Today, the slot machine and the casino seem to be inseparable, like two parts of one whole; but what about 10 year ago, or 10 years before that? What exactly is casino slot history?
Whether the first slot machines originated in New York designed by Pitt and Sittman, or in California by Charles Fey is debatable and depends somewhat on the definition of a slot machine. Pitt and Sittman’s east coast machines consisted of 5 drums that would revolve to display poker hands; no money was paid out by the machine but rather a winning hand would be rewarded by the establishment, usually with drinks. This was in 1891. Many would argue that this doesn’t count as a slot machine but rather should be understood as an automated poker machine and therefore the beginning of casino slot history starts with Charles Fey and his Liberty Bell Machine.
Charles Fey, an immigrant from Eastern Europe and trained machinist created the first 110 pound machines in his basement and sold them to bars in the San Francisco bay area. They did not have all the symbols familiar in today casino slot machines, but did include the bell which one still sees and gave those original models their name. It is possible to see one of these original models in Reno where Fey’s descendants own the Liberty Belle saloon, the only place to still have an original.
Following the success of his liberty bell machines, Fey moved into partnership with one of the bigger games companies and created Operator Bell Slot Machine which included the now famous fruit symbols that gave machines their nickname – fruit machines. It wasn’t until the Bell-Fruit Gum company came by the designs, however, that slot machines were mass produced and could be found in a much wider variety of locations. The key to the proliferation of the Bell-Fruit Gum machine was that it dispensed a stick of gum with each pull making it arguably not a gambling devise at all and therefore acceptable in main stream entertainment and not susceptible to gambling laws.
One must remember that slot machines did not exit before the 20th century, and in the 9th year of that century, 1909, they were in deemed illegal in San Francisco, shortly after by Nevada, and by 1911 the whole of California. With the rise of the anti-gambling movement in the 1930’s especially, when such actions were associated with gangsters and criminals, there seemed to be an out and out war against slot machines as the every-mans gambling device and vice.
It was Bugsy Siegal who built the Flamingo Hilton Hotel, on what would become the Las Vegas strip, and it was here that the first banks of casino slot machines were seen. Ironically they were originally imported into the casinos for the sole purposes of filling up space and entertaining the wives whilst the ‘real’ gambling took place at the tables; ironic due to the current position of casino slot machines as the highest earners in the casino world.
The 1960s saw the mechanical versions move over to electric which guaranteed a more secure and reliable game and fast development of varying slot machines that then seemed to take over the casino floors; a phenomena that was only enhanced by the 1970s and 80s introduction of microchips and random number generation creating an entirely safe, secure game.
Today with tens of thousands of variants of casino slot machines available both in land based and online casinos they make up an average of 75% of casino revenues.