Whether online or in a brick-and-mortar venue, no casino worth its salt lacks a string of obligatory machine slots for players to spin. Nowadays, pokies make up over 70% of the income generated across all American land-based gambling parlors.
Yet, it wasn’t always so. Compared to centuries-old games like roulette or poker, slots are relative latecomers to the casino landscape. So, who invented this iconic gambling machine? Read on to find out more about the history and evolution of slot machines.
The true origins of the slot machines might be contentious, but there is no denying that the device finds its roots in the U.S. The precursor of our modern pokies can be traced back to a 19th-century New York-based business called Sittman and Pitt. In 1891, this Brooklyn company developed a gambling machine consisting of five drums and 50 playing cards. Their invention proved an immediate success, so much so that many bars in the city quickly bought one or two of them for their consumers to try their luck.
Costing a mere nickel to set in motion, this novel machine had no payout mechanism at the time. Hence, the fortunate winners would go to the counter to collect their prizes, which ranged from a free beer to complimentary cigars. The odds were not in favor of the players, though, as two cards were typically removed to mitigate the chances of hitting a royal flush. The drums could also be rearranged on the whim of the bar’s owner.
The East Coast was not the only place to fall for this game of chance. Over on the West Coast, a San Francisco mechanic named Charles Augustus Frey designed the first coin-operated machine to include an automatic payout mechanism. This German immigrant kept polishing his revolutionary “Horseshoe Slot Machine,” leading him to open a full-time slot machine workshop to produce the device in large batches.
In 1898, Frey blazed the trail once more with the earliest three-reel pokie on record. The Liberty Bell machine featured a grand total of five symbols: diamonds, hearts, horseshoes, spades, and the eponymous Liberty Bell. As visionary as he was, he could not patent the “Liberty Bell Machine Slot” because of the gambling ban enforced in California. Countless competitors seized the opportunity to market their own variations. Still, Frey’s name lived on. Seven of the hundreds of models he produced survived to this day, some of which are on display within the SFO Museum.
By 1908, the pokies manufactured by the Chicago inventor Herbert Mills had taken over every cigar store, bowling alley, and barbershop around. While the earliest Liberty Bell devices mass-produced by Mills used the exact same symbols as Charles Frey’s, they quickly gave way to a more patriotic iconography made up of wreaths and flags.
Around the same years, the Operator’s Bell machine added a gum-vending attachment whose fruit flavors inspired a new set of symbols on the reels. Cherries, lemons, oranges, and plums would become the default patterns for thousands of machines. While many modern pokies revolve around pop culture themes, as we explored on Washington Independent, classic slots still play out that vintage theme with retro fruits, bars, and sevens.
Slot machines exploded in popularity throughout the 20th century, continuously improving on their predecessors. In the 1960s, The Bally Manufacturing Co. rolled out the first-ever electromechanical slot machine. Ever-so-immersive video slot machines appeared in the 1970s, while the first lucky player to hit a progressive jackpot took home close to $5 million in 1986. Fast-forward to the present day and machine slots are all over the web.
Incidentally, newcomers often struggle with picking the right pokies. That’s why websites like CasinoBonusCAmake it their mission to help prospective players cut through the noise. Advanced filters make it easy to sort through different software providers and game types. Comparison tools come in handy to pit established platforms and new casinos against one another. As a bonus, hundreds of casino offers are published regularly, from welcome deals to free spins for pokies lovers.
Slot machines broke new ground back in the day. Arguably, these fun games of luck never lost their appeal. Even the symbols of yore are still relevant. And the upsurge of fun mobile-friendly pokies is only proving the point that slot machines are nothing short of timeless.