Milestones that affected the slots industry 

Slot games have some a long way since they were first created at the end of the nineteenth century. Although the gameplay might still feel similar, there have been a great deal of changes between then and now from and there have been some interesting and important milestones along the way. 


The story of the slot machine begins in 1891, when the very first machine was developed by a company called Sittman and Pitt, based in New York. This machine used real playing cards. There were 50 cards attached to five spinning drums. When the lever was pulled the drums would turn and if, when they stopped turning, a poker hand was seen, the player would win.

The reason there were only 50 cards instead of the traditional 52 was to increase the house edge. The ten of spades and the jack of hearts were taken out to make it less likely that players would be able to make a winning hand; without these cards, it was fifty percent less likely to achieve a royal flush. 

There was no option for a direct payout on these machines which were found in many bars around the USA. This meant that if anyone won when playing, they would have to claim their winnings at the bar. However, it wasn’t money that was won; it was cigars and free drinks.  


If you are asked to name the inventor of the slot machine, those who know will most often say Charles Fey. Although there is some debate as to whether this is true now, especially knowing that there was a type of slot machine in existence in 1891, Fey certainly did come up with a new design and it is this that he should be credited with. Fey created a machine that dealt with automatic payouts; it was no longer necessary to go to the bar to collect winnings. Plus, automatic payouts mean that money could be won – the machines, which had been popular before, were even more popular now. 

Fey’s machine switched the five drums for three reels, and the playing cards were removed and symbols were used instead. There were only five symbols (the liberty bell after which the game was named, spades, hearts, diamonds, and horseshoes) to make it simpler to play – the simpler the game the more people would be keen to take part. 


1902 saw the banning of all slot machines thanks to the new gambling laws that were introduced in America. However, despite this, the Liberty Bell was still being made – the only difference was that instead of paying out money, the newest version only paid out gum. This meant that Fey was able to circumvent the rules. 

Over time more and more companies sprung up to make these slot machines. Since it was not possible to patent a gambling machine, ideas could be stolen and re-used at will, which meant there was a lot of competition to make these lucrative machines and sell them to bars and gambling halls. 

Something that all these game had in common were that they were mechanical, and required a level to be pulled to make the reels spin. When the lever was pulled a spring inside the body of the machine would stretch; when the spring returned to its original position, the reels would stop spinning. It was a simple set up but one that made a lot of people very rich (and some very poor as gambling addiction took hold). 

The reason that this method of playing was popular was that it gave the players a feeling of control, even if everything was a matter of chance in reality. This lever was where the term ‘one armed bandit’ came from, and that’s what these machines were called in general. 


It took almost 60 years for the next milestone in slot machines to come in. This happened in 1964 when a gaming development company called Bally (which you may well have heard of if you know much about slot machines and the games developed even today) created a new game called Money Honey. 

Money Honey was different to what had gone before because rather than being a mechanical slot, it was an electromechanical slot. The lever was still in use, but rather than a spring, the reels were operated electrically. The lever wasn’t actually needed – a button would have sufficed – but it was kept as making too many changes at once might have scared players away; they were used to the lever so it was left where it was. For now, at least. 

Another difference between Money Honey and anything previous was that it could pay out as many as 500 coins at a time, much more than any other machine could do. 

Clearly this game became extremely popular, and that meant that the electromechanical method became the only way that these machines were made from then on. 


By 1976 that familiar lever that gave the one armed bandit its name was gone. It had been a gradual thing, but over the span of a few years, buttons replaced the levers and players seemed to be happy with the new way of playing. 

They were especially happy when the first video slot was produced in 1976. It was made by Fortune Coin, a Las Vegas based company. In order to be played, the slot needed a 19inch screen which was attached separately – the very first screen was actually a modified Sony TV, and the very first video slot was placed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.

It took a little while for the game to be approved by the Nevada State Gambling Commission, however – it needed to be made more cheat proof and some additional modifications were needed. Once it was ready, however, it was an instant hit, and more and more video slots were produced. 


In 1996 it was time for some more changes, and another milestone in the history of slot machines was born. The game that brought about the newest changes was called Reel ‘Em and was made by WMS Industries. Why was this different? It was the first video slot that included a bonus game. Although it is usual to find bonus features on slots these days, back in 1996 this was a major step forward and made playing slots much more interactive and exciting. 

At the same time, the first online casino was created. Gaming developers now weren’t just making physical slots; they were using their skills to make online versions too.


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