A Brief History Of Slot Machines

Slot machines are staple for casino players all around the world, and there are thousands of slots to choose from and play. The history of slot machines goes way back, and of course, online slot machines are only a recent innovation. From penny machines to giant slots, multi-million jackpots and more, the one-armed bandit is as popular as ever.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at the history of slot machines through the ages, how they started and what modern interpretations have emerged.


The very first gambling machine was created in the USA in 1891. It was made by using five drums with a total of fifty card faces, and was loosely based on the game of poker. The machine was an instant hit, becoming widespread in bars across New York City, since its creators hailed from Brooklyn.

In order to play, players would put in a nickel and pull a lever, the drums would spin and the players would hope to land a win. Funnily enough, there wasn’t a payout mechanism established yet, so the winners would get a cigar, a token or whatever the bar preferred to offer as a prize.

1887 – 1895

The history of slots took a step forward with the creation of the slot machine we’re more familiar with today. Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, came up with a much simpler automatic system, with three spinning reels containing a total of five symbols: horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a Liberty Bell.

Since the slot machine was considerably less complicated than its previous iteration, an automatic payout mechanism became possible. The biggest payout back then was three bells in a row, which paid ten nickels. The Liberty Bell machine became so popular that it was soon copied by many other slot machine manufacturers.

1907 – 1950s

The popularity of slots continued to grow, encouraging Chicago-native Herbert Mills to develop a slot machine called the Operator Bell. By 1908, lots of bell machines were placed inside cigar stores, saloons, bowling alleys, and barbershops amongst others.

During this time, some slot machines gave out winnings in the form of fruit-flavoured chewing gum decorated with pictures of the symbols used in the slots. This is when the classic fruit symbols came into play, and why even today in the UK we often refer to slots as “fruit machines”. The iconic BAR symbol was also created during this time, as it was the logo for the Bell-Fruit Gum Company that supplied the gum.


So far, there had only been manually-controlled slot machines in operation. But in 1963, everything changed, and slot machines entered the modern era with the introduction of the first-ever electromechanical slot machine, called Money Honey. This slot could pay out up to 500 coins without the help of an attendant, and so the side lever or one-armed bandit soon became phased out.

1970s – 1990s

The very first video slot was developed in 1976 in California, mounted on a 19-inch machine. It made its debut at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and fast became popular all along the Las Vegas Strip. Slot machines continued to gain popularity amongst players, and their number grew as the years passed.

In 1996, the first American video slot machine to offer a ‘second screen’ bonus round was rolled out, named Reel ‘Em In. With this new feature, further payouts could be won or accumulated and the play experience was made more interactive.

Online Slots Today

The rise of the internet made it possible for slot machines to make their way online, and this shift brought about a whole new era in the history of slot machines.

Graphics, animations and sound effects could be taken to the next level thanks to modern technology, giving players the ultimate gaming experience with a wide variety of themes and functions to choose from, plus the potential for much larger payouts.

This also paved the way for the introduction of new variations on the traditional slots, such as:

  • Megaways: With this technology, created by Big Time Gaming in 2015, each reel could have a flexible number of symbols, expanding the winning potential of each payline and expanding into hundreds or even thousands of ways to win.
  • Grid Slots: With grid slots the layout is quite different to the traditional reel set. Instead of being made up of three or five reels, grid slots are made up of symbols on 5×5 up to 6×12 layouts. Symbols fall down from the top of the screen and combine to make winning combos in clusters of adjacent symbols.
  • Progressive Jackpots: A jackpot pot is shared among multiple casinos, and the more people play, the more the pot grows.

It seems like slots are here to stay. From humble beginnings, these machines have withstood the test of time to become the interactive and graphically diverse online slots we have today. With the passing of time, slots have continued to evolve and expand, and players are now lucky enough to have the widest selection of slots to choose from than has ever been possible. Of course, you can still play with the classic BAR, bell and fruit symbols if you want to!

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