Slot machine, by name one-armed bandit, known in Great Britain as a fruit machine, gambling device operated by dropping one or more coins or tokens into a slot and pulling a handle or pushing a button to activate one to three or more reels marked into horizontal segments by varying symbols. The machine pays off by dropping into a cup or trough from two to all the coins in the machine, depending on how and how many of the symbols line up when the rotating reels come to rest. Symbols traditionally used include stars, card suits, bars, numbers (7 is a favourite), various pictured fruits—cherries, plums, oranges, lemons, and watermelons—and the words jackpot and bar.
According to Legal Slots, the term slot machines was originally used for all automatic vending machines as well as for the gambling devices, it was not until the 20th century that the term became restricted to the latter. A “fruit machine” is one British term for a slot machine. The one-armed bandit is another popular nickname.
Charles Fey & Liberty Bell
The first mechanical slot machine was the Liberty Bell, invented in 1895 by car mechanic, Charles Fey (1862–1944) of San Francisco. The Liberty Bell slot machine had three spinning reels. Diamond, spade, and heart symbols were painted around each reel, plus the image of a cracked Liberty Bell. A spin resulting in three Liberty Bells in a row gave the biggest payoff, a grand total of fifty cents or ten nickels.
The original Liberty Bell slot machine can still be seen be at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, Nevada. Other Charles Fey machines include the Draw Power, and Three Spindle and the Klondike. In 1901, Charles Fey invented the first draw poker machine. Charles Fey was also the inventor of the trade check separator, which was used in the Liberty Bell. The hole in the middle of the trade check allowed a detecting pin to distinguish fake nickels or slugs from real nickels. Fey rented his machines to saloons and bars based on a 50/50 split of the profits.
Demand for Slot Machines Grows
The demand for Liberty Bell slot machines was huge. Fey could not build them fast enough in his small shop. Gambling supply manufacturers tried to buy the manufacturing and distribution rights to the Liberty Bell, however, Charles Fey refused to sell. As a result in 1907, Herbert Mills, a Chicago manufacturer of arcade machines, began production of a slot machine, a knock-off of Fey’s Liberty Bell, called the Operator Bell. Mills was the first person to place fruit symbols: i.e. lemons, plums, and cherries on machines.
How The Original Slots Worked
Inside each cast iron slot machine there were three metal hoops called reels. Each reel had ten symbols painted on it. A lever was pulled that spun the reels. When the reels stopped, a jackpot was awarded if three of a kind of symbol lined up. The payoff in coinage was then dispensed from the machine.
Age of Electronics
The first popular electric gambling machine was the 1934 animated horse race machine called PACES RACES. In 1964, the first all-electronic gambling machine was built by Nevada Electronic called the “21” machine. Other all electronic versions of gambling games followed including ones for dice, roulette, horse racing, and poker (Dale Electronics’ Poker-Matic was very popular). In 1975, the first electronic slot machine was built by the Fortune Coin Company.