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Slot Machines -- A Background and History

Copyright (c) 2006-2021

Slot machines have a background and history as coin operated gaming devices that began in the late 1880's on the East Coast, and made their way westward where their popularity increased greatly. The father of the modern day slot machine is the inventor Charles Fey who back in 1899 was responsible for the creation of the 3-reel Liberty Bell slot machine. During this time period slot machines and "poker machines" were generally used to simply distribute gum, mints, or amusement coupons redeemable for drinks, cigars and tokens. In saloon and cigar stores they were used as trade stimulators. For example, the "Perfection" poker machine built by the Royal Card Machine Company in 1897 would give a lucky winner who hit a royal flush 100 free drinks.

These popular devices which quickly migrated across the United States, found a home in California where the gold rush brought together adventurous wealth seekers who lived life as a gamble on a daily basis. Especially in San Francisco where by 1890, 3,117 establishments were allowed to sell alcohol that equated to 1 license per 96 inhabitants in the city. The saloons and cigar stores that cropped up were a natural draw for nickel devices. Owners of these businesses in 1893, could purchase a device for around $35 each or share in a percentage of income per device with daily earnings often reaching $30 a day! It was easy to see why every businessman in those industries wanted a few for their place of business. In 1897, liberalization of the laws governing the devices paved the way for San Francisco to become a haven for their manufacture. Future versions grew larger, more extravagant and of course ate more nickels. Some would take up to 6 coins per pull and offer larger payouts, receiving a huge welcome from saloon and cigar store owners and also the public.

Demand for the gambling devices went up and down until Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920, effectively driving alcohol and gaming devices underground into the "speakeasy" where they continued to be enjoyed by the public in a hushed manner. Operation of both went from honorable businessmen and a regulated environment to gangsters and racketeers. Demand became so high in the speakeasy to where new devices were created and older nickel devices were being modified to accept dimes, quarters and half dollars. Charles Fey in 1929 made the Silver Dollar Jackpot Bell, which became the first bell devise to accept silver dollar coins. Other manufacturers saw increased sales such as Mills Novelty, Caille, Watling Manufacturing and Jennings to name a few. The famous Bally's Manufacturing Company began in 1932 with the introduction of a small, but highly profitable, pinball game called the "Ballyhoo" and Pace introduced the Comet Bell in the same year. Prohibition was finally repealed on December 5, 1933 by the signing of the 21st Amendment.

The makeup of the one-armed bandit remained purely mechanical until the early 1960's when the world of electromechanical operation came into age. This saw the entrance of electromechanical circuitry and motorized hopper payouts. Video poker came on the scene during the 1970's with devices run on solid-state circuitry. They offered decision-making options that the player could choose from, making them the rage to play that ran into the 1980's. During this period another change was the increase in monetary payout to the player. Prior to 1950, percentage payouts to the player were generally under 80%. Devices from Bally's that were pre 1975 gave the player 84% - 85% with the option to go up to 87% to 88%. But when high win dollar play got popular from 1976 onward, percentages then went to the range of 93% - 97%.

Computer technology with modern microprocessors took over the industry in the 1980's. Flexibility in what could be offered hit new ground as players could choose gambling preferences in how they wanted to play, specialized bonus rounds, amount of denomination (25 cents to $500 per pull) and more. Eventually people's preferences moved away from table games to gaming devices. And when microprocessors were combined with communications equipment, state wide networked progressives like Megabucks, Nevada Nickles and Quartermania enabled separate units in different casinos to work together in concert, giving a player a chance to win hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars with just one pull.

Today major manufacturers such as Bally Technologies, Inc. (formally Bally Gaming, Inc. and Bally Manufacturing Company), International Game Technology (IGT), WMS Gaming and Konami continue to add new features as microprocessor technology advances. Features such as interactive bonus games where players can actively make choices that affect bonus game outcome, multi-hand video poker which allows the player to play multiple hands per play instead of just one, touchscreen video monitors allowing choice of games and play functions like "Deal/Draw" or "Spin Reels" and ticket-in/ticket-out game play where the ticket can be cashed in or reused at another machine.

From it's beginnings as a 3-reel mechanical curiosity to the 21st century high tech masterpiece it has become today, the concept of fun and excitement along with a number of determined visionaries has caused this gaming device to find widespread acceptance in what has become a global casino industry.


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Tom Howze is a webmaster for sites that relate to World Series of Poker with resources for Free Slot Machine Games Online and Online Casino Gaming.

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