The History of Slot Machines

In this day and age everyone knows what a slot machine is and exactly how to play. Slot machines are one of the simplest games to play on the casino floor and therefore can be found in abundance anywhere gambling is legal. But where did they come from? And how did they come to dominate every casino we know today?

The Beginning

Sittman and Pitt in New York built the first ancestor to the modern slot machine in 1891.  This first machine was nothing like the colorful giants we see today. It was short, squat, and based loosely on poker in the manner that the player would pull the handle to spin the drums and try to get a result of five cards that would make a poker hand. The cost to play was a nickel, but the prize varied based on where the machine was located. Some bars offered free beers, while other locations offered a free cigar. Because the number and combination of wins was so high, it was impossible to have automated payouts on these primitive machines.


The next step in the slot machine evolution is much less certain. Sometime between 1887 and 1895, a man named Charles Fey developed a much simpler version of this first machine. Instead of being based on poker hands, Fey replaced the poker cards with symbols and consolidated them onto three reels instead of five. This drastically simplified the process of winning and thus the automatic payout mechanism was able to be introduced. These machines became widely popular immediately, leading to their ban in 1902.

During the Ban

Although slot machines were now officially declared illegal, that did not stop their production. Manufacturers got around the pesky law by offering chewing gum and candy as prizes instead of money. This is where the famous pictures of the fruits were introduced to the machines. The reasons fruits were pictured, is because they dictated what flavor candy the player would win—something simple and easy that seemed to please everyone. Although development of a newer, better machine was stalled, within the next decade these primitive slot machines were in almost every location imaginable, from saloons, to shops, to bowling alleys.

The Modern Machine

The first electrically run mechanical slot machine was invented in 1963 thus starting the rise of the modern slot machine as we know it. The machine was called Money Honey and was the first slot machine to not need the lever on the side of the machine to be pulled in order to function. Although some machines today still have this lever, it is purely for nostalgia, as the reels are no longer turned electronically. 

This development was followed closely by the creation of the first video slot machine created in 1976 in California by a Las Vegas company called Fortune Coin. These first machines were placed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel for testing. They were a hit. These modern machines were quickly approved by the Nevada Gaming board and spread all over the state of Nevada. While these machines would be recognizable compared to the ones found in casinos today, the truly modern slot machines with the second bonus screen to earn additional monies were not invented until 1996 in the USA(Australia created their first dual screen slot machine in 1994).

Slot Machines and the Internet

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, as everything else in our daily lives went online, so did gambling

In the United States, gambling is highly regulated in certain areas, which makes running an online casino very difficult. This however, has not stopped MGM. The MGM resorts and casinos in Las Vegas have a current online app, which allows people to gamble right from their home. Rather than charge them, each person is allotted a number of free coins per day (though you can buy additional spins…) Then, to ensure they don’t get in trouble on the back end, instead of winning money, the player wins prizes they can redeem at the MGM properties in Las Vegas. At first look, this seems to be a great deal, until you look deeper into the prizes. Many of the rewards are “buy one get one free” or “free room for one night” or “20% off” a certain show. All of these rewards would bring you to Vegas and to an MGM property—which is where you will probably spend way more money than what the reward was worth.

For those who live in a state where online gambling is legal, such as Nevada, there are online casinos that you can spend real money on bets and earn real money in return. However, these sites can have long processes of depositing money and difficult manners of trying to withdraw your money. And not only that, often times these sites are shut down due to random government investigations and the dollars stored in them can be easily seized by the US government and not returned. 

Online Slots and Bitcoin

The year 2009 saw the rise of a decentralized digital currency known as Bitcoin. And because of the digital aspect of this currency, the problem of difficult online withdrawals was suddenly solved. Because Bitcoin made transactions over the internet so much easier, it gave rise to a number of online Bitcoin slots. One of the best ones, opened recently in 2019, is MintDice. As of the writing of this article, they have three different slot machines, blue, green, and red. Each slot machine has a unique design with a separate payout structure. The unique things about these slot machines, which you won’t find in your typical casino, is that by choosing your machine, you choose your risk level. The blue machine on MintDice is the least risky, followed by the green with a medium amount of risk, with the red machine being the most risky. This is a great feature, especially if you’re a bit of a nervous gambler and prefer to stay on the safe side. But if you want to win big, you have to go big, so check out the red machine. 

MintDice certainly isn’t the only website which has modernized to accept and payout in cryptocurrency. And this modernization is a far cry from pulling a wooden lever which spins five drums and pays in beer. Where will technology take us next?