When the very first slot machines were invented late in the 19th century, nobody could have imagined just how influential they might become. While gambling and games of chance have been around since the earliest human civilisations, slots have arguably been the driving force behind massive expansion in the hospitality industry over the last few decades.

Early slot machines

There has often been some debate about who invented the very first slot machines, although Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York, are credited with inventing the precursor to modern slot machines in 1891. This contraption featured five drums with traditional playing cards glued to them, which spun when players inserted a coin an pulled the lever. 

Based around poker hands and quickly becoming popular in bars around the city, players were awarded prizes which could vary at each establishment. A royal flush might win an expensive cigar or a round of drinks, while other lesser hands might get a beer or two. However, this machine was easily exploited, with some nefarious bar owners removing cards to reduce the chances of winning.

These first machines required attendants to verify winnings, until the “Horseshoe Slot Machine” was invented by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze, who devised the first automatic pay-out mechanism in 1893. This creation was then refined and improved by Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, who had established his own company with Schultze by 1896.

The machine designed by Fey in 1898 was the first of its kind to make automatic pay-outs in cash, for all winning combinations. This mechanism featured just three spinning reels and five symbols, including the “Liberty Bell” which lent the slot machine its name. Over the following years, this slot machine became hugely popular.

Fey was unable to secure a patent for his invention and over the following years, his concept was copied and emulated by other manufacturers. Indeed, the Liberty Bell went on to shape the most popular slot machines for more than a century, with similar design elements remaining present in modern-day electronic and video slot machines, and online slots.

Slot Machines

Traditional slot machine games and advancements in technology have led to the creation of new slot games such as online.

What’s in a name?

The popularity of slot machines quickly spread across the United States following the turn of the 20th century. As an entertainment device, these mechanical gambling machines were embraced by the hospitality industry throughout the country, from bars and restaurants, to cigar stores and even brothels.

As many original slot machines were based around poker cards and symbols, they were also known as “Pokies” in Australia and New Zealand. Likewise, as other images were used on the spinning reels, including lemons and oranges, “Fruit Machines” became another common name for slot machines around the English-speaking world especially in the UK.

Beyond being known as slot machines or just “Slots” by most of us, a name which comes from the slot into which players inserted their coins, other names also became common around the world. Given the early machines required players to pull a lever to spin the reels, “One-Armed Bandit” became a frequently used moniker, as these slots quickly emptied the pockets of players.

By 1963 Bally had invented the first electromechanical slot machine, which appeared in hotel foyers and casino floors throughout Las Vegas. This removed any need for a one-armed mechanical lever, with players able to press buttons instead. Pay-outs also increased with machines featuring bottomless hoppers, able to automatically dispense up to 500 coins.

Las Vegas was also home to the first video slot machines, designed by the Fortune Coin Company. These were originally trailed at the Hilton Hotel and incorporated a Sony Triniton display within the gaming cabinet, and before too long, video slots became the most popular and most played amongst any games at casinos.

Slots and hospitality

It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for the success of slot machines, Las Vegas and other famous resort destinations might never have grown to the stature they enjoy today. Indeed, it’s also no coincidence that of the ten biggest hotels in the world, eight are part of huge casino resort complexes, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between gambling and hospitality.

Las Vegas was the first city to demonstrate that purpose-built casino resort complexes could be successful, many of which are filled with row upon row of brightly lit slot machines, although a huge and expansive variety of entertainment is on offer to visitors. The fabled Sin City also inspired other locations around the world to emulate their model.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada Signage

Slots contributed to the success and fame of Las Vegas, with many casinos filled to the brim with bright slot machines.

Over the last two decades the former Portuguese colony of Macao has boomed, and while following in the footsteps of Las Vegas, the Chinese territory has aimed to do everything bigger and better. This includes another version of the Venetian resort in Macao, albeit three times bigger than its cousin in Las Vegas.

But the mega-casino resorts aren’t the only locations cashing in on the popularity of gaming. Walk around the corner to your nearest pub or bar, there’s a good chance you’ll find a traditional fruit machine or one of the latest video slots game on offer. Many will also offer themed activities such as prize bingo nights, casino nights, trips to the races or other sporting events.

Gambling and gaming have become increasingly established parts of the hospitality industry. Beyond providing patrons with somewhere to eat or drink, sleep and relax, there are venues where we can enjoy numerous forms of entertainment. Given the growing demand for variety and the need to diversify, it’s hard to imagine even the local pub not paying attention to offering a broader range of entertainment.

What the future holds

Given that we all have mobile devices, it’s never been easier to find entertainment at the touch of a screen. While that might appear to be strong competition for land-based casinos or even our local watering holes and eateries, the next generation of slot machines are increasingly connected.

Networked slot games are becoming a reality, with some of your favourite online games already linked to counterparts at land-based casinos and even your local pub. Instead of competing for custom, new and improved technology has once again found a way to maintain the relationship between the gambling and hospitality industries, which is certain to remain strong for decades and even centuries to come.