The History of Slot Machines

Slot machines have brought a source of entertainment to generations of people. Today, we celebrate the history of slot machines and the varieties of slots enjoyed online and offline worldwide. Where could the slot gaming industry go next?

The world of slot machine gaming has changed a great deal in the last century or more. The means of placing bets and spinning the reels has changed somewhat in recent decades, thanks to a string of technological advancements that have revolutionised the engagement and accessibility of slot games.

Below, we explore the history of slot machines dating back to the original devices through to the slot machines we see on land-based casino floors and online casinos today.

Early Beginnings of Slot Machines [1890 – 1930]

1891 – Sittman and Pitt

The humble beginnings of the slot machine can be traced back to 1891 when American pioneers Sittman and Pitt had the vision to produce an automated, mechanical slot game abiding by the same rules of Texas Hold’em poker. Their five-reel machine was operated by a lever pull, which would randomise the results of every card appearing on each reel. It transformed the coin-operated gaming scene in New York and soon proliferated overseas.

1905 – Charles Fey and the Liberty Bell

Charles Fey is the man credited with building on the ingenuity of Sittman and Pitt’s automated poker game and masterminding the modern-day slot machine prototypes that still line our land-based casinos today. Fey was inspired by America’s independence to build the ‘Liberty Bell’ slot machine. It was a monstrous, cast-iron machine weighing in at over 50 kilos. The three-reel game was triggered by pulling down a lengthy lever, which was eventually nicknamed the ‘one-armed bandit’.

The Liberty Bell machine featured symbols like bells (which awarded the biggest payouts and are still a feature of classic video and online slots today), lucky horseshoes and card suits. Players could stake a minimum of five cents, with the chance of winning up to 50 cents per game. The concept proved so popular that Fey would have to produce Liberty Bell machines en-masse across the US.

1910s – The Dawn of ‘Fruit Machines’

The US decided to prohibit all forms of gambling by the end of 1910, which hit Fey and the Liberty Bell machine hard. Instead of using these machines for money, they were quickly altered to play for sweets and fruit-flavoured candies – hence the long-time nickname of ‘fruit machines’ for slots. The reels would also be redesigned to feature different fruits and berries on the reels, just like the retro video slots we see today.

Video Slot Machines / Electronic Slot Machines

1930s – Electrifying ‘Jackpot Bell’ Games, In More Ways Than One

With gambling eventually returning as a legitimate form of entertainment across the US, the Jennings brand opted to add a new dimension to the Liberty Bell by devising an electromechanical version known as the ‘Jackpot Bell’. Players were no longer required to pull a lever to set the reels spinning – an electric motor saw to that. Jennings opted to retain the lever for heritage purposes, which is largely why you still see pulleys on some classic land-based slot machines today.

1964 – Money Honey and the Automation of Payouts

Automating the payout of winnings still proved to be a stumbling block for some time after the release of the Jackpot Bell machine. It wasn’t until three decades later that coin-based prizes would start to be automated and paid to players through a special tray. The Money Honey slot machine was the first to trial this, along with a string of additional electronic sound and visual effects to pique player interest.

1975 – The Industry’s Inaugural Video Slot Prototype Appears

Just over a decade on from the Money Honey slot and all its electromechanics, slot players were treated to the world’s first video-based slot game. Walt Frauley unveiled the ‘Fortune Coin’ game, which displayed the spinning of the reels on a video screen rather than an automated mechanism. It was released to significant scepticism among slot players, but after several tweaks it would soon be embraced, inspiring a host of new video-based machines including video poker.

Progressive Jackpot Slots

The launch of progressive jackpot slot machines was another fine innovation for land-based casinos. With some slot machines networked across multiple casino resorts, it created the opportunity to ‘pool’ a small percentage of every bet staked on the reels of this slot game, creating a rolling progressive jackpot that could pay out during any random spin. Today, these life-changing progressive jackpot games have a place in online casinos, like The Clubhouse Casino, as well as land-based casinos.

Online Slot Machines

1994 – Microgaming builds the world’s first online casino

Isle of Man-based iGaming software pioneers Microgaming unveiled the industry’s first online casino platform, with player tracking functionality and casino management features also introduced a year for prospective operators a year later.

2015 – Megaways slot game engine revolutionises online slot gameplay

In 2015, Australian iGaming development studio Big Time Gaming opted to redefine the basics of slot gameplay. The introduction of the Megaways game engine meant that players could win by adjacent symbol combinations rather than symbol combinations on predefined ‘paylines’, thereby creating more ways to win.

Slot Machines Ireland

2018 – Irish bettors dubbed one of the world’s most enthusiastic gamblers

In a survey of all European nations, Ireland was behind only Finland in the amount of money Irish bettors won and lost, according to British firm H2 Gambling Capital. Almost four-fifths of that money wagered was now online, as sites like The Clubhouse Casino increased their library of slot games for Irish players and those across mainland Europe.

Future of Slot Machines

The history of slot machines is so diverse, which makes it exciting to consider the future avenues of expansion for the slot gaming industry. One of the most likely additions in the short term is 4D slot machines. For land-based casinos, this will mean slot games with additional sensory components, be it floating visuals on-screen or moving chairs during big wins or bonus features.

Looking further ahead, slot game developers have a big task to engage the next generation of slot players. The ‘gamification’ of slots, including skill-based elements, is one of the most talked-about innovations in the iGaming industry right now.


When was the first slot machine created?

The first mechanical slot machine was manufactured by Charles Fey in 1905. The Liberty Bell was the modern-day slot machine prototype, powered by a lever pull to operate the slot’s reels. It features symbols like card suits and bells that are still prevalent in today’s slot titles.

What are the most popular slot machines?

The most popular slot games are those that offer simplistic or immersive slot gameplay. Simple slots like NetEnt’s Starburst have continued to bring in casual slot players, thanks to its enduring playability. Meanwhile officially licensed slots based on hit Hollywood movies and TV series attract passionate fans of these franchises to play these themed slots.

How popular are slot machines in Ireland?

As of 2019, there were said to be over 40,000 slot machines in operation across Ireland. Online slots are just as popular, thanks in no small part to the raft of slot games inspired by Irish folklore like leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.

What is the future of slot machines?

Slot gameplay is only likely to get more immersive in the years ahead. Slot developers are already embracing 4D enhancements, to improve a player’s gaming surroundings. To attract the next wave of casual slot players, developers are also turning to skill-based slot titles to ‘gamify’ slots and add a new layer of competitiveness that’s never been seen before.