Slots History

Learn about the evolution of the most popular online casino game...

Foretaste of slot machines

Games of chance have been part of our life for centuries. It is difficult to ascertain the origins of most of them.

The 19th century "trade stimulators" however are a different story. We have a fairly decent account of the first "trade stimulator" which is considered to be the precursor of the modern slot machine. Sittman and Pitt's invention externally resembled a typical slot machine, with the only difference that it was based on poker. The 5-reel poker machine consisted of 5 drums carrying 50 cards in total.

The poker machine instantly captured the hearts of the gambling part of NY. To the surprise of players, winning became a much more difficult task at some point. Proprietors used deception by removing the Ten of Spades and the Jack of Hearts from the deck. Another drawback was the absence of a payout mechanism which meant that owners would offer players a free beer or a cigar should they, for instance, receive a pair of Kings. However, this inconvenience had no bearing on the game's popularity. 

Birth of the slot machine


At that time, almost three thousand miles west from New York, the first slot machine was conceived, a revolutionary invention that changed the face of gambling forever. Depending on the source, it was either in 1887 (four years before NY's invention) or in 1895 (four years after NY's invention). The one-armed bandit was invented in San Francisco, California by a German immigrant named Charles Fey.

The machine paid out in coins, though, the pay table showed merchandise such as drinks which actually was a clever way to bypass gaming laws. Three reels were installed inside it, each reel with 10 printed 'classic' symbols (2x – horseshoes, spades, diamonds, hearts and bells). The top prize was three bells in line, hence the name a "Bell" or "Liberty Bell" slot machine.

Good reception

"Bells" received highly positive opinions. The prognosis was that this crude-looking machine with a rough handle  to put the reels into motion would be turned into a great success. Indeed, it became a sensation, a spark that ignited the massive mechanical gaming device industry. At that time, patent laws did not protect gaming devices, so instead of selling slot machines, Fey was forced to rent them to gambling saloons, for the price of half of all the winnings.

The original 3 reels with 10 symbols on each reel became a model for the future slot machines. It also meant that that the jackpot in this early slot machines was very limited. There were only 1000 combinations that could be made (10x10x10). "House" took 25 percent profit as 750 coins was the total payout for all of the different winning combinations.

Two heads are better than one...

In 1907, Fey decided to partner up with with Herbert Mills the owner of the Mills Novelty company. Their cooperation produced “Operators Bell” which featured such innovations as 20-fruit-symbol reel or a gooseneck coin entry. Overall, the company manufactured 30,000 machines, each weighing 100+ pounds.

Despite the fact that they were illegal in many states, slot machines became rapidly popular all over the west coast in 1940 reaching the famous Las Vegas's Flamingo casino, and then all over the United States. At first slots were regarded as a mere addition to table games, yet with the contribution of modern technology, slot machines became the main source of casino's profits.

Did you know that?

  • Iron was the first material used to manufacture slot machines. This toil ended in 1915 when wooden cost-saving machines were introduced.
  • In the 1930s' came silent slots and in the 60s' electro-mechanic slots were released, both of which versions were considered groundbreaking improvements.
  • In 1960, there were more than 16,000 slots in Nevada in 1960. In 1999, the Silver State boasted almost 206,000 slot machines, which was 1 for every 10 residents. Today these figure has improved slightly and there is one operating slot machine for every 8 residents.
  • All video slot machines in Nevada must pay at least 75% back to the player.
  • The first online progressive jackpot was launched in 1998 by Microgaming. It was 3 reel "Cash Splash" that pooled the contributions of several casinos. In 2005, it was replaced by its 5 reel counterpart.
  • Out of more than 150 casino software providers, the most popular are Microgaming, Playtech, Cryptologic and increasingly Netent.
  • 1994 was the year when Microgaming came with the first online casino software.
  • Approximately 70% of online gambling revenue is generated at Microgaming casinos.
  • Download slot games are considered superior to web-based games since there are far more games to choose from.
  • Slot machines are forbidden in certain states of America such as Wisconsin or Tennessee.
  • Fruit machines are most popular in British pubs.