Think about casinos and one of the first images that springs to mind is rows of gaudy, flashing slot machines. Slots have always been a popular staple of the casino landscape as they combine simple gameplay, random jackpots, and very little skill — you really only need one limb to play.
But the humble slot machine has had quite a journey, beginning more than a century ago with clunky mechanical machines in the US, and currently manifesting as highly advanced, cutting-edge online games played by millions the world over. Let’s have a look at a brief history of the beloved slot machine, and why its appeal endures to this day.
The history of slot machines dates back to the late 19th century when mechanical devices featuring physical spinning reels appeared. The machines were pure simplicity, with just a lever to pull. The Liberty Bell slot, created by Charles Fey in 1895, wasn’t the first machine, but it is certainly the most iconic of the early slots, and the one most cited by slot historians (if such a thing exists).
Slot machines were almost banned in 1902 as gambling was outlawed in many parts of the US. As a workaround measure, many machines began offering fruit chewing gum instead of cash, which gave rise to the iconic fruit symbols on the reels of many future slots.
Slot machines remained fixtures of tobacconists, bowling alleys, shops, and salons across the US, but began to make their way into the casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City by the 1950s. But it was the 60s that brought a big change, with the introduction of electric reels — the first electro-mechanical machine was called Money Honey, which appeared in 1964.
Despite the electronics, a lever was still used to start the game, to keep the traditional feel of a classic mechanical slot.
70s and 80s: Video and Progressive Jackpots
Fortune Coin became the next landmark, and the first slot machine to sow the seeds of what modern slots were to become. Launched in 1976 in the Las Vegas Hilton, Fortune Coin used a modified Sony TV to create the first video slot. Once these had been vetted for fairness these trailblazing machines got the go-ahead from the Nevada Gaming Commission — the green light for the endless rows of slots we see in modern casinos to make their debut on the Sin City Strip.
The mid-80s brought with them the first progressive slot machines — every time a player spun, the jackpot increased, creating a potential for no-limit winnings. Megabucks was the first machine of this kind, introduced in 1986, and it only took a year for a lucky punter to win mega-bucks, taking home a cool sum of nearly $5 million. Luckily, slots didn’t dispense their winnings in coin form by this point.
The Digital Age
A forerunner of online slots, in 1996 WMS Industries Inc. released “Reel ‘Em”, which featured a fully separate screen for bonus rounds. As high-speed internet began to become widespread in the mid-late 90s, online casinos began to appear, and game developers began to see the almost endless potential of slot machine games.
Back then players didn’t have as much choice as they do today, and it’s lucky that we have comparison sites to identify top online casinos with the best slots, so that new players don’t get overwhelmed.
As the first smartphones appeared in the mid-00s, slot machine games made their way onto mobile phones, and have soared in popularity as top mobile tech becomes ever more advanced and ever more affordable.
Millions of new players enjoy slots that harness the power of mobile devices to incorporate stunning graphics, music, enhanced gameplay, and other immersive attributes. You’ll also find all manner of themed slots, which take their cues from all over sports, history, and popular culture.
The online casino industry is driven by the popularity of slots — that’s an industry worth over $60 billion worldwide as of 2023. The humble slot machines that appeared 130 years ago have successfully advanced into the future, without sacrificing their simple, enjoyable gameplay.