There is no doubt that slots are the most popular offline and online casino games, especially among RNG games. A slot machine is one of the most iconic symbols of casino gaming, and it is something that both gamblers and non-gamblers recognize and know.
But how did slot machines begin? How did they become the game most of us know today? From its earliest days to the innovative days of online casinos, here is an overview of the history of slots.
Sittman & Pitt Slot Machines
Although Charles Fey is often credited as the father of the design that eventually became the modern slot machine, there have been inventions before his Liberty Bell that have implemented a mechanism similar to a slot machine.
In 1890, a company called The Ideal Toy Company that was based in Chicago, introduced a slot machine based on the game called Five Card Draw, which was one of the oldest variants of poker as we know it today. The invention was by Frank Smith, and it was a machine involving five drums with faces of playing cards painted on each of them. The mechanism needed a coin to work, and pulling a lever would make the drums spin. If the drums stop at a winning hand combination, a prize can be collected at the counter.
In 1893, Sittman and Pitt from New York built a machine that works similarly. This machine was what was recognized as the first coined-operated game machine that has a lever and pull mechanism. This machine was also based on a poker game and was also made out of five drums with card faces painted on them. The game became an instant hit around the United States back then, so much that almost every bar in the city would have it.
Charles Fey's Liberty Bell Slot Machines
In 1895, a car mechanic by the name of Charles Fey from San Francisco, California, invented the mechanical game machine with three reels, which would later be known and credited to be the "first" modern slot machine.
Called the "Liberty Bell,' this slot machine had three spinning reels that, unlike the Sittman and Pitt Slot machines, did not have card faces painted on it but rather, symbols. Each reel has four sets of symbols: a diamond, a spade, a heart, and a drawing showing a cracked Liberty Bell. The original Liberty Bell slot is still intact and on display at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, Nevada.
Each spin of the Fey slot machine gave the play a chance to end up with a winning combination, the highest value of which is a set of three Liberty Bells. At the time, the grand jackpot was fifty cents.
Although it works the same as the ones that came before it, what made it the most popular machine were two reasons: the player need not learn poker to understand the concept of the game (it was only symbols and combinations, after all), and the machine featured automatic payout release, which was the first f its kind.
The machine quickly became a craze in bars, barbershops, saloons, cigar shops, and other places where potential gamblers may gather. Eventually, people found a way to cheat the machine by using a wooden nickel to fool it that they have already inserted a coin. Fey fixed this by modifying the mechanism and adding the first version of the detecting pin, which means that the machine can then tell if the coin inserted is real or not.
Bally Technologies & Money Honey Slot
In 1932, Raymond Moloney founded a company called the Bally Manufacturing Corporation. The original business of the company was to produce wooden pinball machines, which is another type of game machine that is popular at that time. Their first game was largely based on the company name, which was called Ballyhoo.
The company eventually was sold to a new owner after Ray Moloney died in 1958. Eventually renaming the company simply to Bally, they invented and introduced a new version of the slot machine in 1963. It was called the Honey Money, and it revolutionized the niche of slot machines back then.
Honey Money still featured a set of spinning wheels and a lever that players would pull. What set it apart from its predecessors was that it was the first electronic slot machine. Traditionally, the lever was meant to be the mechanism that would activate the spring and set the wheels spinning.
In Honey Money, the lever was only kept for appearance purposes as it was no longer a spring-activated mechanism. Part of this decision was to leverage the then widespread rumor that winning slots has something to do with pulling the lever the right way. However, this new machine activates the wheel using electricity.
Fortune Coin Co's Fortune Coin Slot Machine
One of the major inventions of the 1960s is the first color television. This revolutionized the way people consumed content back then, and a company called Fortune Coin Company took advantage of this. They invented an electric slot machine that makes use of a color TV display instead of the traditional spinning reels that have been the way to go since the 1800s.
In 1976, Fortune Coin Co. offered The Hilton Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip their first slot machine using a 19-inch Sony TV. This was called the Fortune Coin, following the company name.
The introduction of TV slots also paved the way for the use of logic boards and the earliest form of random number generators as a way to determine results randomly (which was the purpose back then of the spinning wheels).
IGT's first TITO Software for Slot Machines
Two years after the introduction of the video slot, in 1978, Fortune Coin Company was bought by International Game Technology, better known as IGT. One of the first modifications they did with the original Fortune Coin (and other machines) was to incorporate a spinning animation, so players would still feel that the machine is "spinning" for results. It was around this time that the slot was starting to become a casino staple.
Eventually, MGM Corporation, which owned the first major casino MGM Grand Casino, sought to make casino gaming cashless. MGM then invited IGT along with other popular gaming companies to come up with software that would make playing with casino games, including slots, cashless.
Through this, the first Ticket In Ticket Out (TITO) slot machine was born.
Although MGM commissioned the development of this technology, the invention was credited to IGT as they eventually bought the machine patents from MGM.
With the TITO system, players can now use paper bills instead of coins. Whatever they win would be printed in a ticket that the machine would print out. This ticket can then be claimed and enchased or be used again in other games.
The players loved this new system, but it also received a fair share of skepticism. Some were concerned that the TITO system is getting too close to becoming credit card readers, which would open the possibility to gamble with credit and thus, the risk of developing gambling problems for people.
Microgaming's First Casino Platform and Online Slot
As computers start to become more available on a consumer level, companies eventually developed software that would be the first steps toward the online casinos we know today.
In 1994, Microgaming developed the first-ever online casino software in the industry, and in 1998 the company launched the first online progressive jackpot slot machine Back then, it was a simple set of casino management tools and player tracking systems. Around the same time, another company is racing with Microgaming for the development of the first online casino.
Brothers Andrew and Mark Rivkin founded a company called Cryptologic in 1995. They started out with a developed online financial tracking system, which eventually evolved into an online casino software.
Eventually, the two companies launched the "first" online casino site. Who came first was debatable. Cryptologic launched InterCasino, and Microgaming launched The Gaming Club.
However, internet archives showed that Microgaming may have developed an earlier site that came before The Gaming Club. This site was Casino.co.za, which was established around 1996, or possibly even earlier. The site catered exclusively to South African players and accounts were obtained via phone calls, with cash ins accepted via credit cards. Back then, everything from registration to payment was done over the phone.
It was believed that this eventually was improved by Microgaming and changed into The Gaming Club. After all, Microgaming never actually claimed that The Gaming Club was their first online casino. Rather, they described it as "the first online casino to launch in collaboration with Microgaming software."
The history of slots is a long and colorful one, starting out as a simple 5 reel system with a 50c grand prize before becoming a state of the art, cashless, computer system with multimillion-dollar jackpots.