Slot machines are generally dismissed as just another form of gambling when in fact they are a 120-year-old success story that never ended.

The Brief History of Slot Machines

Slot machines are often dismissed as just another gambling game. But in fact, they are much more than that: a success story that started more than 120 years ago. Today, there are millions of slot machines in the world, everywhere from casino lobbies to online casino sites, played both in a real-money setting and casually by millions of players.

(Charles Fey’s “Liberty Bell” slot machine – photo: Wikipedia)

The beginning

The first gambling machines appeared toward the end of the 19th century. In 1891, a company called Sittman and Pitt from New York built the first poker machine – a gaming machine based on the rules of Five Card Draw. It was a very popular game but it did have a few shortcomings – like it required human assistance when paying out wins.

A few years after the emergence of the poker machine, a San Francisco mechanic named Charles Fey came up with another idea. He simplified the poker machine, getting rid of two reels and most symbols. This simplified design allowed him to add some extra features to the machine, like an automatic payout mechanism and even a device that could tell real coins from fake ones.

As you might expect, his design was an instant hit, spreading across all the US – showing up at bars and gaming dens across the nation. Besides, it spawned a very successful mechanical gaming industry.

Slot machines go video

For decades, slot machines remained mechanical games with a lever on their side, and true to their name: one-armed bandits. In time, the technology under their hood developed further: the springs and cogs were replaced by motors and the bells by speakers: the first electromechanical slot machine was born. Made by Bally (and later others), the games became more colourful and flashy (literally) but most of them retained their most recognizable feature: the lever.

The reign of electromechanical slots was, in turn, short, as the Las Vegas-based Fortune Coin Co introduced the first video slot machine pretty soon – in 1976.

The electronics of the first video slot machines were not very different from the arcade games of the time, with a colour monitor and, for the first time, buttons instead of a lever. The game was soon approved in Nevada and became a huge success on the Las Vegas Strip. In the following years, video slot machines continued to develop, getting bonuses, side games, jackpots, even multiple screens in some cases. While they have become more elaborate over the years, video slot machines remain the dominant variety today.

Going online

In the mid-1990s the internet became mainstream. And soon after, the first online casinos emerged. Their game of choice? You guessed it: slot machines. A century after they were invented, the slots made their great transition to the great online and found new life in cyberspace.

Make no mistake – online casinos are not the only place they showed up. Casino games, especially slot machines, found a massive and dedicated audience on social networks, and later on smartphones, too.

Today, there are thousands of online slot machines in casinos and further hundreds that you can play in social casino apps and similar games. And their popularity doesn’t seem to wane anytime soon.

Slot machines are, indeed, a century-old success story that is still being written as we speak.

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