Today slot machines are one of the cornerstones of the gambling industry and are one of the most profitable revenue streams for 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 it was placed in, the Liberty Belle became an instant hit with gamblers. Recognising that there was potential in sexy baccarat this new untapped market, and buoyed by the huge publicity and success that his first invention had created, Charles August Fey decided to establish a new company that would focus solely on the design and manufacture of slot machines. The new company, aptly named ‘Charles Fey and Company Inc’ would go on to dominate the slots industry for the next 50 years.
The first half of the twentieth century was a challenging one for the gambling industry as a whole and was characterised by legal regulation. In 1909 slots were made illegal in their home city of San Francisco, and by 1911 this had spread to the entire State of California. However, the small number of slot machine companies, led by Charles Fey became increasingly innovative in identifying loop holes within the law. In an attempt to ensure their machines did not meet the legal classification of a ‘gambling device’ slot machine, manufacturers changed the symbols used on the machines from gambling themed cards to fruits and sweets.
Whilst certainly creative, it was only a matter of time before the authorities recognised the inherent weaknesses in their legislation. The slots industry was dealt a further blow with the ‘State v Ellis’ case, which effectively outlawed all slot machines.
Despite the legal restrictions, the slots industry continued to grow and develop, primarily in Nevada where the gambling industry was free from the legal restrictions faced in other states. On the back of ever increasing demand, the Mills Novelty Company grew to become one of the major players within the industry on the back of producing cheaper slots in lighter wooden cabinets. In 1933 they produced the ‘Castle Front’ slot which came to symbolise the slots market at this time.
A further blow was dealt in 1951, when Congress passed the Transportation of Gambling Devices Act. Despite this, technological advances, initially electro-mechanical development in the 1960’s by the Bally Corporation tool slot machines to new levels of functionality that provided players with more advanced features that added significantly to the entertainment levels experienced by players. Further advances in the 1970’s saw the introduction of Video Slots. It was at this time that International Game Technology (IGT), one of the current giants within the slots industry was established.