Slot machines are the first successful mechanical casino games invented. These have been around for more than a century, first finding their way into pubs and bars, and later into casinos, ending up on the internet and becoming the most-played games of chance ever invented.

Their history is one of almost unbroken growth, thanks in part to their immersive and captivating nature and in a large part to their consistent bonuses and jackpots, with some of the best listed on sites like CasinoOnline.co.nz. But before the slot machines started their glorious journey to conquer the gambling dens and hotel lobbies of the world, there were other machines with similar mechanics that were popular for quite some time.

Sittman & Pitt Flip Card Poker Machine
Sittman & Pitt Flip Card Poker Machine (Model made in 1894 by Samuel Nafew Co)

Early inventors

A years before Charles Fey built his first Liberty Bell slot machine, others have tried to build similar constructions – most of them inspired by one of the most popular poker games ever, Five Card Draw. The Ideal Toy Company in Chicago was the first to introduce such a machine. Built by Frank Smith in 1890, the poker machine had five drums with playing cards painted on them that could be spun by pulling a lever – but only after inserting a coin. If the reels stopped at a winning hand, an attendant paid out the winnings to the player.

Three years later, Sittman and Pitt from New York built a similar machine – it was recognized as the first coin-operated gambling machine and is largely viewed as the precursor to the one-armed bandit we all love today. And it was pretty popular around the bars of the United States. Another machine to predate Fey’s slot machine was the “trade simulator”. It was another very popular game, almost like a mix between a slot machine and a vending machine, to be found in many pubs and bars across America.

Basic functioning

A patron could insert a coin into the machine and pull a lever. The reels of the machine would spin, then stop at a random combination of symbols or cards – some were poker-inspired, like the above-mentioned poker machine, others gave out prizes like cigars and candy. The classic Vegas slot machines have the trade simulator to thank for some of their symbols. Trade simulators were used without restrictions even in times when gambling was strictly prohibited, considering that they didn’t give out any money. Then the slot machine was built and things have changed fundamentally.

Fey’s machine was a simpler design with just three reels instead of five, and a limited number of symbols that reduced the number of potential combinations of symbols on the reels. This allowed it to pay out wins automatically, without needing an intervention from an attendant. And this feature made it insanely popular, ultimately allowing it to break into Nevada’s booming casino business and from there, the rest of the world.

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