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The Evolution of Slot Machines

Fruities, as they are called in Britain, were the classic gaming machines you found in pubs. The sight of those boxes with their flashing and cheerful beeping dominated the British gambling scene from the 1960s until the 80s and they became a cultural cornerstone in the history.

In this article, we will look into the evolution of these machines and provide some little known facts that you are bound to find interesting.

Evolution of Slot Machines

Whether you are a huge fan of slot machines or into the occasional spin here or there, chances are you have probably seen one either in a pub, casino or even in films. Statistics that we found suggest that most land casinos can claim 60-70% of their revenue as having come from these machines.

This is hardly a surprise:

Nowadays you can find themed slot machines in land casino and online for any niche in the market; from ancient Egypt to vampires or even old TV shows; but where did it all begin?

The First Slot Machine

Before we look at the invention of the slot machine, it is important to know that this was not the first gambling machine to be invented. Sittman and Pitt from New York created a poker machine in 1891. This machine contained 5 reels consisting of 50 cards and was designed to emulate a game of poker. The mechanism was technically the same as a slot machine; however, you were playing for a flush in poker. These machines had reels and a lever that could be manually operated, but there was no cash hopper in which players could collect their winnings. Instead, winners would get cigars or beer from the bar. These machines proved to be hugely popular in the US.

Charles Fey invented the first slot machine, the Liberty Bell, in San Francisco in 1887. He was a car mechanic who wanted to improve on the poker machine that was developed by Sittman and Pitt.

The Liberty Bell was the first machine to dispense coins automatically with a successful spin of the reels. This new game was simple: you had three reels and five symbols; a liberty bell, a horseshoe, a heart, a spade and a diamond.

You put in a nickel and pull the lever arm and then the reels would start spinning and if all three landed on the same icon, you would hear a bell chime, then you would get your reward in coins. Three liberty bells would give you the highest payout of 50 cents.

The Classic Age

Liberty Bell became so successful that it was banned after a few years in California. As Fey could not get a patent for his invention, soon there were competitors who started developing their own machines.

The Mills Novelty Company, a Chicago based family business, made their own machine but added a gum-vending attachment. The gum came in fruit flavours and the reel symbols in the machine were also redesigned to be lemons, cherries, oranges and plums. This model became highly popular and was copied by rival companies.

Whilst the game was popular and was becoming less of a novelty item and more of a standard for pubs, bowling alleys and clubs, it was not until decades later when the stakes suddenly changed.

In 1963, Bally Manufacturing invented the first electromechanically operated slot machine. This machine was capable of making payouts of up to 500 coins at a time without needing an attendant.

These slot machines also included new features such as nudging and holding. In nudging, a player could turn one of the reels up or down by one step to help get a line. Holding a reel was when you wanted to keep one icon and roll the other reels.

The machines themselves were larger than the original Liberty bell slot machines. They also included a bottomless coin hopper, enabling players to collect their winnings in larger amounts.


The 1980’s saw a jump even further into the computerization of slots. The virtual reels offered the chance to play the games with more features. Furthermore, it improved the variability in the different reel combinations with “weighted symbols”.

This was one of the limitations of the manual reels, where you would have a machine with three reels and ten symbols, the jackpot would occur once every 1,000 spins (10 x 10 x 10) and would make large payouts unfeasible for the casinos. With weighted slots, the risk probability for hitting a jackpot could be increased and therefore the machines could offer larger payouts from single spin jackpots.

With larger payouts and new combination varieties, the game became more exciting to play. The machines now also offered free spins and second screen games, where the screen would switch to another game in which bonus payouts were offered and players could try to win a separate jackpot.

The new computerized machines abandoned the physical reels for modern screens in which the reels were displayed virtually. Initially, fans were suspicious of this new format, but it was not long before the machines became a real success. With larger payouts and the ability to display video animations, they could cater to a wider audience.

In the US, the rise of amusement arcades saw a boom in the popularity of slot machines; this is when machines begun exploring new themes such as contemporary films, ancient civilizations, sci-fi themes and fantasy worlds. The classic game now was not just found in pubs and bowling alleys anymore but suddenly could reach a new audience in amusement parks, malls and video arcades.

The Online Era

With the coming of the age of the internet, it was only a matter of time before slots could go online. All the features that came with video slots were brought over into the online casinos, and people could start playing slots from their computers and phones.

The online functions could simulate the slots machines found in casinos but throw in many new features such as progressive jackpots that would accumulate with playtime. Nowadays you can find over 2000 online casinos that offer amazing jackpot prizes and many bonus features guaranteed to keep players entertained.

Collecting your winnings has also never been easier, as you can simply cash out whenever you want to, and it is just as easy to pick up and start playing.

Closing Remarks

Now that you have brushed up on your slot machine history, you have all you need to know to play. Look out for games that have free spins and second reel bonus rounds for more exciting gameplay, and you may find yourself stacking up some hefty winnings.

Each game has its own theme and additional features but in general, you will find that they are easy to pick up; try a few out and you may find that your luck lies with the pirate themes or Cleopatra or even in the Lord of the Rings. The adrenaline rush when your symbols line up is something that is always satisfying and may just be one spin away!

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