Although slots have been thrust into the mainstream in recent years due to their online popularity and a number of prominent advertising campaigns, they’re nothing new. Originally available only in physical form, they’ve been known as everything from one-armed bandits to poker machines throughout their long and fascinating history.
Today, they arguably enjoy a more widespread audience than ever before. Played by millions of people from all around the world, slots have become a mainstay of internet casinos – but their roots have notably more humble origins…
The name “slot machine” was originally short for “nickel in the slot machine”, and was coined when the first gambling devices of this type were introduced to the United States in the 1880s. Little more than novelties, these could typically be found in bars and saloons, and soon encouraged wagering between patrons.
The prizes for winning at slots were rarely monetary in these earliest days. Awarded by the proprietor of the establishment, they typically took the form of drinks, cigars, or occasionally trade checks.
This soon changed. By 1888, machines which paid in coins had been created. The earliest of these worked in a relatively simple way, with inserted money falling onto an internal scale. This scale frequently tipped and spilled cash out, so that even those who weren’t victorious often received a payout.
However, it wasn’t until 1894 that slot machines in the more modern sense came about. Invented by Bavaria-born Charles August Fey, a mechanic living in San Francisco, they were an instant success. So popular did they become that Fey was able to quit his job one year later to open a factory dedicated to the production of slot machines.
A Global Spread
By 1909, slot machines had become so popular that there were over 3,300 of them in San Francisco alone. Their numbers began to draw some rather unwanted attention, with members of the clergy making their opposition loudly known. Eventually, the law listened to their outrage, and the city banned them altogether.
This did little to deter Fey and the competitors who’d sprung up. Rather than ceasing production, they simply relocated, with most finding their way to Chicago instead. Here, the industry flourished, with the popularity of slots continuing all through the roaring ’20s and the dark days of the ’30s.
Although increasingly controlled by organized criminal enterprises, slot machines nonetheless spread further afield still, so that they were found all around the globe by the close of World War II. Their most famous home would, of course, become Las Vegas, where in 2003, a single slot machine paid out a whopping $40 million.
This evolution was not done yet. Becoming not only the largest profit generator for bricks-and-mortar casinos, with 200,000 of them in Nevada alone, slots also found their way online, where they became the mainstay of internet casinos, with people able to choose an online slot and play from anywhere in the world.
This means that, before you enter Casino Room or one of its ilk, you can now utilize a whole other industry that’s grown up around the sector: one that focuses on reviews, researching bonuses, and even examining gaming strategies.
Hard to believe now that it all started off as little more than a novelty act – a toy to keep drunken barflies entertained. Survivor of two world wars, the greatest depression the world has ever seen, rapid technological progress and, perhaps most poignantly, the relentless march of time itself, the slot machine is undoubtedly here to stay.
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