By the end of the 19th century, when you visited markets and bars in America, you would see chewing gum machines standing on the corners. These were very simple devices that work with real money: Throw the coin, pull the arm, and watch a random chewing gum fall down. In 1891, the Sittman and Pitt brothers in New York were inspired by this design: The machine they produced had 5 drums and 50 poker cards. When you pull the arm, the cards turned and stopped. If a valid poker hand was created, you could win other gifts in addition to gum: free beer, a special discount coupon, free dinner … The business that the machine was placed in decided what the prizes would be. To lower the odds of winning, some cards were removed from the deck. Moreover, it was possible to set the drums as you like, reducing the chances of the player. At that time, there was no concept of “RTP,” and no one saw them as a gambling machine.
The businesses, especially the bars, loved this machine. Players loved them too: There were even people who came just to play with these machines. But there was a problem: No matter how much you reduce the odds, the player’s chances of winning were still high. In other words, they were always winning in every 10-15 spin. It was easy to follow a machine with 50 cards for a professional player: They were counting cards and calculating when they could win.
The First Slot Prototype
Sittman and Pitt brothers could not solve this problem. The best solution to the problem was found in 1895 by a man named Charles Fey of California. Fey had identified what was the problem with Sittman and Pitt’s original design: Predictability. He produced a machine that calculated the odds each time the reels turn. This new machine had one more advantage: It could be played by people who did not know poker. He named his invention “Liberty Bell” because of the most valued symbol. This machine had the following features:
- There were 3 reels instead of 5 drums.
- Instead of poker cards, there were 5 symbols (horseshoe, spade, diamond, heart, and liberty bell).
- The mechanism of payment was automatic: It was already clear how much each symbol set would pay.
- Probability calculations were done with each spin. For this reason, developing tactics or a strategy was much more difficult.
- The highest prize was 10 cents if the player managed to place three Liberty Bell symbols at the same time.
Please pay attention to the last item: Liberty Bell was the prototype of the world’s first slot machine to award money. The prize was not very big, but the news of the “money distributing machine” spread quickly. Liberty Bell has gained incredible popularity. There was a tremendous demand, especially from bars, barber shops, and bowling alleys. Mr. Fey began to make money, but he was unable to get a patent for his device because of the laws in effect at the time of his invention. For this reason, lots of other people produced many imitations. Some of these imitations preferred fruit pictures to avoid using the same symbols as Liberty Bell. These pictures were taken from Bell-Fruit Gum Company, a popular chewing gum brand in the era. Grapes, oranges, watermelons, plums, and other fruit symbols started to use on reels during this era for the first time. (Even the BAR symbol is from these gums.) Mr. Fey died at the age of 82, but he started a revolution: Slot machines were now everywhere in America. You can still see the first slot machine produced by Fey in a Reno museum. If you want to take a look at the games that still use these symbols, visit /online-slots/classic-slots/.
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By the end of the 1950s, slot machines had not changed much. In fact, for almost 60 years, Fey’s system was used: The machine reels were turning with “arm power”, literally. For the same reason, additional features for slot games (bonus rounds, special symbols, progressive jackpot pools, etc.) could not be added. In 1963, Bally changed the working system of the slots and enabled the reels to turn into an electromechanical system. Now you can rotate the wheels by pressing a button instead of turning the arm. The first game produced in this way was Money Honey. Slot machines have been around for a long time at land-based casinos, but they have not attracted much interest. At that time, everywhere in the world (including the UK) casino games meant table and card games. In 1976, this changed: The world’s first video slot machine was developed by a company named Fortune Coin Co. There were no reels in this machine: Everything was done by a computer software. The machine had a 19-inch screen. Thanks to the computer software, it became possible to add additional features to the games.
In 1978, the IGT bought Fortune Coin Co and began adding more features to video slot machines. These machines suddenly became very popular and even became the most played games in land-based casinos. In 1996, WMS Industries became the first company to succeed in adding bonus rounds to the video slot games that played on a secondary screen. (The name of the game was Reel’em In.) Land-based casinos started to allocate more space for slot machines. In the same period, Microgaming and CryptoLogic launched the online casino revolution together. As a matter of fact, Microgaming was the first company to develop progressive slot games. Online slots have become the most popular casino game in the world in a short time because they have high-quality graphics, a lot of features and they can be played on different platforms. Today, this is still the case: about 70% of casino profits come from slot machines. There are dozens of different companies in the industry publishing a new game almost every month.
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Thanks to online casinos, the industry has grown at an incredible pace. Today, there are thousands of slot machines with hundreds of different themes, each one appealing to a different liking. Analysts think the size of the industry is close to $ 35 billion. The widespread use of mobile gaming options now makes it possible for anyone to play slot machines at any time and place. Almost all of the innovations over the past 10 years have come about thanks to the online casino industry. Land-based casinos can no longer compete and cannot innovate due to their archaic systems. Online casinos continue to lead the entire industry, and online slot games are their flag-bearers. No download needed to play these games: You can play them all for free and for fun. But when you decide to play with real money, thousands of different options are waiting for you.