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The History of Slots

 First Machine
 Slots in Prohibition Era
 Pre-World War II years
 Slots in modern time


The history of Slots started in 1897 when inventor Charles Fey built first Slot machine in his workshop on Market Street in San Francisco. For the love of Liberty he called his contraption “Liberty Bell”. The liberation of the players from their money began in earnest. Fey’s invention had 3 reels with 10 symbols on each reel. Cards suits were used for symbols – hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs – and also bells, horseshoes and stars. The machine had a slot to insert a coin and a bottom tray to pick up the winnings. A little window allowed a player to see one row of the symbols lining up in a losing or winning combination.

Liberty Bell’s jackpot was 3 bells rewarding a winner with 20 drinks. Machines also paid out in cigars and chewing gum. Their first main purpose was to boost and maintain traffic of customers into saloons, small markets and other establishments. The machines sat on the bar tops. Their size was small in comparison with modern slots. Charles was renting the machines to those establishments on a 50%-50% basis. Machines acquired their true identity as the gambling devices few years later when they started to pay out in coins.

Fey’s revolutionary invention didn’t go unnoticed. Few more manufacturers followed his lead into a new frontier. Herbert Mills was smart and daring enough to clone Fey’s machine and produce his own version around 1900. Obviously, the lack of originality was not limited to a basic design and machine was named “Operators Bell”. There were few differences however. Mills’ machine had 20 symbols instead of 10. New symbols included bars, bells and fruits – plums, lemons and cherries.

Mills certainly had his moments with a machine and a larger window displaying symbols was the proof of that. It let players to see 3 lines of symbols instead of only one on Fey’s machine. Centerline was a payoff line, but a line above and below showed a player how “close” he/she was to winning something. That kept a player’s appetite wet for a long time increasing chances of eventual loss.

Former associate of Mills O.D.Jennings formed his own company responsible for many innovations in slots design. In 1950-1960 he introduced first multi-line machines with 5 payoff lines – 3 horizontal lines and 2 diagonal ones. 4 reels and electric lights were also Jennings’ contributions into further evolution of slots design.

The lion share of modern Slots market belongs to a handful of major manufacturers. The biggest are Bally Corporation and International Gaming Technologies.  Other important players in the industry are: Sigma Game Inc., producing the most successful horse racing machine; Casino Electronics Inc. with its line of Video Poker, Video Blackjack and Keno machines; Williams offering a number of very popular reel and video slots titles etc.

Around 1910 Government started a crusade against gambling and bureaucrats conceived a number of anti-gambling laws. In order to survive slots had to be tricky. They followed wolves into a sheep cloth to masquerade themselves as vending machines – they took coins but paid back in candy, gum etc. A player could exchange won products into cash inside the establishment.

During Prohibition era slots disappeared from a public view into the back rooms of speakeasies where they found a political asylum and a safe haven under the mob’s wing. There was no need for hypocrisy in the dark corners of Prohibition, and slots were paying back in cash in those places.

In 1934 Prohibition ended but slots continued to be under attack. New York mayor La Guardia was going against slots with a sledgehammer in his hands. The only place where slots and a law were no longer enemies was Nevada where gambling was legalized in 1931.

Other places where players could court Lady Luck were gambling ships: 3 miles from a coastline and ships were in international waters immune from U.S. laws. In 1939 Government knocked gambling ships out of business.

After legalization of gambling in 1978 in Atlantic City and in 1990s in Indian reservations all over the country slots really took off and blossomed like multicolored flowers all over the map of United States. It was about time – gambling is as old as human civilization. Representing the love for money, competition and excitement it is as intrinsic to a human nature as the need for sex. No bureaucrats, moralists, social engineers and utopists of any kind will be able to stop it. No wonder, over the years slots proved to be true survivors. Slots in casinos and sluts on the streets will always be there to play with.


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