Slot Machines – Where We Were, Where We Are, and Where We’re Going
Charles Fey invented the slot machine in the 1890’s. He probably never envisioned that his creation called the “Liberty Bell” would evolve into the most popular form of casino gambling today.
The slot evolution however had a lot of growing pains as many in the United States viewed gambling as a social ill. By 1910 all legal gambling activity was shut down,which left horse racing as the only legal entity in America.
During the 1920’s prohibition era, the public’s thirst for gambling matched that of booze. Slot machines along with alcohol were found in “Speak Easy’s” throughout America, many of them controlled by Organized Crime. After prohibition ended underground casinos remained active.
States began to crack down on illegal casinos and began to seize and destroy gambling equipment, including slot machines. Mayor LaGuardia of New York City called them “mechanical pick pockets”, destroyed them with a sledge hammer, and dumped them into Long Island Sound. (You can watch the action on YouTube.)
In 1931 Nevada legalized gambling. Slot machines populated the floor in the states’ casinos but were there only to amuse the wives and mistresses playing their slot pennies and nickles while the men did all the heavy gambling at the tables. (A portrayal of this is depicted in the 1952 movie, “The Las Vegas Story” with Vincent Price, Victor Mature, and Jane Russel.) Slots remained a “ladies” game until Atlantic City legalized gambling in 1978.
Bally Manufacturing invented a unit powered by electricity and slots began to “light up” and produce various sound effects. When multi-coin acceptors were introduced, new dollar machines meant larger jackpots for customers. When the Random Number Generator was invented top prize amounts could be increased on four and five reel versions. A spin button became an alternative to the handle.
The Indian Gaming Act was approved in the 1980’s which allowed casinos on reservation land and newly legislated dockside riverboat gambling attracted new slot players while racetracks added the one arm bandits..
IGT launched Megabucks in 1986 and slots were now linked across Nevada by phone lines offering a giant lottery size jackpot that grew with each coin wagered. The Progressive Jackpot was born and players could now become millionaires. Players began abandoning the table games, flocked to the machines and casinos took notice.
Where We Are
The proliferation of slots paved the way for new inventions. A video slot with 25 lines, up to a bet of 10 credits per line allowed for a ticket in, ticket out, (TITO) system. The coins and the handles followed the dinosaurs.. Operators could now lower the denominations to as little as a penny and still turn a profit.
In the new century slot makers were quick to promote the themed slot, units based on popular movies, TV shows and entertainers. Players could now spin the Wheel of Fortune, giggle at Curley, Larry, and Moe, take a ride with Captain Kirk, or croon over Ol’ Blue eyes. All the games have video clips from favorite shows.
The themed slots have evolved to 5 video reels with up to 40 lines. Chairs have comfortable high backs, and some even vibrate when certain bonus features are hit. Touch screens have the latest LCD technology, 3D graphics and Bose sound systems as they continue to evolve. Depending on the game theme, players can wager as little as one penny(credit) per line up to $2, $3, and $4 maximums. Bonus features offer generous payouts while progressive jackpots climb to six and seven figures.