How long have slots been around?
The first slot, or slot machine, in the sense of a coin-operated gambling machine, to achieve national popularity in the U.S. was an automated poker game introduced by Sittman and Pitt in 1893. The machine, which cost a nickel, or 5¢, to play, consisted of five drums, or reels, with a total of 50 playing card symbols. Players inserted a coin, pulled a handle to set the reels in motion, and the object of the game was to align a winning poker hand. However, unlike later games, which released the payoff into a receptacle at the bottom, the machine had no direct payout mechanism, so prizes were collected from an attendant.
However, the man credited with the invention of the first slot machine to automatically pay out coins, rather than tickets or tokens, was Charles Fey. In 1894, Fey designed his own version of the ‘Horseshoe’, previously patented by fellow German emigrant Theodor Holz in 1893 and, in 1898, the famous ‘Liberty Bell’. The Liberty Bell consisted of just three reels, each with a series of just five symbols, diamond, heart, spade, horseshoe and, of course, an authentic, cracked Liberty Bell. By reducing the complexity of the payout permutations, Fey incorporated an automatic payout mechanism, making the Liberty Bell more appealing, and lucrative, than contemporary coin-operated machines. Indeed, the Liberty Bell was the most popular slot machine of its day and formed the basis of modern slots. Naturally, three Liberty Bells produced the highest payoff, of 50¢.