A Short History of Slot Machines


There might be more kinds of games in a casino than ever before, but there’s still nothing quite like a slot machine. The sounds. The bright lights. The jackpots! Today’s slots are definitely more exciting than they have ever been, but the thrill of the slot machine is something that players have been enjoying now for more than 100 years.

It all started in San Francisco in 1895. A car mechanic named Charles Fey built a simple machine comprised of three reels with five symbols – the first true slot machine. He called his invention the Liberty Bell.

It was a simple game: you’d insert a nickel and pull a lever. A set of any symbol was enough to win, but if you got 3 Liberty Bells, the machine would spit out the top payout of 10 nickels.


Charles Fey was a pretty smart guy. Instead of selling his machines to shop owners outright, he’d lease them out for half of the profits they earned. The game quickly became the talk of the town, and pretty soon every bar and saloon in the US wanted one. Charles raked in the profit.

But demand for the Liberty Bell kept growing, and Fey simply couldn’t keep up. He only had one small auto shop, after all! Manufacturers of casino game tables and supplies saw a real opportunity here, but Charles was too stubborn to sell the rights to his game.

Unfortunately for Fey, the industry at large didn’t take long to outsmart him. Herbert Mills of Chicago drew “inspiration” from the Liberty Bell to come up with his own game, the Operator Bell. It featured the same gameplay as Charles Fey’s invention: the only major difference was that it featured fruit symbols.

Mills and other inventors contracted with various manufacturing companies, and soon it seemed like every kind of shop had at least one slot machine waiting to greet customers.

Eventually states across the country began banning gambling. But by that point, the public had already grown to love the slot machine. So, casino game companies started developing newer, more interesting games to draw the public to gambling havens like Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

In 1963, Bally launched the first ever electromechanical machine called Money Honey. It set the bar for future slot development with its multiple paylines, smoother play, and automated payouts of up to 500 coins at a time.

Things got far more advanced in 1976. Fortune Coin Co. debuted the first ever video slot at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. IGT bought the rights to the game in 1978, and it didn’t take long for IGT and its competitors to churn out a whole line of games made with the new video technology. Instead of reels and levers, players were now getting their thrills with buttons and computer screens.

Innovations kept coming. Williams Interactive (WMS) created the first ever bonus round in its 1996 hit Reel ‘Em In. Games like I Dream of Jeannie and Wheel of Fortune brought new life to iconic TV shows. Manufacturers introduced ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO) systems to replace coin hoppers.

Then, with the advent of the Internet, slot machines changed forever. Microgaming stormed into the world of online casinos with a whole new line-up of innovative games. Mega Moolah became one of the first ever international progressive slots with a record-breaking jackpot. The Dark Knight and Jurassic Park slots drew inspiration from two of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. The latest Playboy slot even includes a multi-player element.

There are now thousands of online slots to choose from, and playing them is easier than ever. In fact, you can play Microgaming’s entire line-up of slots for free at the casino portal AskGamblers.

If there’s one thing we can learn from looking at the history of the slot machine, it’s that games will always be improving. The industry has come a long way since Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell, and we have no doubt that more mind-boggling innovations are to come. Who knows – virtual reality slots might be just around the corner!