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Slots Through the Ages

In western culture when one mentions either gambling or a casino the brain can drift off trying to picture the best representation of this image. It is not a stretch by any means to imagine the classic cash register like base, rectangular, heavy slot machine. It has its lever on the side, flashing lights, and the three cut out reels ready to spin, allowing any one person (of legal age of course) to test fate and finance. This questions one to wonder though where did the slot machine originate, when did this machine that is so popular even get invented, and how did it manage to become the technological craze on multiple electronic media sources that it is today.

Many moons ago back in 1895, Charles Fey, a car mechanic in San Francisco invented the first mechanical slot machine, which was known at the time as the Liberty Bell. Like all mechanical slot machines it had three classic reels. These reels showed three different playing cards suits (spades, diamonds, and hearts), horseshoes, and the most important symbol on each was the cracked Liberty Bell. Lining three Liberty Bells up together would allow one to achieve the biggest possible payout which was a whopping fifty cents.
Slot machines are a very interesting part of our culture, due in large part to the lever on them. While it may be more convenient to go and get a scratch off lottery ticket, a simple penny scratch can’t compare to the feeling one gets when one physically pulls that arm. It is like something magical happens. One feels the rush of action, a slight twinge of adrenaline mixed with expectation, knowing that they in some small way are in charge of their own destiny, praying to be the next one holding that giant check in front of a cheering crowd; a lottery win means finances would be paid for, cruises could be planned, and oh all of life’s problems could just melt away. Unfortunately more often than not this feeling is robbed from the individual, and this is the cause of one of the many nicknames of mechanical slot machines, the one-armed bandit.
Still, because of the appeal the Liberty Bell took off like a rocket, everyone wanted one in their bar or restaurant and Fey did his best to keep up with the demand, splitting the profits evenly with the owners. The machine became so popular Fey began to receive offers to sell the rights to he Liberty Bell, which he refused, leading to the first of many knockoffs, the Operator Bell by Herbert Mills. Mr. Mills improved upon the design by making it much easier to transport by lowering the weight, and was the first to use fruit symbols on the reels, allowing one of the classic slot images to come to life.
As time went by the symbols began to change, becoming a solution to one of the biggest problems in the early 1900’s. In 1902 gambling was outlawed throughout the country, so owners became much more creative with the payouts. Using different symbols on the reels, the owner would actually have the reward be the picture on the symbol i.e. a pack of gum, a free drink, or a pack of smokes. Now whether this practice was strictly followed in the bars or not who knows, but we can all use our imagination to determine. Thankfully though, this allowed patrons to still experience the excitement of gambling without having to break the law. This design period of slot machines lead to them earning the nickname “Fruit Machines,” a name which you may still hear them referred to by in the United Kingdom. Also, if you ever happen to be feeling sentimental or nostalgic, you can head on over to the Liberty Bell Saloon and Restaurant and observe the original Liberty Bell mechanical slot machine in Nevada.
Around 1960 the first electromechanical slots began to come about. Bally Technologies Inc. lead the slot machine charge with a popular new-era machine called Money Honey. Electromechanical slots were an exciting improvement in multiple ways, electronic microprocessors vastly improved the machines efficiency allowing multiple coins to be placed in a machine at a time, and it was much harder to tamper with an electric machine as apposed to a mechanical.
In 1970 the Fortune Coin Company created a slot machine with a color monitor and microchip technology, providing better odds and more controlled payouts. The Nevada State Gaming Commission signed off on these machines, then Fortune Coin was bought by International Gaming Technology in 1978. Their next step was linking multiple machines together to allow jackpots to grow even higher than before. This lead to the first progressive jackpot slot machines in 1986.
It is comical that as the gambling odds became much more consistent and payouts more reliable the public opinion of the slot machines sadly became that of mistrust. Since people could no longer see the reels spinning they began to doubt the odds and lose faith in the slots themselves. Thankfully like one hopes for with all change, it was for the better, but still as time continued to evolve the slot machines themselves did too.
The machines of today take advantage of new and expanding technology to allow for more than three traditional reels, a gigantic fundamental change. With the added computer technology of modern times, slots are now even able to generate such an abundance of numbers so quickly the spins can almost truly be called random. With these added reels in the mix jackpots are able to skyrocket making the draw to slots much stronger and the thrill of the spin more intense.
Using multiple interfaces and themes slot machines have taken on a life of their own, now even expanding to computers and mobile devices both offline and online. With the expansion of the internet it did not take long before gambling crept its way onto computer screens for an entirely different slot machine. While most of these games are completely legal to play online with fake money, it gets slightly more complicated when it comes to real cash, but it still can be done.
To play with real cash, one must transfer money to trusted online slot machine websites, and most personal transfers seem to be legal but institutions seem to be prohibited from doing so. The jackpots on these slot machines can be gigantic because all of these various people paying into these slot machines across the world can quickly grow jackpots into a fortune. They even have online slots tournaments now where players will compete across the globe to see who can accumulate the most coins in a set amount of time.
Slot machines have definitely traveled quite the path since Mr. Fey first was tinkering with his Liberty Bell, and walk into any modern casino and it becomes quite clear how successful they are. The most surprising and newest outlet of slot users is the online populace, and they have come in droves. To think that someone could possibly win a multimillion dollar jackpot while just wasting time on their phone kind of just…reels you in, doesn’t it?