Today slot machines are one of the cornerstones of the gambling industry and one of the most profitable revenue streams of land-based casinos. The history of slot machines and the history of gambling in the United States are intertwined and can be traced back to 1895, when the first ever slot machine was built.
Designed and built by Charles August Fey, the Liberty Bell slot machine was first available to the public in 1895. Named after the San Francisco saloon where it was placed, the Liberty Belle became an instant hit with gamblers. Recognizing that there was potential in this new untapped market, and buoyed by the huge publicity and success created by his first invention, Charles August Fey decided to establish a new company that would focus solely on design and manufacture of slot machines. The new company, the aptly named ‘Charles Fey and Company Inc’, will go on to dominate the slots industry for the next 50 years situs poker online.
The twentieth century was a challenging one for the gambling industry as a whole and characterized by legal regulation. In 1909 slots were made illegal in their home city of San Francisco, and by 1911 this spread to the entire state of California. However, the small number of slot machine companies, led by Charles Fey, became the most innovative in identifying loop holes within the law. A ‘gambling device’ slot machine, manufacturers have changed the symbols used on the machines from gambling themed cards to fruits and sweets.
Whilst they were creative, it was only a matter of time before the authorities recognized their inherent weaknesses. The slots industry was dealt with a further blow with the ‘State v Ellis’ case, which outlawed all slot machines.
Instead of legal restrictions, the slots industry has continued to grow and develop, and in Nevada, where the gambling industry has been free from legal restrictions. On the back of ever-increasing demand, the Mills Novelty Company has grown into one of the major players in the industry with its back-to-back cheaper slots in lighter wooden cabinets. In 1933 they produced the ‘Castle Front’ slot which came to symbolize the slots market this time.
A further blow was dealt with in 1951, when Congress passed the Transportation of Gambling Devices Act. In addition to this, technological advances and early electro-mechanical development in the 1960s by the Bally Corporation tool slot machines to new levels of functionality that provided players with more advanced features that added to the entertainment levels experienced. The 1970s saw the introduction of the video slots. It was at this time that the International Game Technology (IGT), one of the current giants within the slots industry, was established.
With the introduction of Random Number Generators (RNG’s), a key development which is still the core of the land-based slots market is the ever-expanding online pokies market. The Slots industry has come a long way since the Liberty Bell was first produced in 1895, and the legal challenges and regulation of a tremendous amount of money. Despite this the industry has not only survived but flourished.
Dan Bernard is an ex-casino industry employee and is now a full time industry analyst.