A Brief History of Slot Machines Over the Last Century

Old fruit machine design with jackpot symbols on reels

If you walk into any land-based casino, or visit any online gaming site, you’ll see a variety of different slots. It wasn’t always this way, though! Over the last 100 years or so, slots have evolved from simple machines to complex virtual experiences. 

The bright flashing lights of slot machines have become a trademark of land-based casinos around the world. Virtual slots are also incredibly popular and showcase a variety of different themes and visual designs. But have you ever wondered where these machines came from?

Join us as we explore the history of both slot machines and virtual slot games (along with some other games like online bingo).

The early beginnings of slot machines

Many agree that the New York-based company, Sittman and Pitt, launched the first slot machine in 1891. Players put a nickel into the machine and pulled the lever to play. To win, you had to line up 5 reels of cards to get a poker hand. The machine didn’t have an automatic payout system but you could claim prizes like free drinks and cigars at the bar.

Charles Augustus Fey also designed many slot machines between 1887 and 1895. His most famous one was called the Liberty Bell, which was the first machine to give an automatic payout. To win the jackpot, you had to line up 3 bells across 3 reels. Hearts, diamonds, spades and horseshoes were the other symbols you could line up too.

Slot machines were banned in 1902, but other models continued to be developed. This includes the Operator Bell, which was developed by Herbert Mills. Instead of paying out money, which wasn’t allowed, this machine paid out in sweets and chewing gum. This is the reason that so many slot machines still use fruit symbols, and are sometimes referred to as “fruit machines”.

Fun fact: the “BAR” symbol that you traditionally find on slot machines is said to be based on the logo of the Bell-Fruit company. Other famous symbols on fruit machines from this era are cherries, melons, apples and oranges.

Computer monitor of fruit machines in casino equipment exhibition

The evolution of slot machines over the 20th century

Up until the 1960s, slot machines were mostly mechanical and used a lever and springs to spin the reels. The first electromechanical slot was called Money Honey and was developed by Bally Games. This device was able to pay out up to 500 coins, and was very popular. After the success of Money Honey, these machines became purely electrical and didn’t need levers to activate the spinning of the reels anymore.

The 1970s saw the invention of video slots, which were developed by the gaming company Fortune Coin. The machines had 19 inch Sony TV displays and were first set up in the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. From here, these kinds of games became very popular and were approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission.

In 1996, video slots changed completely when the game Reel ‘Em by WMS Industries Inc. was released. This game featured a second screen when playing a bonus round, which added a completely new dimension to the game. At this point, slots became one of the most popular activities at a casino and took up the majority of the floor space.

The rise of online slot games

The internet boom of the 90s led to a subsequent boom in the online casino industry. In the beginning, only table games like blackjack and roulette were available. Later, online slots were developed, and these soon became one of the most popular gaming activities online.

Since then, the evolution of computer programming has taken these games to another level. While many early versions were based on physical slot machines, they are now much more dynamic and diverse. This includes various bonus rounds and other special features that weren’t possible before.

Today, there are a number of different developers who make games for online gaming sites around the world. Physical slot machines are still being made, but online slot games are incredibly popular and convenient for players who want to game from the comfort of their own home.

These games also offer different themes, so you’re guaranteed to find one you love playing. If you are intrigued by adventure, animals, nature, history or even just the classic fruit machines, there is something for you!

These games now also offer many assorted jackpot prizes, which wasn’t always possible with physical slot machines. To give you an idea, the highest jackpot paid to date is €17.9 million. This is a long way away from the few coins that would roll out of these machines in the early days!

Try online slots for yourself at Booty Bingo

If you get excited by the idea of going on an epic quest for hidden treasure, why not join us and play some games at Booty Bingo?

Once you’re signed up, you can try a number of different slot games, with everything from Ancient Egyptian legends to lucky four-leaf clovers and leprechauns. For other online entertainment you can try our online bingo games and scratchcards, and visit our mobile bingo page to find out more about playing on the move!