The Evolution of Slot Machines | From Classic to Modern Games

evolution of slot machines

Slot machines have come a long way since their early days—which began over 130 years ago. What started as simple, lever-operated games have now become a little more advanced but remain a staple for all kinds of players in the global gambling scene.

Online slots have always been known for their straightforward rules and approachable gameplay, which has certainly helped them stay popular through the years. From those classic one-armed bandits to the latest smartphone games, slot machines have adapted and evolved, but they’ve always kept their distinctive charm.

It’s fascinating to see how they’ve grown and changed while remaining a favorite pastime for gamblers, so we thought it’d be fun (and educational) to trace the evolution of slot machines from the classics to the modern games of today!

liberty bell slot machine

Inception: The Very First Slot Machines

The humble slot machine’s journey began in 1891 with the New York company Sittman and Pitt. Their invention, a machine with five drums and 50 cards, required a nickel to play and rapidly gained popularity in bars.

Players operated it by pulling a lever to arrange poker hands on the reels. Then, the machine strategically omitted the ten of spades and jack of hearts, reducing the odds of a royal flush by half.

Initially, winnings were claimed at the bar, often in the form of drinks or cigars, as the machine didn’t dispense prizes or make any of the fun noises we associate with someone hitting a jackpot on a slot machine in a brick-and-mortar casino. And they didn’t win money, but at least they won some booze or a smoke!

liberty bell slot machine

The Liberty Bell: 1894

In 1894, the slot machine world saw a major leap forward with Charles August Fey, an American inventor of Bavarian origin. He created the first slot machine in the modern sense, leading to his development of a subsequent model, the 4-11-44, and later the Card Bell in 1898–the first three-reel slot machine offering automatic cash payouts.

His 1899 creation, the Liberty Bell, marked a historic moment, bringing slot machines into the limelight. Following these, several machines came onto the gambling scene, some offering fruit-flavored chewing gum as prizes (still no real money won). Today, icons like cherries and melons on slot machines trace back to these early versions, with the BAR symbol originating from the Bell-Fruit Gum Company’s logo. How cool is that?

Herbert Mills, a manufacturer from Chicago, produced the Operator Bell in 1907, inspired by the Liberty Bell. By 1908, this machine was a fixture in numerous establishments like tobacconists and saloons.

money honey

Money Honey: 1964

A big breakthrough in slot machines happened in 1964 with the Bally Manufacturing Co. introducing Money Honey, the first fully electromechanical slot machine. Despite its electrical operation, a lever was still used to spin the wheels, which gave a sense of familiarity and comfort to avid slot players. This machine could dispense up to 500 coins, thanks to its innovative hopper, marking a new era in slot machine technology.

video slots

Video Slots: 1976

In 1976, another milestone was made with the introduction of the first video slot by Fortune Coin, developed in Kearny Mesa, California. It was first placed in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel; it received state-wide approval after a few modifications. This ushered in the era of electric slot machines across Las Vegas, the American Mecca of gambling.

progressive jackpot

Progressive Jackpots: 1986

The concept of progressive jackpots emerged in 1986, with Megabucks by International Game Technology (IGT) at the head of the pack. These jackpots increased with each play until won, with the first payout in 1987 amounting to almost $5 million. Holy cannoli, slot prizes have come a long way since the days of winning booze and gum!

video slots later

Video Slots: 1996

The year 1996 was pivotal in the slot world: WMS Industries Inc. released “Reel ‘Em,” which was the very first video slot with a second-screen bonus round. This invention was a huge contribution to slot machines’ growth, making them a major part of casino revenues and giving them central floor space.

online casinos now

The Move to Online Casinos: 1990 to Now

The 1990s marked the start of online casinos, which were met with a lot of skepticism and a lot of regulatory concerns. Among the pioneers of the online casino era were Cryptologic and Microgaming, who, together, launched the first major online casino. Their first slot game was Cash Splash from Microgaming, and since then, the development of slot games has surged, driven not just by tech advancements but by players’ desires to play the slots online.

The mobile gaming era began in 2005 with Pub Fruity, the first Java casino game, followed by the release of the iPhone and the App Store in 2007 and 2008. This enabled the direct marketing of games to consumers and the emergence of optimized mobile slot games.

In 2010, slots incorporated metagames, offering players a variety of challenges and monetary prizes—bonuses like the Red Tiger Daily Jackpot in 2016 and Pragmatic daily drops in 2020 added an entirely new dimension to slot gaming!

2016 also saw the introduction of the Megaways engine by Big Time Gaming, revolutionizing the industry with its random reel modifier and offering thousands of ways to win.

The onset of online and mobile casinos has boomed, and while doing so, it’s attracted an entirely new generation of younger players to slots. It’s no longer for “blue hairs” in a traditional casino—everyone is playing them due to the convenience of having them at your fingertips!

And as we see competition among video slot providers intensify, developers are continuously innovating to engage even more players, incorporating fun features like tournaments and dynamic, big-money jackpots.

Final Thoughts

It’s actually pretty amazing to think about how much slot machines have changed over time, and they’re not stopping anytime soon! With our phones getting smarter and internet speeds getting faster, there’s so much to look forward to in slot gaming. You could soon be playing slots in virtual reality or on your smartwatch! 

It’s not just a game anymore; it’s an experience that keeps getting better and better. The slot world is buzzing with innovations, and we can’t wait to see what comes next!

Alyssa Waller Avatar
Alyssa Waller

Alyssa contributes sportsbook/online casino reviews, but she also stays on top of any industry news, precisely that of the sports betting market. She’s been an avid sports bettor for many years and has experienced success in growing her bankroll by striking when the iron was hot. In particular, she loves betting on football and basketball at the professional and college levels.