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Evolution of Slot Machines

Slot Machine

You might click on a video slot with multiple bonus features and a huge progressive jackpot and assume slots have always been that way.

You’d be wrong about that. As a matter of fact, the virtual machines we all love to spin have been through quite a journey. They have a story reaching back to the turn of the last century and a future which is almost unimaginable. As you’ll see here, the evolution of slot machines is a heck of a story.

Let’s take a look at how slots have evolved step by step to their present-day form. If nothing else, this will help you appreciate just how great some of the current online video slots really are.

The First Slot Machines

First SlotIt goes without saying that they didn’t have web connections and mobile devices back in the early days of slot machines.

The first version of the slot machine was invented by an American inventor of Bavarian origin named Charles August Fey in 1894. A year later, in 1895, Fey placed one of his early machines in a local saloon, and it was a massive hit.

Realizing he was onto something, Fey quit his job as a mechanic and opened a factory producing more machines. By 1898, he was producing the “Card Bell,” the first three-reel slot which paid out automatically. It showed poker hands, hence its name.

The next year, Fey built the Liberty Bell, which is considered the first slot machine proper. Symbols included horseshoes, bells, and card suits. The story of the evolution of slot machines had taken its first step.

Interesting Fact:

It’s estimated that only four original Liberty Bell machines exist today. Most of them were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.

Fey’s competitors soon started copying his idea, and by 1910, there were over 3,000 slot machines in San Francisco alone. This was when the church and the law began to get involved, raising questions about whether slot machines were ethical.

In order to evade the eyes of the law, early pioneers like the Industry Novelty Company and Mills Novelty Company started making games with fruit symbols, marketing them as chewing gum dispensers.

They probably didn’t know it at the time, but this was a huge step in the evolution of slot machines, and the fruit and bar symbols (meant to symbolize a packet of chewing gum) they used in those early days would come to be the standard for most of the next century.

Throughout the roaring 1920s and the Great Depression in the 1930s, slot machines continued to proliferate across the USA, even though they were banned almost everywhere except Nevada from 1931 onwards. The ban was almost total by the 1950s, although since slots were mostly run by organized crime gangs, it hardly mattered. Nothing could stop the evolution of slot machines and their increasing popularity.

As with all attempts at prohibition, world governments eventually realized how much tax revenue they were missing out on and began to slowly legalize and regulate slot machines. This led to a new period of innovation, taking us to the next stage in the evolution of slot machines.

The Electromechanical Slot Machine

By the 1950s, technology had come on leaps and bounds, driven partly by two World Wars and partly by the natural course of time. This allowed for the rise of electromechanical slots which offered all sorts of new payout options, such as three-coin multipliers.

These machines were still primitive by today’s standards, with no real features other than multipliers. They were still entirely mechanical, relying on the pulling of a handle and the spinning of reels on a physical screen. When we think about the evolution of slot machines since, these games would be incredibly boring by today’s standards, but they were all the rage back then.

One of the earliest electromechanical slots was called Money Honey and was released by Bally Manufacturing Co. This slot could pay out up to 500 coins, which was revolutionary at the time.

Eventually, the mechanical nature of slots would give way, and the world would slowly come around to…

Video Slots Machines

Video SlotBelieve it or not, reports from the time make it clear that players didn’t initially warm to video slots. They were so used to pulling the handles on machines that tapping buttons and watching digital reels spin on didn’t appeal much.

Yet as satellite and cable TV took their first steps in the ‘70s, the rise of video slots was an inevitable step in the evolution of slot machines, in retrospect. The people back then probably weren’t aware of it, but they were entering the first stages of a digitized world which would come to dominate everything and give rise to slot games they probably couldn’t imagine.

Slowly, video slots took over, and by the 1980s, the first progressive jackpots were available in Las Vegas and elsewhere. This gave rise to the massive jackpots we are used to today, but at the time, the idea of a slot paying out millions was astounding.

By the end of the 20th century, gambling laws in the USA and elsewhere were relaxed, and slot machines spread like wildfire. There were over 200,000 of them in Nevada alone at the turn of the century, and with casinos opening up on Native American reservations and elsewhere, video slots came to represent the largest portion of almost all casino profits.

Yet with the march of evolution being relentless as it is, the physical video slot machine would soon face an existential threat from the next type of slot – the online slot machine. The evolution of slot machines isn’t that different from biological evolution, when you think about it. There’s always a younger competitor ready to take the old versions out!

Online Slot Machines

There were already online casinos in the 1990s, but the internet really began to take off in the early 2000s. Home computing reached a tipping point in the first decade of the new millennium, and as more and more gamblers came online, so too did an increasing number of online casinos and online slot games. Bill Gates probably wasn’t aware of it, but he played a key role in the evolution of slot machines by making computers and hence the internet accessible to everyone.

Starting with software firms like Microgaming and Playtech, online slots soon exploded and evolved at a rapid pace as compared to their predecessors. They started out as three-reel digital fruit machines, but within a decade, there were 3D slots with multiple bonus features such as free spins rounds, bonus wheels, and picking games for instant cash prizes.

There were also huge pooled jackpots up for grabs, adding fuel to the fire and causing more slots players to transition online for a piece of the action. In 2006, for example, Microgaming released Mega Moolah, which is known as a “millionaire maker” because of its multi-million progressive jackpots.

When you consider that it took almost a century for slots to evolve from their early form to the first digital versions, it’s amazing to consider how quickly the evolution of slot machines has unfolded since.

As digital technology progresses, we’re beginning to get a first glimpse into what slots will look like in the years to come.

Virtual Reality Slots

Virtual RealityThere are generally two camps when it comes to virtual reality – those who believe it is the future of the world and will in fact be better than this world (Mark Zuckerberg being one) and those who believe it will never catch on and is fated to go the way of the mini-disc or the Segway.

While that’s a debate that will be settled with the passage of time, virtual reality slots are already here and have begun to catch on. Sites like Slots Million have won awards for pioneering VR casino experiences, and while they’re still very much in their infancy, they are growing in popularity.

It’s always a risk to make predictions about the future, and that’s outside the scope of this piece on the evolution of slots. However, when it comes to VR, the only limitation is your imagination.

Could we someday experience slot bonus rounds we can go into and move around in? Let’s see. But it sure is fun to think about, and we’re certain that slots in a few decades from now will be totally different than what we’re used to today.


As you can see, slots don’t stay in a static state for long, and they evolve rapidly as time marches on. That’s as you would expect when billions of dollars are gambled globally every year and game providers fight tooth and nail to win as big a piece of the pie as possible.

Things have certainly changed since Charles August Fey rolled out the Card Bell in the earliest days of slot machines, and the evolution of slot machines won’t grind to a halt here. Since the gambling industry is always at the forefront of whatever technological developments are happening, we’re sure that whatever happens with slots in the future will be an early indicator as to what trends will follow elsewhere around the world.