Introduction to Slot Machines Invented
Understanding the history of slot machine development gives invaluable insights into this entertainment device, including where were slot machines invented.
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Charles Fey and the First Slot Machine
The first place to answer, “Where Were Slot Machines Invented?” begins in San Francisco in the 1880s. The Liberty Bell is arguably the first coin-operated slot machine for gambling with automatic payouts.
The Liberty Bell slot machine was invented in 1887 by Bavarian-born Charles Fey in San Francisco, California. This gaming machine simulated the table card game of poker, having three spinning reels each with five symbols: diamonds, hearts, horseshoes, spades, and an image of the Liberty Bell.
The highest jackpot, fifty cents or 10 nickels, occurred when all three reels showed a golden Liberty Bell. It was a massive success.
Fey is generally considered to be the “Father of Slots,” in part due to this invention. However, he’s also because he worked so hard to popularize the game.
For both these reasons, Charles Fey’s San Francisco workshop is a California Historical Landmark. Unfortunately, most Liberty Bell slot machines were lost in The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Otherwise, these antiques were be far more available today as a collector’s item.
Bell Fruit Gum Slot Machines
Bell Fruit Gum slot machines were manufactured by Industry Novelty Company starting in 1907.
The reels on these machines included cherry, melon, orange, apple, and bar symbols. It had non-cash payouts in the form of fruit-flavored gum, allowing machine owners to avoid prosecution under the anti-gambling laws of that time.
The cherry and bar symbols became traditional to slot machines and are still commonly used today. The bar symbol was the company logo of an early slot machine manufacturer.
By 1910, Worldwide Slots!
By 1910, slot machines could be found worldwide. Companies in Europe were mass producing 30,000 of them. In America, machines were installed in most cigar stores, saloons, bowling parlors, brothels, and barber shops.
Improvements immediately found in these slot machines were:
- Cast iron machines instead of wooden cabinets
- Improved mechanicals for back-to-back jackpots
- New coin acceptor developed to limit the use of fake coins
- Designed to be quieter
But starting in 1909, new laws began to be introduced prohibiting slot machines from dispensing cash. These new restrictions resulted in slot machines having non-cash payouts of fruit-flavored gum.
Prohibition, The Golden Age of Slots
From 1920 to 1933, Prohibition existed in America. When we learn about the history of the United States as students, we’re taught that Prohibition was a time when the making, consumption, or supplying alcohol was illegal.
What isn’t taught in history class is American Prohibition’s consequence with regards to slots. Since slot machines were mainly found in bars and saloons, they moved to speakeasies alongside the distribution of alcohol and returned to offering cash prizes.
So, as a result, during America’s Prohibition slot machine popularity increased even more.
How much? A lot! The time of Prohibition is also referred to as the “Golden Age of Slots” due to this tremendously increased popularity.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada in 1931, due to the increasing popularity of gambling despite political pressure on the gaming industry. In the 1940s, slots were installed in Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel.
However, after World War II, municipalities began to be drawn by the prospect of tax revenue. A consequence of this governmental response was an exponential growth in the manufacturing and playing of slot machines which continued well into the 1960s.
Slot machine development advanced from a fully mechanical machine to an electromechanical device in 1963 with the Money Honey slot machine by Bally Technologies, a company formerly limited to the manufacturing of pinball machines.
Besides improving gameplay with all manner of flashing lights and sounds, electrical components allowed for multi-coin bets with higher payouts. Bally Technologies would continue to develop slot machine technologies for decades.
By 1970, Bally had added more reels and made coin-handling improvements to allow for more coins and higher denominations, resulting in more enormous jackpots for consumers. Bally went public in 1975, trading on the New York Stock Exchange as the first gaming company.
The first genuinely electronic slot machine, e.g., the video slot machine, was developed in 1976 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was placed in the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. It received approval from the state of Nevada, but only after additional security modifications were made against cheating.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City, New Jersey legalized gambling in 1978, by which time the Bally Technologies behemoth had cornered 90% of the market for slot machines. Bally continued to add reels, knowingly both decreasing the odds of winning but also increasing the size of jackpots.
Over time, the number of symbols per reel was increased to a maximum of twenty-five and wagers were raised to $5, $25, and eventually $100. Coins would continue to be provided during slot machine jackpots until they ultimately began being phased out in the 1990s.
U.S. Patent 4,448,419: The Random Number Generator
An answer to the question, “Where Were Slot Machines Invented?” wouldn’t be complete without including an electronic board component commonly found in modern slot machines.
Bally Technologies hired a computer programmer to increase the size of jackpots without losing profits for the company. This improvement was accomplished by utilizing the concept of a random number generator (RNG).
As it is challenging to computer generate a truly random event – take it from me; I’m a physicist. So, sometimes the more accurate term pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) is used.
In any case, this focused business development resulted in yet another technological revolution in slot machine gaming. But for such a simple concept, RNG are far more complicated than most realize. For instance, which of many possible probability distributions is used to make many zero value wins but far, far fewer top jackpot wins?
For those interested in this sort of thing, see Igne S. Telnaes’ U.S. Patent Number 4,448,419, awarded in 1984, entitled “Electronic gaming device utilizing a random number generator for selecting the reel stop positions“. As someone with a patent in another research area, I have a tip for you. It’s worth noting all RNG patents are cited under this link, including the very latest.
The Arrival of Computer Microchips
In the 1980s, computer microchips allowed a leap forward in slot machine technological advances. This including the capability of having video slots, online slots, and linked machines for progressive slots.
In Las Vegas in 2003, a linked slot machine with a shared jackpot reached an enormous size before it was won: nearly $40 million.
One of the first slot machines with video reels was the Fortune Coin by Walt Fraley. Slot manufacturer IGT purchased its patent from Mr. Fraley, then developed it further to overcome an initial distrust of this new technology by slot machine players as well as improving its overall technical operation.
Due to the application of targeted marketing techniques, video poker machines were found to be honest and could be trusted, thereby overcoming people’s initial skepticism over how fair the video slot machines would be and building a public perception of trust.
In the 1990s, the advent of the internet and increasingly fast and powerful computers allowed for the first electromechanical slot machines with bonus games, multiple lines, and the modern version of online slots.
Casinos have established a broad base of slot players while, along with today’s ready online access, online game developers are mostly only limited by their imagination.
Two Active Screens
The first video slot machine with two screens was created in Australia in 1994, followed by America in 1996.
The second screen was used to provide the player with a different environment in which bonuses could be played.
Summary of Slot Machines Invented
The history of slot machines is filled with technological developments. Each step in this chronological journey brought forth more inventions included in the modern slot machine.
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