The first primitive slot machine was developed in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt in New York. Based on poker, this machine had 5 drums containing a total of 50 face cards and was placed in almost every bar in New York.
Not long after, the craze overtook the whole city of New York. Players inserted a nickel and pulled a lever hoping to get a good poker hand. Since there wasn’t a payment system installed, each win would get players a free beer or something of the sort.
Although primitive, Sittman and Pitt’s machine sparked the interest of many and led to the creation of the slot machine’s direct predecessor – the Liberty Bell.
The Revolutionary Liberty Bell
In 1895, Charles Fey invented a simpler machine based on Sittman and Pit’s slot which had 3 spinning reels and 5 symbols including diamonds which are still in use in slots today.
The slot also had the Liberty Bell as one of its symbols, which is where it got its name from. With a maximum prize of 10 nickels, the Liberty Bell was a huge success. Still, the need for a simpler mechanism was not completely resolved, so in 1907, Herbert Mills invented a new machine called the Operator Bell that will soon be placed in each bar, restaurant, brothel, alley, barber shop, and street of New York.
The Operator Bell gave out fruit-flavored chewing gums as rewards and had fruits on the reels, so it’s connection to modern slots is pretty obvious. The payment in gum and food prizes was used in order to avoid gambling laws in most American states and it worked flawlessly. The Operator Bell was popular for decades until Bally developed a fully automated machine in 1963 (Money Honey) which is considered the first modern slot machine.
The Booming Popularity
Thirteen years after Money Honey, Fortune Coin Co. developed the world’s first slot machine. The first few units were installed in the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas and the rights to the company’s technology were bought by IGT in 1978. The rest is history.
After the huge success of Money Honey and Fortune Coin’s slot machine, casinos were soon flooded by different kinds of slots. Players were at the machines 24/7 and casinos were drowning in money. Sure, many won nice sums on the same slots, but as the old adage says, the casino always wins in the end.
The Next Landmark
The next major landmark in the history of slots was in 1996 when WMS Industries released the first video slot with a bonus round to the public. Called Reel ‘Em, the slot was an instant hit and set the stage for future versions of video slots which dominate the gambling industry even today.
Reel ‘Em had a second screen for the bonus round which featured additional payouts and made slots all the more popular in casinos. At that time, they brought in more than 70% of the casino’s profits, so new slot developers were spawning every day.