Slot machines are some of the most played games both at casinos and online. You can even download them to your phones and tablets to play anytime. These machines have undergone some amazing transformations over the years. Recent iterations are based on movies, game shows, and pop stars.
From the late 1800s when the games were originally designed to the high-tech video-based games you find in casinos today, these machines have stood the test of time and made those who designed them legends in the gambling world.
As I go along, I’m going to talk about those who had pivotal roles in the developments that games have gone through along with a couple of pretty clever people who figured out ways to beat these almost unbeatable machines.
1 – Charles Fey
In the world of online and casino based slot players, Charles Fey is well known for being the man who invented their beloved type of game. Charles Fey was a German immigrant who came to the United States to make a better life for himself.
When he set out on his journey east he discovered that it wasn’t easy and was extremely expensive, so he was forced to do his trip in stages. He left home at the age of 15 and made stops in France and England before landing in New Jersey. During all his stops he found employment in the manufacturing industry which honed his skills in the trade he loved.
In 1885 Charles moved to California and started working for the Electric Works Company, and he got married and had his children. Ten years after his arrival in California he built the Liberty Bell, which is known as the world’s very first slot machine.
The machine was placed in a saloon in San Francisco and to the astonishment of many became very popular with the clientele. With the positive feedback and increase in demand, Charles quit his job to focus on the designing and manufacturing of his invention.
Most of his machines are what we now call fruit machines. The images he used for his machines were pictures of lemons, oranges, and cherries which still make appearances in the games of today. Charles continued building and designing slot machines for many years. When he finally retired in 1944, he was 82 years old and shortly after his retirement he passed away.
The gambling world wouldn’t be the same without Charles Fey and we know there are many people out there thankful to him for inventing the first slot machine.
2 – Mortimer Mills
Mortimer Mills isn’t a name that’s heard much in the slot community but his company Mills Novelty is well known. Mortimer is noted for receiving the patent for a coin actuated vending apparatus.
He first started his company as M.B.M Cigar Vending Company between 1891 and 1895. His company produced the first mechanical upright slot machine cabinet in 1897 called the Owl. They called it the owl because of the circle of owls perched on the tin wheel.
This machine was widely popular and would lead the company to many more accomplishments. In 1907 Herbert Mills, Mortimer’s son, collaborated with Charles Fey to produce the Mills Novelty Companies Liberty Bell machine.
This family has had a growing presence in the slot machine world and the world of coin-operated machines. Mortimer’s invention has led to many of the luxuries we use on a daily basis.
3 – Raymond Moloney
In January of 1932, Raymond Moloney founded Bally Manufacturing Company. Bally’s was originally part of Lion Manufacturing and was established to make pinball machines. The company got its name from one of the first games it created named Ballyhoo.
The company was located in Chicago and became a top contender in the gaming market. As the company grew Raymond ventured into new venues, and one of those was producing gambling equipment.
Slot machines became the focus, and the company started to develop new ones and improve upon old mechanical slot machines. The company continued to flourish through the 1950s until the time of Raymond’s death in 1958.
Briefly after his death, the company faltered but was purchased by investors in 1963 and continued to climb to the top of the slot machine industry through the 1960s. In 1964 Bally’s introduced the first ever electromechanical slot machine called Money Honey. Money Honey had a new design that allowed the game to hold many more coins than other machines and give it a higher payout than the other games on the market.
This game is said to be the one that changed Las Vegas. Slot machines weren’t where the company stopped, and in the 1970s the company ventured into the casino business. In 1979 they opened the Park Place Casino Hotel.
4 – Walt Fraley
Walt Fraley was the creator of the first video slot machine. This machine was called Fortune Coin. He released his game to casinos in 1975. To his disappointment, the game didn’t take off as well as he expected.
People were a little weary of the game because they weren’t sure how it worked and didn’t believe you could actually win on a video slot machine. A few years later with the invention of video poker and the success of those machines that video slot machines started to gain popularity.
5 – William “Si” Redd
Si Redd is a well-known slot machine inventor. He is responsible for the introduction of video poker and the inventor of the progressive jackpots that have become a staple of slot machines all over the world. Si started his company Sircoma after parting ways with Bally Manufacturing. Si and the Bally management didn’t see eye to eye when it came to video poker.
When he left Bally he was given the rights to the patent for the video poker machines he had been working on. This was a huge win for Si and would turn out to be a huge mistake by Bally’s. Si’s company put out the first ever video poker game Draw Poker. The game was a huge success and paved the way to increase the use of video poker games along with the video slot machines that were struggling to catch on.
Si is also responsible for figuring out how to build progressive slot machines. During the 1980s California started to give Nevada a run for their money with the introduction of their lottery that tended to have massive jackpots. Si decided he needed to figure out how to get the same results using his machines.
He figured out a way to connect multiple machines from all over the state and was able to replicate similar large jackpots for the gamblers in Nevada. His company is still around and known today as IGT, one of the leading slot machine distributors in the gaming industry.
6 – Louis B. Colavecchio
Like in all other areas of gambling slot machines have also been targets for those less than honest players. One of the most notorious cheaters is Louis Colavecchio. He’s better known as “The Coin” and has stated that he could easily recreate anything made out of precious metals.
Louis decided he would prove his statement at the casino and began replicating slot coins he obtained from the casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut casinos. He made models of the coins and then would make a few and go and try them out at the casino. If they worked, he went back and started producing them in mass quantities.
Over the years Louis had been making trips to Atlantic City. In Atlantic City, he fell in love with the slot machines and had some success right at first. His favorite casino was Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.
When Louis first started playing he did well but as he continued to play the losses started to mount and he knew he didn’t have the money to continue to play the way he wanted to. His first thoughts on remedying this problem were to try to beat the machine. This idea didn’t pan out for him, so he was back to square one and needed to find a new route to take.
Louis decided to use the equipment he had in his jewelry store to duplicate the coins used to play the game. To do so, he needed to have coins to duplicate, so he started going to all the local casinos and gathering up coins to use to make molds.
His electric discharge machine did the trick, and he was able to make believable replicas. When he was forging these counterfeit coins and chips, he was meticulous when it came to the detail. He knew everything had to be perfect or he would end up getting caught.
He stayed at Caesar’s Palace, his favorite casino, for months making sure that his reproductions were working and that these coins weren’t raising suspicion within the casino. Once he had overcome his nervousness, he started venturing out to the other local casinos and even traveled to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
He used these fraudulent coins in the casinos and was able to produce many wins out of this deception. His total winnings are averaged at around $500,000, but this isn’t an exact number because the casinos he visited in Las Vegas refused to acknowledge that they had ever seen any of these fraudulent coins.
Louis was caught because of his greed. He was like most thieves, overzealous, and was going to the casinos too much with his replicated coins and the casinos started to notice the surplus in coins on the floor. When he was arrested, he was charged and spent seven years in federal prison. Upon his release in 2006, he got up to his old tricks again and was apprehended by the FBI a few months later.
7 – Ronald Dale Harris
Ronald Harris is another notable slot machine thief. Ronald has a perfect cover because he was employed by the Nevada Gaming Commission as a slot machine technician. He was a computer programmer and used these skills to put money in his pocket.
Ron worked in the electronic division of the Nevada Gaming Control Board which gave him unprecedented access to the slot machines. His job was to examine new slot machines and the number counters on the keno machines before they were put out onto the casino floor.
This was when he found that the chips being used in the machines were special. Ron found that the games were using an EPROM chip. These chips allow for the game to be reprogrammed and manipulated. These types of computer chips were not the best choice for designers to use.
With his computer programming background, Ron developed a program that would erase the original programming and replace it with his own program. His program was designed to pay out jackpot wins based on how the player played the game.
As part of his job with the Nevada Gaming Commission, he was in charge of randomly checking the chips in the machines to make sure that the versions found in the casino were the same ones that had originally been approved.
Since the chips that he was using for his program were the same as the ones approved for the machines, he was able to leave the original chips in the machines, just reprogrammed with his program. Since his program only made small changes, even his other co-workers wouldn’t notice the change which made this scheme almost undetectable.
Like many others who have made it their job to cheat casinos out of money, he got greedy, and that’s where everything went wrong. In the past, he was always careful using family members to help him carry out his scam, and he always kept the jackpot wins on the small side so that the wins would stay off the radar.
He had been working with the Gaming Board going on 12 years by the time everything came crashing down. He had also been running his scheme in many casinos in Nevada and had decided to venture out to other states. He decided it was time to go to Atlantic City.
The trip to Atlantic City would prove to be the end to a very lucrative scam. Ron decided he wanted to try his luck at a new game. The keno game is similar to a lottery game, and he wanted to see if he could come up with a program that would guarantee a win each time you played.
Ron knew that to try this out, he would need someone else to go into the casino and do the gambling. He enlisted the help of his friend Errol McNeal. This is where he made his mistake. Errol was nervous and didn’t know how to blend in at the casino.
When he hit the jackpot, his behavior gave him away, and it tipped off the gaming commission. When he spoke with the authorities, he told them where to find Ron. When they got to the room, they found all of Ron’s equipment but no Ron.
Instead of having a safe place to go Ron just went home to Nevada where he was picked up as soon as he got off the plane at the airport. When all was said and done he had successfully reprogrammed over 30 slot machines.
All of these men have had a huge impact on the world of slot machines. From the first ever slot machine being invented to the multiple enhancements that have been made, slot machines are a staple at any gambling facility.
The men on this list may not all have been good for the machines, but they each taught the world of gambling something. Nothing is ever “cheat proof,” and as long as you believe in your idea, you have a chance of seeing it come to fruition.
Slot machines have been around for a very long time, and as technology continues to grow, I’m sure that slot machines are going to continue evolving right along with it.