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A History of Slot Machines: Your Questions Answered

You can’t really call yourself a true slot fan until you know who created the first slot machine or can confidently answer the question “what is the oldest slot machine symbol?”

Author: Editorial Team January 26, 2021

Table of content

When was the first Slot Machine invented?

It’s believed that the first slot machine was invented during the 1890s. An exact date is hard to determine because the term slot machine was used to refer to any machine that functioned after a coin was inserted into a slot, including what we now know as vending machines. Slot machine is actually short for nickel-in-the-slot machine.

What was the first Slot Machine?

The original slot machine worked by dropping coins or tokens into a slot. The player would then pull a lever. This would set the reels in motion by stretching a spring. Gears clamping down on each reel made them stop.

On the reels were various different symbols. Depending on how many of the symbols lined up when these reels stopped spinning, the machine would pay out a certain sum.

Who created the first Slot Machine?

Charles August Fey, a mechanic in San Francisco, created this first slot machine, and he also invented the world’s first three-reel slot machine that gave automatic cash payouts several years later. Known as the Card Bell, this slot game featured playing cards suits as symbols.

What is the oldest Slot Machine symbol?

Charles Fey’s next machine was called the Liberty Bell and its symbols were the Liberty Bell, spades, horseshoes, hearts, and diamonds. These can be considered the oldest slot machine symbols. The highest payout—fifty cents—was triggered by three Liberty Bell symbols.

After some players worked out they could cheat the machine by inserting wooden coins instead of real ones, Fey created a pin that could detect fake coins.

Why do some people call Slots Fruit Machines?

Fey didn’t secure a patent for his machine and soon many other companies were making them too.

In 1909, the Industry Novelty Company introduced slot machines that featured fruit symbols—including watermelons and cherries—which is why slots are called fruit machines in the UK.

The Industry Novelty Company was able to bypass anti-gambling laws by making the machine dispense chewing gum, instead of cash prizes.

Where does the jackpot idea come from?

The idea of the ‘jackpot’ was invented in 1916 by the Mills Novelty Company. Certain symbol combinations would pay out all the coins in the machine. The company is also behind the ‘BAR symbol’ that we still find in slot machines today.

When were the first Electromechanical Slot Machines invented?

The early 1960s saw the emergence of electromechanical slot machines after local governments realized they could tax gambling proceeds to generate state revenue, leading to states loosening regulations around gambling and a boom in slot machine manufacturing.

One of the most notable electromechanical machines was Money Honey by Bally Technologies, which featured a bottomless hopper. This meant it could deliver up to 500 coins without needing a slot machine attendant. It also had 3-coin and 5-coin multipliers to give players a chance at larger payouts.

When were Video Slot Machines introduced?

In 1976, Fortune Coin Company launched the first-ever video slot machine whereby reels were simulated on a monitor screen.

Then, in 1984, Bally Technologies invented the random number generator that allowed slot outcomes to be completely random and determined in an instant.

Two years later, in 1986, different slot machines were linked electronically for the first time, allowing the creation of a shared ‘super jackpot’. This progressive jackpot system created the chance to win a mammoth payout.

Today’s Slot Machines

The turn of the century brought the introduction of online slot machines. These took slot playing to a whole new level, with more than five reels, different themes and bonus features, as well as vastly bigger payouts than those first very slot machines invented over a hundred years before.