Online slots history is relatively short as the first online casinos opened for business in the 1990’s. The history of slot machines in general however is quite a bit longer and is also quite interesting. Slot machines have been very popular since they were first introduced and remain one of the most popular casino games around. They are easy to play and don’t require any special skills or knowledge and offer players the opportunity to earn large pay offs for making a relatively small wager.
Slot machines alone account for more than 50% of the revenues at many casinos and the floor space in any casino is dominated by the “one armed bandits.” Modern slots offer a huge variety of different games with high quality video, animations, and sound effects as well as the ability to bet multiple credits on multiple pay lines. The games have become more complex and more entertaining but the modern high tech machines have evolved from machines that were every bit as exciting to the players playing them over 100 years ago.
The Very First Slot Machine
The man that receives credit for developing the first slot machine is Charles Fey for creating the Liberty Bell machine back in 1887. However, the Sittman and Pitt company of Brooklyn NY developed a machine in 1881 that was based on the game of poker. The machine had five spinning drums and each drum had 10 card faces on it. Players would insert a nickel and spin the reels hoping to make their best five card poker hand.
In a standard deck of playing cards there are 52 cards. The machine created by the Sittman and Pitt company only had 50 cards. Their game removed a 10 and a Jack in order to increase the house’s chances of winning by reducing the possibility of some strong hands like straights and royal flushes. This mechanical poker machine lacked an automatic payout mechanism and winning players would be paid off in a number of ways depending upon the establishment in which the machine was located.
Charles Fey receives credit for developing the first slot machine and his Liberty Bell machine is more like the slots we are familiar with today. Charles Fey was a German mechanic living in San Francisco. His machine used three spinning reels and each reel had five symbols on it. The symbols were Horseshoes, Diamonds, Spades, Hearts, and a Liberty Bell. When symbols lined up in the right combinations players would be paid and the machine Fey developed did have an automatic payout mechanism to deposit a player’s winnings in a tray at the bottom of the machine. This new machine quickly became very popular and soon others began to take notice.
The Popularity of Slot Machines Breeds Competition
In the late 1880’s and early 1900’s gambling devices could not be patented so after Fey’s Liberty Bell machine rapidly gained popularity and started spreading throughout the city of San Francisco, competitors quickly jumped on the opportunity to capitalize on the popularity.
It wasn’t long before Herbert Mills of Mills Novelty Company in Chicago began making slot machines and distributing them throughout the country. By 1907 Mills was known as Mr. Slot Machine. Mills Novelty Company began in 1891 with a patented, coin-operated cigar vendor. After the first slot machines were introduced Mills quickly became the largest manufacturer of slot machines in the world.
With this much money being made it was not only legitimate companies that were quick to capitalize on a new and rapidly growing trend. It wasn’t long before organized crime wanted their piece of the pie.
Slot Machines and the Mob
In the 1930s organized crime decided they wanted to get in on the action. With so much easy money to be made with slots it was only natural for the mafia to position themselves in this industry. Frank Costello ran the biggest mafia controlled slot machine operation at this time. He had machines popping up all over New York City and each machine had a special sticker to identify it as one of his. This sticker protected the machines and acted as a warning to any would-be competitors. High-ranking police officials were on Costello’s payroll so the police would leave his machines alone and anyone trying to set up their own machines not only risked having the police seize their machines but also risked retaliation by the mob.
In 1934 a new mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia, was elected and war was declared on the slot machine business in New York City. LaGuardia sent police squads around the city to smash slot machines and eventually Costello pulled his slot machines out of New York and set up shop in Louisiana. Costello made a deal with Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana. Costello built a slot machine empire in New Orleans and governor Long became very wealthy taking his cut.
Playing Slot Machines Legally
In many areas gambling was illegal so it was not uncommon for slot machine winners to be paid off with cigars or drinks. In 1931 gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada and although slots were popular the Nevada casinos did not immediately recognize their full potential. Slot machines were played mostly by women who were waiting for their husbands who were playing the table games. As time went on slot machines continued to become more and more popular and today they make up more than 50% of the revenue for most casinos.
Slot Machine Cheaters
In the early days when slots were run by gangsters and payout percentages on the slot machines were very poor the slot machine owners made a lot of easy money. However, there were always those on the other side, the players, who wanted their shot at some easy money as well. One of the most common ways to make some easy money on older slot machines was known as rhythm play. Some players discovered that they could pull the handle with a certain rhythm that forced winning combinations to appear. Other players were able to use rhythm play to control one of the cherry symbols to guarantee themselves payoffs.
At one time a group of players that call themselves the “rhythm boys” actually opened a school in Las Vegas that taught people how to beat the slot machines. The tuition was quite expensive but the students were taught a method that actually worked which is very rare when it comes to making money with gambling systems. Eventually the manufacturers of the slot machines created a device that would alter the timing of the spinning reels to make it random, rendering rhythm play useless.
Another popular method for beating older slot machines was known as “spooning”. A spoon could be pushed into the coin return to hold open a trap door leading to the payout tray. This would cause the machines to pay off any combination so that players would be paid off on every single spin.
Using a “stringer” was another popular way of cheating the slot machines. Players would affix a string to a coin that would be inserted into the machine and then pulled back out effectively giving the player a free spin. Another method that some cheaters used was to spray liquid detergent into the coin slot to get a free game.
There will always be an ongoing battle between the house and cheaters. The cheaters need to find new and clever ways to beat the house and when a problem becomes apparent the house has to figure out ways to thwart the cheaters. This cat and mouse game has been going on forever and will probably continue as long as there are people looking for a way to make some easy money.
Many slot machines today are simply computers, video monitors, and simulated slot machines. There are still some mechanical devices out there but many slots use animation and sound effects to simulate the look and feel of the older slot machines. The new technology makes hundreds of different games available and each game has its own set of rules, payouts, and bonuses. The new slots, being video-based, are very much like the online version of the game. Online slots offer players an opportunity to choose from hundreds of different games and gives players the ability to play those games in the comfort of their own home whenever they like.
If you play online you also have the ability to take advantage of the sign-up bonuses that casinos use to attract new players. Competition is fierce among the various Internet casinos and this competition creates opportunities for players to find slots that offer favorable odds and generous sign-up bonuses.