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Gumballs to Gambling Halls

What’s one of the first things that come to mind when you think of a casino? For many, the answer is “the slots”. These whizzing, ringing, buzzing, jangling machines are usually laid out front and centre to generate excitement and put you in the mood for an entertaining night out. To help you appreciate these all-time favourite machines, we’ve compiled a list of 5 vignettes from the long and storied history of slots. Enjoy.

1. The first machine was fired up by a mechanic

It should come as no surprise that the person who invented a gambling machine based on spinning wheels, was a car mechanic. Sometime between 1887 and 1895, San Francisco mechanic Charles Fey conceived and built the world’s first slot machine, the Liberty Bell. Designed to help customers fight boredom while waiting for their cars, the machine featured three reels with images of diamonds, spades, hearts, and you guessed it, the cracked Liberty Bell. Whenever a thrill-seeking San Franciscan scored three Liberty Bells in a row they cashed in huge: ten shiny nickels. Cha-ching!

2. Jackpots started out chewable

In 1907, a few years after Mr. Fey (who would come to be known as the godfather of slots) developed his machine, Chicago’s Industry Novelty Co. began producing a brand of gum known as Bell Fruit Gum. To help market the gum, they decided to capitalize on Fey’s invention by creating a slot machine featuring reels with apples, oranges, melons, cherries, etc.

There was only one catch: gambling was illegal in Chicago. Rather than scrap the idea, they rigged the machines to spit out a stick of gum, instead of a cash prize. The machines were a hit! In 1916, gambling laws loosened and slots—now known for their iconic symbols—grew to become an iconic part of the casino experience (soon after, the company updated the machines to spit out coins when a player won big—jackpot!).

3. Bring on the bells and whistles—slots went electric in ’64

For the next half-century, mechanical slot machines made their way around the planet, with few changes to the basic mechanics Charles Fey had invented decades earlier. That is, until noted pinball maker Bally Technologies produced the game Money Honey in 1964, the world’s first electronic slot machine. This electric machine not only featured the ability to produce payouts of up to 500 coins, it was also the first to incorporate the flashing lights, engaging sounds and captivating graphics of today’s modern machines.

4. Got any pokies, mate? As the accents changed, so did the names

As the excitement of slots made its way around the planet, the name changed to reflect regional slang. Pokies, for example, is what you’d be playing if you sidled into a saloon down under in Australia—a derivative of “poker.” In London, England you’d ask your cabbie where to find the fruit machines, a name taken from the symbols they’d become synonymous with. Try the same thing in Edinburgh, Scotland and you’d need to ask where you can play the Puggies. Last but not least, in Las Vegas you might hear the less savoury term, One-Armed Bandit.

5. A “hot machine” is a stone cold myth

Unlike certain casino table games like blackjack or poker, there’s no strategy that can help you win at slots. From their origins in the early 1900s to today, each individual spin is as random as the spin before it. What that means is, no matter what anyone tells you, there’s simply no such thing as a hot streak, cold streak or being “due” for a win.

No question about it, whether you’re playing online or in person, watching the reels spin and the fruits line up is exciting and entertaining. In fact, it’s as exciting and entertaining now as it was way back in a San Francisco garage over a century ago. And to think, we owe it all to a mechanic, some gears, and a garage full of bored customers.

Want to learn more? Watch Behind the Jackpot now.