The History of Slots

Last Updated on February 6, 2024

The Fascinating Journey of Slot Machines: From Liberty Bell to Online Slots

Showing Vintage Slots  to mobile online slots

Hey there! It’s Nick here, and today I’m diving deep into the captivating history of slot machines, a journey that’s as rich and colourful as the flashing lights on your favourite machine at the casino. Let’s embark on this adventure together, tracing the evolution of slots from their humble beginnings to the digital giants they’ve become today. And stick around for a hilarious anecdote about why I think women, including myself, enjoy the thrill of slots—it’s a story you won’t want to miss!

Sometimes you don’t want to be weighed down by all the rules and regulations of playing a game. All you want to do is put your mind at ease and have an exciting experience. Keeping that in mind, there’s probably no game easier than a slot machine. After all, it takes just a pull of a lever to get spinning!

What began with the tinkering of a San Francisco-based mechanic in the late 1800s has now grown into a multi-million dollar industry. In the US and Canada slot machines are one of the main attractions at casinos, with profit margins surpassing that of other table games. In fact, more than 70% of casino revenue is made up of profits from slots.

It’s safe to say that slot machines whether played at casinos or online has grown into a phenomenon that has spread worldwide. Its popularity has spread far from its point of origin in the US to Britain, Europe, Australia, and Latin America.

The slot machine has gone through many stages throughout its long history, such as;

  • Merchants used then to grow their business. The devices were placed on countertops and rewarded the player by paying off sticks of chewing gum and golf balls.
  • The slot machine is relatively cheap as compared to other game options, making it affordable for women to amuse themselves with while they waited for their husbands at the casino.
  • While slots started off as being mechanical, clockwork devices, they have now evolved to high paying games featuring high tech marvels such as attractive designs, surround sound environments and specially designed motion chairs for enhanced special effects.

Important Advancements in Slot Machines

History of slots two Vintage Mechanical slot machines

Vintage Mechanical Slot Machines

Our story begins in the late 19th century, specifically in 1895, when a clever mechanic named Charles Fey invented the first slot machine, the Liberty Bell, in San Francisco. This marvel featured three spinning reels, each adorned with symbols like hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes, and, of course, the Liberty Bell itself. A pull of the lever set the reels in motion, and the hope was to line up three matching symbols. The reward for such luck? A grand total of fifty cents, which back then was quite the handsome sum!

It is true that no other casino game relies on the advancements of technology than slot machines. This is mainly due to the fact that casino games are to a large part made up of popular card games. On the other hand, slot machines are technology based and need to be creative and innovative in order to draw in more players. The following is a breakdown of slot machines through the decades.

The Coin Hopper

As mentioned earlier, few people have had as profound effect on the slot industry as Charles Fey who designed the Liberty Bell machine. But, there are also many others who have contributed to the development of the game. The coin hopper was one such innovation that was designed by Bud Breitenstein and Frank Nicolaus, two engineers employed by Bally Manufacturing. The invention of the motor-powered hopper completely revolutionized the slot machine because of the following reasons;

  • Earlier versions of the slot machines operated with coin tubes.
  • The less space inside the slot machines limited the amount of coins that the tubes could hold.
  • This relatively small space inside earlier slot machines not only had an impact on the amount of coins that could be stored in the tube, therefore limiting the payoff, but also meant that each slot machine had to be re-filled with coins after a certain amount of wins.
  • Introduced in 1963, the Money Honey was the first slot machine to feature the coin hopper, which allowed payout coins to be circulated from within a large pool.
  • The large pool of coins meant the players got to enjoy winning higher payoffs of 500 to 1000 coins at a time.
  • The inclusion of bonus wheels meant that players had something extra to pique their interest while playing slots, along with video bonus play.

The Rise of Fruit Machines

Fast forward to the early 20th century, and slot machines had begun to spread like wildfire, albeit with a twist. Due to gambling laws tightening, the machines underwent a transformation, emerging as fruit machines. These didn’t pay out money but offered fruity-flavoured chewing gums as prizes. The symbols evolved into cherries, lemons, and plums, and the BAR symbol, which originally represented the logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company, became a staple.

Electrifying Developments

The 1960s brought about a revolution in the slot world with the introduction of the first electromechanical slot machine, Money Honey, by Bally Technologies. This innovation eliminated the need for a lever (though many machines kept it as a nostalgic gesture), and payouts became larger, making the game more exciting than ever. It was this era that truly set the stage for the advanced video slots we know and love today.

‘Virtual Reels’ Explained

Ever since gambling became a favorite pastime, clever gamblers would use mathematics to search for small advantages in the game. In this way, the history of mathematics and gambling have been intertwined. In 1984, Inge Telnaes, a Norwegian mathematician developed a method of mapping symbols and spaces, called “stops” which could then be transferred from a physical reel to a virtual one. This proved to be a real game changer because;

  • Before the invention of the virtual reel, the only solution to increasing the number of stops on the reel was to increase the reel’s size.
  • This meant that large jackpots required larger odds against winning, which was only possible through increasing the number of symbol and space combinations.
  • Since the reels of a slot machine are fitted inside the casing, increasing the number of reels was not possible. Besides, research had revealed that slot machine players do not prefer more than three reels on the assumption that an increased number of reels would diminish their chances of winning.
  • The invention of the virtual reel by Inge Telnaes meant that the reels could behave as it had any amount of symbols and spaces. For instance, a reel with a single jackpot symbol and two triple bars could be mapped so that the bars could be displayed just as much as the jackpot symbol.
  • The additional stops meant more flexibility for the slot manufacturers to design slots that were far more volatile and offered large jackpots frequently. IGT Technology was one of the first slot manufacturers to come up with a video slot that completely revolutionized the slot industry.

Without the invention of virtual reels, many big money slots such as IGT’s Megabucks would not have been possible. Here’s why;

To get a better understanding of what the addition of virtual reels brought to the table let’s take a look at slot machines prior to Telnaes’ innovation. For instance, a three-reel slot machine featured a total of twelve symbols, with one of the symbols being that of a cherry.

The likelihood of a person getting a total of three cherries at the same time, one on each reel is exactly 1 in 1,728. That’s $1,700 on every $1 bet. These are not attractive odds for any player. In this case, the only way of increasing a payout was by decreasing the chances of hitting a jackpot. And while adding another reel to the equation could be a good idea that would only get us to a jackpot of $20,000. The only problem was that people did not like to play on slots that featured more than four reels on them since they felt that it minimized their chances of winning.

Adding a few more symbols to each reel was also a possibility. But even that would not result in the astronomical jackpots we find in slot machines today. The simple solution that Telnaes proposed to improve the odds of winning in slots was to let a number generator, or computer chip to determine the combination of symbols that would appear each time the reels were spun.

In other words, a computer chip was used to basically control on which symbols the reels would stop, while creating the illusion that the wheels stopped all on their own. The result: a reprogramming chip was used to put the operator in full control over the likelihood of each outcome, even if it was between one and a million.

While thinking of a number between one and one million, then asking someone to guess which number you’re thinking of would sound like madness, let a microchip do the same thing and throw in a few blinking lights and sounds, and people will be more than happy to test their chances.

Linked Progressive Jackpots

The beauty of playing a linked progressive jackpot was that each wager was added to the jackpot amount until a player won, after which the chip resets the slot to the initial amount and starts all over again. The first progressive jackpots were single-machine jackpots which were then followed by linked progressives. These games linked multiple games together so that betting on one of the linked machines would raise the jackpot amount on all of them.

The more extreme version of the linked progressives is the wide area progressives where all the biggest jackpots are won. A wide-area progressive doesn’t only link neighboring slots together but also slots across different casinos.

The first truly wide area progressive game was called Megabucks and was introduced by prominent slot game manufacturer IGT, and was launched in 1986. Megabucks linked dozens of slots across casinos in Las Vegas. A good example of how much linked progressive slots could increase the value of a jackpot can be of the $39 million jackpot that was won in 2003, and holds the current record for being the highest jackpot in history.

Multi-Layered Progressives

While earlier versions of progressive slots only meant that top paying combinations would win higher jackpots, nowadays, almost every slot machine that is housed by casinos feature multi-tiered jackpots that are divided into mini, minor, major and grand jackpots. Multi-tiered progressive slots such as Cash Express featuring a jackpot system known as Hyperlink, was introduced by Aristocrat Technologies and made its debut in Australia first, before making its way to the US in the late 90s.

The following are some of the main features of multi-tiered progressives;

  • Multi-tiered progressives emphasize on small jackpots that are easily attainable to keep the players interested, and more importantly, coming back for more.
  • Secondly, multi-tiered progressive slots also feature lesser rollover values for the more frequent hits. There are also slots that feature higher rollovers for less frequent, but larger jackpots.
  • The beauty of multi-tiered progressive slots is that they stretch over a bank of multiple slot machines. By closely watching those displays, slot players can identify when the bank is full and more progressives are being awarded.
  • The success of the jackpot system known as Hyperlink has led to many competitors adopting multi-level progressives.

Bill Validators

Those who have used slot machines before the 90s are aware of the need to drop in coins for every spin. The introduction of the bill validator changed that forever. Instead of having to drop 80 quarters one by one to make a $20 investment, the bill validator allows the player to slide in a $20 bill to get 80 credits on the meter. Nowadays, bill validators are able to also scan payout tickets that are bar-coded along with currency bills. The added safety features on bill validators makes it impossible for tricksters to use counterfeit notes. And that’s not all, designers have created new bill validators that are able to read notes of different sizes and from different countries.

Ticket Printers Replace Coin Hoppers

In the 90s, most of the payoffs came in the form of coins that were sprayed out of the machine. Nowadays, many slot machines give payoffs in the form of tickets that are bar coded, especially since the ticket printer has replaced coin hoppers. This means whenever you win, you can cash out by pushing a button that would print a ticket. The ticket can then be used by the winner to buy additional credits on the slot machine, or cashed out at the cashier’s cage.

While there are still players who miss the delightful sight of tingling coins pouring out of a slot machine, the introduction of ticket printers offers some amazing advantages as well.

For those who miss the clanking of coins, the following are just a few advantages of the ticket printer.

  • The invention of the bar-coded tickets means the player does not have to wait for an attendant to pour coins into the slot machine. Neither do players have to go through the increased downtime when the slot machine gets jammed.
  • Introducing the ticket printer has made slots that feature the use of relatively small denominations possible.
  • Since small coins have been responsible for frequently jamming hoppers, slot designers were unable to introduce one-cent games until the introduction of the ticket printer.
  • By using ticket printers casinos do not need to stack up coins for each slot machine on their premises.
  • Ticket printers are also versatile and can be used for promotional purposes as well. For instance printing out gift vouchers or coupons.

Multi-Game Slot Machines

By allowing multiple games to be installed on a single machine, casino owners have the opportunity to draw players who have different tastes. The player can then choose the game that they want to play by touching an icon on the screen to start the game. Bally was the first manufacturer to introduce the ‘Game Maker’ back in 1994, which featured three games in one; a slot, video blackjack and video poker. While blackjack and poker were popular in the new video format, it was not until the introduction of the Game Maker that this gaming format really kicked off and lead to future multi-game machines such as IGT’s famous GameKing.

Bonus Wheel Slots

Wheel of Gold was introduced by Anchor Gaming back in 1995. Before that, the bonus wheel was unheard of which is hard to believe since the bonus wheel is considered to be the most reliable tool for all slot machine designs. Bally was the first to place the bonus wheel at the top of the slant top slot machines, which was a major draw. Whenever the tone that signaled an upcoming spin was heard all the other players would stop to watch the outcome of the bonus wheel. What followed was the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ which was introduced by IGT and till today stands as the most well-known slot machine ever.

Rise of the Multi-line Video Slots

Over one hundred years have passed since the first slot machine was made, yet some of the most important developments in the slot machine occurred during the late 70s, and still continues to this day thanks to the advancements in computer technology.

If you’re a fan of slots you’ve probably noticed the way slot games have evolved through the years. Slot games have gone from being a single-line game to featuring three reels and an arm, and some of the more recent slot games have all the bells and whistles along with scatters and wilds. These are more popularly known as multi-line video slots, and are way fancier than the modest single line slot machines you used to play at the pub. For many, the Pacific Rim was the break out star of slots which became the hottest gaming trend of more the past two decades.

Multi-line slot machines entered the scene in the late 90s. Aristocrat Technologies, an Australian-based slot manufacturer was having great success with video slot machines which featured multiple paylines. In 1994, WMS Gaming, a manufacturer of slot machines and video lottery terminals introduced its first multi-line, multi-coin slot machine called ‘Reel ‘Em In’ which was a huge success in the US. Their first mega success was followed up by a string of successful slot machine games such as Jackpot Party, Filthy Rich and Boom.

Reel ‘Em In featured five paylines a “v” and a chevron. When three matching symbols of fishing lure appeared on the screen the video reels automatically faded into the background and was replaced by a scene of a fisherman in a lake. Players could then touch the screen to make the angler reel in the fish to gain bonus credits, which varied. The level of creativity that was shown in the new multi-line video slots were the main reason of its success.

The introduction of the multi-line video slot also made it possible for players to claim payouts according to various combinations on more than a single line that was aligned on the game’s screen. With the emergence of online gambling, slots were one of the first games to be transformed into online games that were available in both paid and free versions. Nowadays, multi-line video slot games feature more than a hundred paylines and over a thousand ways to win, which also includes various forms of scatters, wilds and other rewarding jackpots.

Some features of the rise of the multi-line video slot:

  • Advancements in technology have led to an improved player experience.
  • The computerized slot games offer an exciting experience and more valuable jackpots.
  • Apart from the major changes to their graphics and appearance, modern day slot games also use bill validators, allowing users to buy credits and ticket printers that make it easier to cash out their winnings.
  • Then there’s the bonus wheel that’s placed atop slot machines to provide a more personal player experience and adds value to each game.
  • Today you will be hard pressed to find a video slot that does not have some sort of bonus. From free games to pick a box and to game show themes video slots have come a long way compared to Charles Fey’s first invention – the Liberty Bell.
  • Whether they are free or paid for, online slots has helped spread slot games throughout the world. Today, millions of people play slot games online which they can access right from the comfort of their homes, making it an extremely convenient experience for slot enthusiasts as well.
  • It’s no surprise why video slots are the most lucrative games in the online casino world, where players can literally roll through hundreds of wagers within minutes. There is no virtual outlet that can match the pace of online slot games.


Online Slots & Mobile Gaming

Playing mobile online slots

Mobile online slot game

As we rolled into the 1990s, the digital age dawned on us, and with it came the first online casinos Gaming Club and Intercasino. Slots made a seamless transition to the virtual world, where they flourished. Today, online slots come in all shapes and sizes, with themes ranging from ancient civilizations to futuristic adventures, not to mention the progressive jackpots that can turn a mere spin into a life-changing event.

Types of Games

Classic Online Slots: The Digital One-Armed Bandits

First up are the classic slots, often referred to as three-reel slots. These are the digital descendants of the original mechanical machines, like the Liberty Bell I mentioned earlier. Classic slots are straightforward: you spin the reels and hope to match symbols along the top, middle, or bottom line. They’re perfect for beginners or those who appreciate simplicity and nostalgia. The charm of classic slots lies in their simplicity, making them a timeless choice for many.

Online Video Slots: A New Era of Gaming

I am playing online video slot screenshot

Here I am playing online video slot game Nitropolis 3

Then, we have video slots, the most popular type of online slots. These games boast five or more reels and a multitude of paylines, offering a plethora of ways to win. What sets video slots apart is their impressive graphics, animations, and sound effects, which work together to create immersive themes and stories. From adventurous quests to tales of mythology, video slots transport players to various worlds. And let’s not forget the bonus features like free spins, wilds, and scatters that add an extra layer of excitement.

Check out our huge collection of all the best free slots you can play

You can also see out list of all time best slots online

Progressive Slots: The Jackpot Chasers’ Dream

For those dreaming of hitting it big, progressive slots are the way to go. These games are linked across a network, with a portion of each bet contributing to a central jackpot. The jackpot grows until one lucky player spins the winning combination, walking away with a life-changing sum. The thrill of watching the jackpot increase in real-time is unbeatable, making progressive slots a favourite among many.

See our complete guide to all types of online slot machines

Most online slot games developed nowadays are compatible with smartphones, including iPhones and Android devices, as well as tablets and apps. This means that one can virtually play from anywhere, at any time. In fact, the majority of players now prefer to play on their mobile devices

Remarkable Jackpot Victories in Slot Machine History:

Slot Machine Wins:

    • The record-breaking payout from a slot machine reached an eye-watering sum of $39,713,982.25, won by a young software engineer from Los Angeles. With just a $100 bet in the Megabucks slot at Excalibur Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, this 25-year-old hit the jackpot on March 21, 2003. This remarkable win stands as a testament to the unpredictable thrill that slot machines can offer.
    • Another remarkable win was by a Finnish player who won €17.8 million (approximately $23.6 million in 2013) with just a 25¢ bet on the Mega Fortune slot online​​.

Notable Wins and Players:

    • Elmer Sherwin, a World War II vet, won Megabucks jackpots twice, 16 years apart, with his wins totaling over $25 million. His first win came from a $20 investment turned into $4.6 million in 1989, and the second was a $21 million jackpot in 2005​​.
    • An online slot win by Twitch streamer Trainwreckstv on the Mighty of Ra slot amounted to $22.5 million from two $20,000 spins in 2019, marking a significant moment in slots streaming history​​.

See our complete list of all the largest online jackpot wins, and where you can play them.

Interesting Stats About Slots

Global Popularity:

  • $53.2 billion was spent on slot machines worldwide in 2021 (Statista).
  • 1.7 billion people play slots globally (H2 Gambling Capital).
  • Slots generate 70% of casino revenue worldwide (American Gaming Association).

Historical Tidbits:

  • The first modern slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was invented in 1895 by Charles Fey.
  • The first video slot machine appeared in the 1970s.
  • Online slots debuted in the mid-1990s and have become increasingly popular.

The Future of Slot Machines

As we look to the future, it’s clear that slot machines will continue to evolve, with technological advancements making them more immersive and interactive. Virtual reality slots, anyone? The possibilities are endless, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where this journey takes us next.

Why I love Slots: A Humorous Anecdote

Now, let me share a little story about why I believe women are particularly drawn to slots. Picture this: a group of us decided to hit the casino one evening in 1999, each with a different game in mind. I headed straight for the slots, drawn by the mesmerizing lights and the promise of a jackpot. As the night wore on, my friends drifted over, lured by my laughter and the sheer joy I found in every spin.

“Why slots?” one friend asked, genuinely curious.

I grinned, “Because it’s the only place where I can turn a loonie into a hundred without having to explain why I bought yet another pair of shoes!”

We all burst into laughter, and soon enough, they were all giving the slots a try. It was the fun, the chance of winning, and the camaraderie that made us love the game. Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the idea of hitting a jackpot? Ever since that day I have been playing slots nearly daily.


The history of slot machines is a testament to human ingenuity and our love for a good gamble. From the mechanical Liberty Bell to the sophisticated online slots, this journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. And as we continue to spin those reels, who knows what the future will hold? One thing’s for sure: the adventure is just getting started.

More articles and guides you might want to read:

How Online Slots Work

Best Paying Online Slots

The History of Canadian Gambling

The History of Blackjack

Nicky Smith, Editor at, also fact-checked this page.
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