Slots are the most popular casino game in the world and, over the years, slot machines have improved vastly, both in design and performance. If a 19th-century slots player had the chance to play the game right now, they would certainly be astounded by the capabilities of modern machines. Likewise, if a present-day player were to play using the old machines, they would rue the slowness of the game.
Further, the introduction of online slots means that you no longer have to go to a physical casino to play slots and, perhaps most importantly, players have a wide variety of slots games to choose from. But the story of how slot machines have evolved since their inception is a tale not to be missed, so take up a stool and give it a spin.
In 1891, a New York-based firm called Sittman and Pitt developed the first slot machine. The machine had five drums and 50 playing cards, and cost a nickel to play. To increase the house advantage, dealers often removed the jack of hearts and ten of spades. Prizes came mostly in the form of drinks and cigarettes because these machines were found in bars.
The major breakthrough, however, is accredited to Charles Augustus Fey. Charles’s machine was the first of its kind to allow automatic payouts. Instead of playing cards, this machine had five symbols –hearts, horseshoes, diamonds, spades and a liberty bell. Because three bell symbols received the highest payout, Charles’s machine was named the ‘Liberty Bell’.
The ban imposed on slot machines in the early 1900s didn’t stop the production of the Liberty Bell: this period marked the introduction of fruit-based slot machines, where dealers gave payouts in fruit and candy as a replacement for the then-banned cash rewards. The BAR symbol was also added during this era.
It was not until 1964 that the first electromechanical slot machine came into existence. Although the reels were electronic, players had to pull a lever to start the game. This machine, called the Money Honey, could make payouts of up to 500 coins.
The first video slot machine came into the fray in 1976. It was housed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. This was the pioneer of the modern slot machines.
In 1996, the first slot machine with a second screen bonus round – the Real Em – was released. This coincided with the growing popularity of slots in casinos. Since, then, that popularity certainly hasn’t slowed: slots now account for a whopping 65-80% of the revenue generated by many casinos.
The mainstream adoption of the internet led to the introduction of online casino games. Initially, most platforms only offered blackjack and roulette, with slots coming later on. Despite the late addition, slots soon became the most popular game in online casinos.
With computers, various platforms can now create custom versions of slots. Depending on your preferences, you can access slots games based on different themes, each with its unique set of symbols and bonuses. Another development is the introduction of jackpot slots, where every player’s bets are added to a communal prize pool and so the payout up for grabs is higher than for standard games. Currently, the record payout stands at €17.9 million.
So next time you sit down at your PC or with your mobile gaming app in hand, just think of this timeline and the history that led to the slots machines we play now.