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Slot Machine History - who's crazy idea was this anyway?

Charles Fey - Inventor of the Slot Machine
Charles Fey
(Slot Machine Inventor)

An American invention, slots have since become very popular all around the world. The most notable places include Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and the Caribbean. As a 29 year-old Mechanic, Charles Fey manufactured the first reels for gaming in 1887, a heck of a long time ago. San Francisco was the town to be in if you were a precognitive slots momma at the turn of century, and what fun it would be to be there now. The first machines were manufactured by hand by Fey himself and placed in the local gambling palaces on a 50% rental basis. So in addition to being the inventor, Fey was also the first proprietor of the machines. Somewhat surprisingly, and against some modern mythology, Fey's first machine was not any more bulky or any more crude than modern day examples. Nor did its reels carry the fruit symbols common today. The first slot machine was actually called the Liberty Bell, how appropriate a name for the game that has become a symbol of American culture and capitalism. The original symbols included the standard playing card imagery we are all used to - hearts, diamonds and spades- along with bells, horseshoes and a star. This original machine can still be seen today in a collection at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno Nevada, which is owned and operated by Fey's own lineage.

Presented in 1887 as a 'New Nickel Operated Machine', Charley Fey, machinist and gamer, provided the world with what would become a phenomenon. The San Francisco Chronicle described Fey's machine: "A machine featuring 3 reels mostly hidden with Horseshoes, Spades, Diamonds, Hearts, Bells symbols on reels. The device is operated by depositing a nickel in a slot to release the handle, when the right combination of symbols stop in the window the player is awarded coins ranging from 2, on 2 Horseshoes to 20 for 3 bells. Most of those present agreed the machine should be a great success"

A great success it has been, without room from disagreement. The movement of money is an interesting thing in and of itself. Just how much money was fed into the machines in Nevada and the Caribbean to get to the $300 million yearly gross revenue? If we do a little basic math… working on the average that 10 cents of each dollar deposited is retained by the player, then $3 billion worth of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, ect move through the 50k machines.

The details of the slot machines (not online) we're discussing are necessary knowledge for anyone who wants to make this an important part of their day. Essential, a cabinet housing contains three or more narrow cylindrical drums, commonly called reels, which are marked with symbols. Vertically disposed on a common axis, the reels are caused to revolve freely when a player activates the machine and pulls a lever-like handle affixed in the side of the cabinet. Payoffs are handled instantly, based on the horizontal alignment of symbols after the reels come to rest. Umm, you get a line of bells you win. Simple.

Nickel and quarter machines are by far the most popular, and account for about 85% of reel action in any given year. This popularity is followed by the dime boxes, then half dollar and silver dollar machines. You can now find machines that accept $5 bills, and some rather large progressive jackpot machines that take $100 bills!

The modern, deluxe, single coin one armed bandits with a nice shiny chrome finish can run you as much as $1,700 to own for yourself. But even if you're thinking of dropping that coin, check and make sure its legal to own a slot machine in the state or country you live in.

You may be familiar with the name 'Big Bertha' when it comes to the reels. This machine was designed to accept half dollar and dollars, and to pay back about 80% of what it takes in. The box is made for the most part to be a propaganda machine, catching customers imaginations and desires in one big metal mental image.

Super Big BerthaWell it worked, which is proofed by the appearance of the Super Big Bertha. This six by ten foot super slot machine is said to have cost more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to produce. A Five horsepower electric motor is needed to power the twenty-inch wide chain driven wheels. With eight reels containing 20 symbols each, there are 25.6 billion different possible combinations. That's right BILLION. Only one of which actually pays the 1 million dollar promised prize. A little more basic math shows that with these odds, one individual would have to put about 205 billion one dollar spins to work to mathematically hit the million dollar prize. Not the best return on investment ever conceived, except from the casinos point of view.

A long-standing record of $65,093 was won in one slots pull on a one-dollar progressive at Harold's Club in Reno in 1973. Quite recently (in 2001) a woman won over $1,000,000 in an Ontario, Canada Casino. It's worth noting the machine was a progressive that was $100 a pull.

In addition to being the biggest revenue producer, our friendly one arm pals have also been the single biggest cause of police raids, legal indictments, and courts decisions over all other forms of gambling combined. Part of the problem is the manner of play. No other style of gambling creates such a hypnotic fascination. The term zombie has been married to the reels in American popular culture for years now. It's seen time and time again that it is very difficult to resist the temptation to drop a coin when given the opportunity. Even those who have a moral problem with the concept of gambling have been shown to be affected by this phenomenon. The antecedents of this common behavior are rather indefinable, but it can most likely be largely attributed to two things, one just stated, the temptation to drop a coin with hopes of a massively large payoff for an insignificant bet, and the other is probably the mechanical attraction produced by the machines. The action of placing a bet lets you see the light show, and watch the reels spin. There is a larger level of excitement in reel players when they hit a jackpot than other gamblers when they win large sums. The complications behind this phenomenon are too complex to discuss here, but rely largely on the mental expectations and experience of players in each style of high stakes gaming.

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