing cards with symbols – hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoe and a liberty bell. Players would win by lining up three bells which in turn, saw the machine named Liberty Bell. Frey’s newly devised slot machine saw the popularity in playing them skyrocket, leading to the continued improvements over the coming decades.
20th century enhancements
At the turn of the 20th century, slot machines were banned in the United States which led to the development of the fruit machine. All the symbols were changed to represent different fruits and as opposed to cash prizes, players would win sweets and other similar treats. Hardly the same as real cash, but it carved open a new era for the fruit machine to flourish.
In 1907, manufacturer Herbert Mills devised another new slot machine, this time it was called the Operator Bell. Mills adopted the famous ‘BAR’ symbol which is still commonly seen today, thus starting the Bell-Fruit company which is still going strong.
It wasn’t until some 45 years later that slot machines developed into fully electromechanical machines, and the lever was removed as it was considered out dated. Popularity in the newly-improved slots increased tenfold and automatic pay-outs of up to £500 were awarded to jackpot winners.
From the 1970s onwards, slot machines underwent numerous tweaks and changes to keep improving players’ experiences. The first real video slot was introduced in 1976 and was quickly approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission, seeing an explosion in popularity from players all over the US.
During the 1990s, slot machines hit another major milestone with the release of “Reel Em”. This was the first-ever slot to incorporate a second screen bonus round, which provided players with a stronger chance of winning and altered the way slots would be played in the future. Reel Em was a major hit in bars and casinos throughout the US and the start of the 21st century has seen a range of improvements.
The vast majority of slot machines we see now days will have a theme based on a TV show or movie, and the pay outs have increased massively in recent times. The rise of online slot machines has seen a large number of players opting to try their luck via the internet, but at the end of the day, it was Frey’s invention that has provided a fun and entertaining way to gamble.