From its humble beginnings in a Californian garage at the end of the 19th century to global domination today, the slot machine has enjoyed a long and fruitful (excuse the pun!) history. A thing of beautiful simplicity, slots still form the backbone of today’s gambling industry, with over one million machines housed in casinos, amusement arcades and bars around the globe.
But have you ever paused to consider where these ingenious inventions came from? Although it’s barely more than 120 years old, the concept of the slot machine has endured various challenges to its legitimacy and various makeovers to its image. For those interested, here’s a brief summary of how the slot machine came to be the worldwide superstar it is today.
The brains behind the slot machine was a Bavarian-born mechanic named Charles August Fey. At the time of his breakthrough invention, Fey was repairing automobiles in San Francisco, but after the moderate success of his first machine, he was able to pack in the day job and open a full-time slot machine factory. The Card Bell, which is the precursor of all modern slot machines, was born in 1898, with the famous Liberty Bell machine following the year after.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Fey and his three-reel machines. First of all, Fey had to deal with considerable competition in the shape of the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. What’s more, the was significant opposition to the slots from the religious community, who succeeded in having them outlawed in San Francisco by 1909. But before that date, an even bigger tragedy would strike in 1906 in the form of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, which killed hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people and destroyed 96 of the original 100 Liberty Bell machines.
A modern world
While gambling remained outlawed in most US states for the majority of the 20th century, Nevada (and in particular, Las Vegas) ploughed ahead with its own furrow in the industry. In the 1970s, the sector would be transformed forever with the precursor to today’s new slot machines, after the Fortune Coin Company developed a video game version of the slot machine. Originally housed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, its popularity soon became apparent and the Nevada Gaming Commission approved its use throughout the resort. Today, there are over 200,000 such machines in Vegas.
Of course, the invention of the video slot was one sizable step forward, but another was realized with the arrival of the world wide web. All of a sudden, people were able to enjoy the thrill of casino games from the comfort of their own home and the popularity (and profitability) of slots went truly global. Nowadays, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry which delights punter from Tallahassee to Timbuktu and everywhere in between.
So the next time you log onto your favorite online casino and try your luck on the reels, give pause for thought for the evolution and incredible journey of the slot machine over the years. It’s come a long way!