The History of Slot Machines

Travel through time and discover the journey that slot machines have been on.
30th May 2024

Explore the History of Slot Machines

While slot players today are blessed by the number of available features, plus the variety of games to spin, that hasn’t always been the case.

Slot machines first began to surface in the late 1800s, with players pulling levers to spin the drums – and 50 playing cards used as symbols.

Join us as we venture back in time, charting the course that your favourite slot machines have taken to reach the modern 

1891: The Beginning of Slot Machines

We’re going to take you back to the 19th Century, when the journey of the slots began.

A company from New York, Sittman and Pitt, created the very first slot machine in 1891. It was made up of five drums and 50 playing cards - removing the 10 of Spades and the Jack of Hearts to boost the house edge - and cost a nickel to play. You pulled a lever to start the machine, which was found in a number of bars, and payouts were awarded if a poker hand was shown on the drums.  Any winnings had to be collected at the bar, as the machine didn’t pay out any coins at this point.

Charles Fey made a slightly edited version of this coin slot a few years later, substituting the drums for three reels, and swapping the cards for spades, diamonds, hearts, horseshoes and a liberty bell. The maximum payout was won when three liberty bells appeared, so that specific machine was coined as a Liberty Bell. Fey made several variations over the years, adding symbols like melons, cherries and BARs which are still used today.

A classic 'one-armed bandit' slot, where you pull the lever to spin the reels.

1964: Introducing Electricity with the Money Honey Slot Machine

Skip forward to 1964, and the very first electromechanical slot machine is unveiled. The Money Honey was released by Bally, and helped to change the game.

Initially, this machine still had a lever so that it wasn’t too much of a change for players, but these were eventually phased out over time. Eventually, they were replaced by the kinds of buttons you see on fruit machines now.

With the Money Honey, players could finally get an instant payout. This machine was the first to be made with a bottomless hopper, and up to 500 coins could be paid out following a winning spin.

1970s and 1980s: Video Slots, Progressive Jackpots and More Innovations 

Only 12 years after the first electromechanical machine, players were presented with a video slot. This was produced in 1976 by Fortune Coin and was initially seen in Las Vegas on a modified television. After it received all of the necessary clearance, this machine was able to be played across the state of Nevada, which allowed Fortune Coin machines to become available down the whole of the Vegas strip.

Next came the invention of progressive jackpots, allowing players to spin for the chance to win big like never before. You could first play progressive jackpot slot machines in 1986, and they were found in land-based casinos.

IGT created the first of its kind with Megabucks _whenever the jackpot wasn’t triggered on a spin, the potential payout increased - which you’ll be familiar with if you’re clued up on our Jackpot King games. Then, when someone wins the jackpot, it will be reset. The value of the very first progressive jackpot to be claimed was a massive $4,988,842.17, which was awarded in 1987. Not a bad total at all!

Slot machines with progressive jackpots became available in Las Vegas during the 1980s.

The 1990s: Second Screen Bonuses Arrive

We’ve reached the 1990s, another pivotal moment in slot games’ history. “Reel ‘Em” was the name of the slot machine in question, and it was created by a company called WMS Industries Inc. The key innovation with this slot was that it provided the first bonus game on a second screen – when a bonus round was activated, the base game was replaced with a new area to spin the reels.

Reel ‘Em directly contributed to the growing popularity of slot games, and they could make up 70% of a casino’s income in some cases, as well as occupying large areas on the floors of the venues.

Into the Modern World: Online Slots are Launched 

We’re now into familiar territory for many of you, as we’ve reached the time that bettors could finally play online slots. More and more players ventured into land-based casinos to spin the reels, which created the demand for the first online casinos to be developed.

When these online environments first hit the scene you could only play roulette or blackjack, but luckily for those who wanted to spin some reels, classic slot games were added slowly but surely.

The first available game was called Cash Splash, using the mechanics of original slots. Of course, online slot machines had much more room for innovation than those in land-based casinos – so a greater number of slots could be designed and produced.

Slots on the Go: Mobile Games Become Available

Early into the 21st Century – 2005 to be exact – slot games became available on mobile devices. The first was called Pub Fruity, and as you may have guessed, this mirrored the kind of game you would play on a fruit machine in a pub. You couldn’t win any real money on this game, only rewards that could be used on the game itself.

Mobile slots were aided by the release of the first iPhone in 2007, as apps became available shortly after. You could then spin slots on your mobile, with direct deposits too.

Slots finally went mobile in the 2000s, meaning you could play on the go.

Megaways Slots

The development of online slots to this point gave the game designers more opportunities to invent and innovate – and along came Megaways slots. These were first released in 2016 by Big Time Gaming (BTG), giving you new ways to play. The number of symbols that could land on a reel was changed, with up to 117,649 ways to win on some of these games, creating even more chances to trigger winning combinations.

As you have probably guessed, given the number of Megaways slots on our site, this was an incredibly popular and game-changing release for the industry.

Slots in the Modern Day

Now you know the journey slot machines have taken from the beginning to the current era. An incredible number of game features now exist, including Free Spins Bonuses and more jackpot rounds to win big on than ever before, with various types to spin like Cluster Pays and casino slots.

If you’re fond of a particular game, then there’s a good chance you can play a whole series with the same theme. Take Rainbow Riches, for example, with more than a dozen slots from that franchise on our site.

Sign up at Virgin Games and be a part of the future of slots, with more than 900 to play, and plenty of chances to win big.

Find out about online slot bonuses and how slots work by checking out the rest of our blogs.