The Development of Slot Machines

The origins of the slot machine date all the way to late 19th century. A man by the name of Charles Fey made history when he created the Liberty Bell machine, which quickly spread out from its humble beginnings in San Francisco across the entire United States. The Liberty Bell machine was based on a simple automated mechanism that involved three spinning reels and 5 different symbols: hearts, spades, diamonds, horseshoes and the eponymous Liberty Bell. Operated by a lever on the side, the reels would spin to reveal the final pattern, with three bells giving the highest payout. The machine gained huge popularity immediately, and it wasn’t before long that manufacturers across the US started making copies of this thriving one-armed bandit, making it a staple at saloons, barber shops, brothels and other social spaces.

The poker machine was another popular early form of a slot game, though slightly more complex than the aforementioned Liberty Bell. This game consisted of 5 drums and fifty card faces which would roll when you pulled the lever. The goal was for the cards to align in a good combination, just like a winning poker hand. The many possible winning combinations made this machine a treat for players, though owners could rearrange the drums or remove particular cards, such as the Ten of Spades or the Jack of Hearts, to up the house edge a bit more. Unlike the Liberty Bell machine, the poker machine didn’t pay out cash after a win. Instead, players would receive prizes like beer or cigars from the bar.

1908 marked the spread of the Operator Bell machine, introduced to the US gambling scene after Liberty Bell’s massive success and the growing demand that came with it. With Charles Fey being unable to keep up with the production, Chicago manufacturer Herbert Mills copied the Liberty Bell and started producing en masse. Catching on just as fast – if not even faster – the Operator Bell would soon replace its predecessor at many clubs and bars around the country and thus go down in slots history as an iconic one-armed bandit. The machine thrived even when slot games got banned a few years later – instead of money, players would win chewing gum with different fruit flavours. To go along, the reels started incorporating fruit symbols like cherries, oranges, or lemons. The ubiquitous Bar symbol was, at the same time, the logo of the Bell-Fruit Company, a chewing gum producer – hence the name ‘fruit machine’.

The next notable slot games on the scene didn’t appear until 1963 when the Money Honey machine hit casinos and bars. This one was fully electromechanical, even though it did retain a lever on the side to please the players’ habit of operating slots this way. The electrical components brought several improvements to the game, especially with regards to being able to make multi-coin bets and win higher payouts, with up to 500 coin-payouts possible. Developed by Bally, this slot included numerous thrilling aesthetic changes, catching the attention of an ever-growing number of players and ultimately paving the way for modern electronic slot games. 1980 marked the move away from electromechanical to fully electronic slot games, along with the development of random number generators and the subsequent proliferation of successful slot game manufacturers.

The gambling scene experienced a rebirth of sorts in the 1990’s with the development of the first online slot game software in 1994. Since then, major online gambling operators like 888casino or Ladbrokes have started incorporating more and more slot games into their online repertoire, with software developers raising the bar for performance and design with each technological advancement. You’ll still find plenty of so-called classic slot games online which emulate the basic ‘oldies’, with fruit machine-like layouts and a conservative number of paylines. On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find super-modern creations with 20 or more paylines, including games with non-traditional layouts, changing numbers of rows, special features like bonus games and free spins, multiplier functions and even jackpot pools. Graphic effects such as 3D rendering or thrilling animation as well as sounds give an ever-developing edge to online gaming, unmatched by what you used to find at land-based casinos. The most current advancements also enable more and more games to be played on mobile phones and tablets, making portable online gaming a breeze. Many existing games are being optimised for mobile viewing, while new slots are designed with mobile gaming in mind first and foremost. You won’t need to sacrifice neither performance nor graphics when you play portably these days – mobile gaming technology is always a step ahead, giving you the best tools to spin on a smaller screen while keeping crisp graphics and sound intact.

Milestone Slot Machines
  • 1887Liberty Bell
  • 1891Poker Machine
  • 1908Operator Bell
  • 1963Money Honey Slot
  • 1994Online Casino Software
  • 2010First Mobile Slot Games

Slot Machine Collections Worth a Visit

As you can see, there’s lots of history behind these seemingly innocuous machines, and you can find some true rarities at slot machine museums and arcade game exhibits around the world. The most impressive might be the Nevada Gambling Museum in Virginia City, Nevada, where you’ll find truly unique pieces manufactured in the 19th century. With an estimated worth of over $500,000, this collection is real stunner if you’re a fan of old school slot machines, not to mention the there’s a special selection of game machines devoted to none other than Charles Fey. How’s that for a slots history lesson?

Nevertheless, we know that Nevada might be a bit far away for most of you, so why not take a look at the National Penny Slot Machine Collection at the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke?

National Penny Slot Machine Museum, Milestones Museum in Basingstoke
  • Address:Leisure Park, Churchill Way West Basingstoke, RG22 6PG
  • Opening Hours:10:00 – 4:45 PM Tues-Fri, 11:00 – 16:45 PM Weekends
  • Homepage:Hampshire Cultural Trust

Formerly located in Southport, this collection of slot and fruit machines includes over 100 antique gambling machines. In 2012, the collection was split into two parts, with one going to the North Pier in Blackpool and a bigger contingent heading to Basingstoke. The Milestones Museum reanimates staples of bygone decades with interactive activities, so the antique slot machines are a perfect addition! Best of all, visitors can buy old pennies and actually play these old-timers – including antique slots, fruit machines and classic arcade games! Another collection of old-fashioned penny slot machines can be found at the promenade in Brighton – also with playable machines, this spot is a fun way to delve into slots history!

If you’re a fan of the aforementioned arcade games – which are undoubtedly an important cousin to slots – you’ll find plenty of collections around the world, in addition to the UK-based museums we’ve pointed out. Namely, Russia is home to two fantastic collections at the Museums of Soviet Arcade Machines, one in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg. These specialise in old restored Soviet arcade games which you can still play. You can give games like Sea Battle or Sniper a go, or play a game of arcade basketball or race your opponent in a thrilling car rally.

If you’re more of a couch potato, you can take a virtual tour of Michael Jackson’s private collection of arcade games, full of boardwalk classics like fortune teller machines as well as arcade hall staples like pinball or sports games. The late pop icon was a huge fan of arcades, amassing this collection for his game room at the infamous Neverland Ranch.