Chapter 1 - Slot Machines: A Brief History

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1.1 Introduction

1.2 Early Days, Charles Fey

1.3 4-11-44

1.4 The Card Bell

1.5 The Liberty Bell

1.6 The Sincerest form of flattery?

1.7 Rage against the machine

1.8 Legislation and prohibition

1.9 The Age of Video Games

1.10 The 90’s: A technological boom!

1.1 Introduction

Slot Machines, their rise to glory.

If you’re reading this first chapter, chances are you’re keen to know more about slot machines?

Where did they come from? Where did it all begin? Was it all smooth sailing? Great questions that we’re only too happy to answer, all in about the time it’ll take you to drink a mug of tea - so put the kettle on, we’re going back in time for a brief look at the history of slot machines and their rise to glory.

1.2 The early days, Charles Fey

Let’s take a trip back in time to San Fransisco… It’s 1894 and in a dusty, greasy garage, Charles August Fey, a Bavarian born, American inventor is busily working on a machine. For him, this mechanical project is something of a past time, perhaps even an escape. Little did anyone know, that from this humble beginning, would be born a machine of great potential. Not just any machine, but the first ever, coin operated gambling machine.

We’re willing to bet that at this point Fey had little to no idea quite where the invention of his first little marvel would lead.

1.3 The 4-11-44

A year later, continuing on his initial work, Fey cobbled together another machine. The 4-11-44 was born out of the Bavarian’s basement and eventually, would prove to be the invention that changed his life. The initial success with the public was such that Fey wrote his letter of resignation and left his employment - we doubt he ever looked back.

The 4-11-44 had been a big hit at a major saloon and perhaps sensing a tingle or excitement indicative of what was forthcoming, Fey crafted more and more of these machines to meet demand as his we imagine his bank balance grew and grew.

1.4 The Card Bell

After observing the apparent success of his second machine and his first respectable hit, Fey, the pioneer that he was, continued to channel his effort and skill into developing a greater, more complex, more imaginative beast. In 1898 the Card Bell was born, and just like that, the dawning of the three reel slot era began.

The Card Bell, a snazzy little beast, marking the introduction of automatic cash payouts, was the first of Fey’s creations that would really resemble what we think of today as a traditional slot machine. In this particular machine, an arm would be pulled in order to start the reels turning and as the excitement would mount, the outcome would be decided by playing cards which would line up to form poker hands. Poetic. Almost…

1.5 The Liberty Bell

On something of a roll, the Bavarian inventor turned slot machine extraordinaire, would really strike gold in 1899, when he emerged from his workshop with the Liberty Bell. Consider the achievement, the look on his face and imagine his pride at developing such a masterpiece. The Liberty Bell meant big things for those who’d land three bells in a row. In a nutshell: Fey’s gift to the mechanical world. The slot machine that got the world’s attention.

Trivia - The 1981 hit, 3 bells in a row by Tenpole Tudor and Jools Holland’s, Oranges and Lemons Again were inspired by Fey’s handy work.

1.6 The Sincerest form of flattery?

Other horses joined the race…

As Oscar Wild once said, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Now let us introduce you to Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. Sniffing out success, this nifty, albeit non-snappily titled corporation entered the race, followed shortly after by the Industry Novelty Company.

We’ll let you be the judge as to whether the sum of Fey’s feelings would have tallied with Oscar’s famous quote, when in 1909, in something of a limelight shifting move, the Industry Novelty Company truly made their mark. This move batted their reputation as slot machine pioneers straight out of the park by abolishing the playing cards and developing the first fruit symbol only slot machine. They’d scored a home run!

1.7 Rage against the machine

As the popularity of these machines grew, so too did the voice of their resistors. Initially it was the clergy, on supposed grounds of morality, who did their best to halt the growing popularity of these machines. Sometime after, the lawmakers followed suit and by 1999 San Francisco introduced a ban, making over 3,000 slot machines redundant.

Trivia: Initially the fruit only machine was developed in a bid to work around toughening rules surrounding gambling. In fact, officially, this machine was but a chewing machine dispenser. Officially no gambling here, a cheeky move.

Recognising a good idea when they saw one, the Industry Novelty Company carved out their slice of the action by one upping MNCC. In a stroke of genius, placing the cherry firmly upon the proverbial cake, their move was to replace certain fruits with pictures of the chewing gum packets that could be won.

The sheer genius of this move gave birth to the ‘BAR’ symbol that we know today and whilst their creative juices were still in flow, they iron cladded their industry status by placing the word ‘Jackpot’ on the reels. No doubt their biggest idea of 1916, these brainiacs devised a system which meant that players fortunate enough to line up the jackpot symbols on their reels would witness the machine spew coin, after coin in a frenzy of total excitement.

Together, the efforts of the gentlemen mentioned above had created the machine that would take the world by storm, a machine that with time, would infiltrate every pub, bar and club. A machine that would one day make it’s debut on the internet - the what!?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As the 1920s rolled on, the machines popularity had soared within the United States. The 1920s were something of a hey day. A time when the slot machine ruled. A time when these machines found their way into just about every holiday resort and bar.

Unfortunately though, people intent on winning a bar of chewing gum or a few cents weren’t the ones who’d noticed these machines. Recognising the chance to make a few quid (or dollars, as it were) organised criminals had got in on the action and were controlling these machines in increasing numbers - a sad and dangerous state of affairs.

1.8 Legislation and prohibition

Increasing pressure caused law makers to legislate, restricting the sale and transportation of these machines and generally eradicating them from all but social clubs. The decline continued as states moved to outlaw gambling, leaving Nevada, which had relegalized gambling in 1931, as the only place the machines could legally operate.

Over the coming years other countries would take note of the slot machine and their respective governments took a particular interest for one key reason: tax! Shrewd folk in positions of power realised that these gambling machines could be capable of generating large sums of money for the treasury by way of tax revenue and in some cases, state run casinos. Like wild mushrooms, slot machines began to sprout all around Europe — presumably having noted the popularity across the channel, in 1988 the french ended a 50 year ban, allowing slot machines in their casinos.

1.9 The age of video games

Let’s take a step back to the decade that brought us the rubiks cube, the mobile phone and the floppy disk! Got it yet?! We’re talking about the 70’s and we’ve missed a big one from the list.

The video game, specifically ‘Computer Space’ was Nutting Associate’s gift to the world in 1971, followed soon after by the better known game titled ‘Pong’, by Atari in 1972.

Whilst several companies around the world were busily working on their computer games, somewhere in Calfifornia, the folk at Fortune Coin Company had been paying careful attention whilst crafting their own computerised product. Their creation would see their names forever etched in history as the inventors of the video slot machine!

The first of these machines used a 19inch Sony screen to entertain its first players and presumably with a few ginger taps of a hammer and a bit of carpentry, was incorporated into a suitably stylish cabinet and placed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.

After a trial period, which apparently saw the most savvy of players able to devise ways of cheating the machine, the machine was tweaked and adjusted to rule out any vulnerabilities to would be exploiters.

Presumably with some level of excitement, having witnessed the opportunity to scale, the big wigs at the Nevada State Gaming Commission eventually approved the invention for use on the Las Vegas Strip. A monumental move that would eventually lead to there being about as many slot machines in Vegas (around 200,000), as there are people in Samoa (197,097, 2019).

With the passing of time, came progress. In 1994 WMS Industries unveiled their contribution to the Australian market. A slot machine like none before, a machine with two screens giving the capability of allowing for a novel twist, bonus rounds!

The first game to launch bearing bonus rounds, was Three Bags Full. And guess what? Like the introduction of shrimp to the barbie, the idea soon took off and a couple of years later, Reel ‘Em In was introduced to the US market. It didn’t take long for these machines to deliver a very nice return to the casinos, generating around 70% of their revenue by 1996.

1.10 The 90’s: A technological boom!

Pub quiz: In 1990, what did Tim Berners-Lee invent? Hint: it isn’t a slot machine, but it would have a profound impact on these machines, as it would on just about every aspect of modern life.

The answer is of course the world wide web, a means of accessing data from the internet in a more ‘regular Joe friendly’ fashion than had been previously available.

Tim’s WWW made information accessible through the use of websites and hyperlinks and he is widely credited as being fundamental in bringing the internet to the masses.

In the early 90’s you’d have done very well indeed if you’d have been amongst the brainiacs who decided it would be fruitful to take a product in their own industry online - difficult to envisage initially, due to the prices of personal computers and the speed of internet connections and the complexity of developing a website.

In 1996 InterCasino opened it’s virtual doors having claimed their chunk of webspace on the world wide web. The move was seismic and would set the foundations for a plethora of further developments, such as progressive slots and a burgeoning industry of instant game developers, in short, InterCasino blazed the trail for all the casino and online slots websites you know today.