The History of Slot Machines: From the First Slot Machine to Modern Technology

There's been plenty of change!

The History of Slot Machines: From The First Slot Machine To Modern Technology

Slot machines are an established part of the entertainment industry, providing a game of chance that has proved popular among players worldwide. Yet, you might not realise that the history of slot machines is so long and interesting.

When was the first slot machine invented and does it bear any resemblance to the current games you can play online with Paddy Power? Take a look at how we got from the first slots to the current range of games, and what the future might hold for this genre of casino games.

The First Slot Machine Gets Created

We need to jump back to the late 19th century to start our look at slots history. In terms of the first slot machine, 1887 or 1885 (it’s up for debate!) are commonly believed to be the years that the automated gambling machine first became reality.

Who invented the first slot machine?

The uncertainty comes from the fact that several inventors were looking at the idea of gambling machines around the same time. In New York, a company called Sittman and Pitt created a device that created poker hands randomly when the player pulled a lever. This proved to be rather too complicated: it used a full deck of cards and there was no way of automating payouts varying in accordance with the many different winning poker hands that could be created.

Charles Rey and His Role in Slot Machine History

Charles Fey is credited with having simplified this idea and created the first slot machine. He made the Liberty Bell machine in the 1880s, using symbols such as bells, horseshoes and playing card suits across three reels. This simplicity meant payouts could be automated, which played a massive part in its success.

What did the first slot machine look like when compared to current games?

There’s no need to guess, as we can find photos of the Liberty Bell slot online. Various models were made over the next few years and if you’re willing to travel, you can find a Liberty Bell at the Nevada State Museum. It looks similar to modern slots but with a simpler, stripped-back look as it lacked the technology that made these games more complex over time.

The Liberty Bell machine looks simple to us now, but imagine how revolutionary it would have been for 19th-century gamblers. An automated game where winning lines were created almost instantly and the top prize of 50 cents was paid when three Liberty Bell symbols landed on the single payline, it must have turned heads everywhere it was played. Each spin cost a nickel and the lowest win was for a couple of horseshoes, which returned the full amount of the stake to the player.

Other Slots Machines Followed

The popularity of Liberty Bell helped create a thriving market for slots, with new games appearing in the market in the following years. This was when fruit symbols started to appear. These images represented the flavours of gum that could be won from the machine.

The Operator Bell model introduced these fruity symbols as well as some other changes to make it easier to use. It would be a long time before electronic models replaced the manual slot, but many changes made over the next few decades resulted in lighter and less noisy slot machines.

The 1930s were a golden age for slots! This was when they were added to Las Vegas casino and hotel lobbies. They were seen as a light-hearted alternative to table games for casual players, it soon became clear slots were excellent for the casino business as they increased revenue and appealed to many different kinds of visitors.

Without these early slots, the genre might never have existed or would have been very different to what we know. So many of the original symbols are still used in modern slots and we can trace the gameplay from the first slot machine to the present day fairly easily.

Those original slots remained as the template for these machines for a long time, before emerging technology changed the way we play them. The next big change came in the 1960s, and that marked the start of the modern era when improvements in slot technology started to arrive at an ever-faster rate.

The Electronic Slots Era and Progressive Jackpots

Moving forward to the 1960s, we encounter the next major breakthrough: electronic slots. The first mechanical slot machine was already over 70 years old when Bally created a new type of electromechanical slot machine. “Money Honey” could pay out as much as 500 coins automatically and was a huge step in the development of modern slots.

By the mid-1970s, we could play the first video slot machine. It was launched in Las Vegas but quickly gained widespread appeal. Fortune Coin by the Fortune Coin Company in Las Vegas is said to be the first video slot. This was a particularly important milestone: slots no longer needed physical reels to spin around inside them.

The levers at the side of the machine were no longer required either. The games were fully electronic, the manual element of pulling a lever to make them work defunct. Some slots kept the lever in place to keep the machines looking familiar to players, although the outcome now depended upon a random number generator (RNG) – we’ll see in a moment how that software continues to be important in online slots.

Reports from the time suggest that this change to video slots met some resistance at first. People were used to mechanical slots and perhaps they struggled to trust video slots because it wasn’t so clear how the result was obtained. Yet, this eventually proved to be another successful change, as video slots became a popular, modern way of playing that struck a chord with players.

Enter Progressive Jackpots

Progressive jackpots are now a big part of the slots industry, but we need to go back to 1986 to find the first game with this sort of prize. Called Megabucks and created by IGT, it introduced a fascinating new concept as the top prize climbed every time someone played it. Before long, multi-million dollar prizes had transformed the slot landscape and given players another reason to give these games a try.

The industry continued to evolve in the following years. The Reel ‘Em In machine by WMS was the first to add a bonus round on a second screen in 1996 marking a new era in the history of slot machines where they became more varied and complex.

By now, slots were slick and modern, but the main features – the reels – hadn’t changed too much from that first wave of machines at the end of the 19th century. The basic premise was still a land-based slot where you physically fed in coins and watched the reels spin. The most dramatic changes in slot history were still to come once the internet transformed the world.

Online Slots Arrive in the Industry

Everything started to move online from the late 1990s onwards, it was no surprise to see slots go online too. Any initial uncertainty about how this would work soon cleared: this was evidently the next big step in the history of slots.

Online slot machines have brought flexibility to the industry, allowing you to play in a way that suits you. RNGs mean a completely random result with every spin. Combined with the regulations and certifications, that leads to an extremely high level of player trust in online slot games.

Although there’s no clear record of what the very first online slot was called or when it went live, the first internet casinos appeared in the mid-1990s and a big selection of these games very quickly captured the imagination of players.

Some early internet casinos required players to download the software required to play their games. This time-consuming and cumbersome step was removed when Flash and then HTML5 allowed us to play slots directly in browsers. The games became even faster and simpler to play, loading instantly and allowing us to play demo versions as well as skip from one slot to the next easily.

New Features and Themes

The flexibility of online games meant that developers could explore new themes and features, making this genre more varied and wide-reaching than ever before. Without being restricted to physical machines in a land venue, slot creators could let their imaginations run wild and invent new ways of playing that appeal to more people. Now, many slots cover numerous themes and ways of playing.

Slot providers like NetEnt, Playtech and Blueprint have taken the ideas that we saw in the first slot machine invented back in the 19th century and applied the latest tech to create something modern yet rooted in slot history. Their own ideas and new twists in the forms of bonus rounds, different types of jackpots, and other features make them unique, with endless innovation.

A look at the games currently listed as Evolution Gaming slots gives us an idea of the diversity of this industry. The Evolution slots list includes those created by NetEnt and Red Tiger, now part of this gaming company. That adds the likes of Gonzo’s Quest, Starburst, Twin Spin and Fruit Snap to their portfolio, each of which transports us to a different type of setting and with interesting gameplay.

The Megaways slots give us another example of how these games have taken new approaches that keep them fresh despite their history stretching back more than a century. Created by Big Time Gaming, this mechanism cleverly changes the setup of the reels on every spin, altering the number of ways of winning on a random basis.

Franchises and Branded Games Make an Impact

The most popular games right now show us that many online slots have been able to build on their success and become franchises, with several titles based on the same concept. Games like the ones listed below how an original idea can evolve into a series of similar games.

  • Fishin’ Frenzy by Blueprint Gaming takes the popular fishing theme and adds in new features such as jackpots and extra features on the different versions available
  • Age of the Gods is a series of mythological slots by Playtech that features different mythological characters and features in each game.
  • Diamond Mine by Blueprint adds alternative ways of winning and other features to the basic idea of mining for precious stones.
  • Big Bass comes from Pragmatic Play. This series is another based on fishing, with versions adding the Megaways mechanism and other elements to keep it fresh each time.

These franchises have proved crucial in helping grow the appeal of slots in the UK and beyond. While the first slots had images of playing cards and bells, you can now look for slots that depict your favourite hobby or movies and start playing. Also, if you like a certain game it’s easy to find others that are related to it.

Paddy Power has also created a range of branded slots that reflect our personality. Paddy’s Lucky Mine, Paddy Power Gold and Paddy Power Mystery Gold are among the exclusive, branded slots you’ll find here. With movies and TV shows among the other branded slots, there’s something for every taste now.

We saw earlier that the arrival of progressive jackpots marked one of the most important developments in slot history in the 20th century. You’ll still find them online, with interesting new variants such as the Jackpot King games where a progressive jackpot is linked across several slots.

New Slots

New games are added regularly to our library. This is because there are many developers continually working on new ideas and themes to bring onto the market.

These new releases sit alongside the established classics, meaning that you can take your pick from many different games. The landscape has come a long way from those early days when there were just a few land-based slots to choose from and they all worked in pretty much the same way as each other.

Mobile Slots

Mobile technology improved rapidly in the 2010s, the switch to mobile slots was as inevitable as it was fast and seamless.

This has added even more flexibility to online slot gaming, as you can now play the same titles on a desktop computer or on a mobile device. HTML5 technology is widely used, to ensure that the game’s reels fit perfectly onto any size of screen.

A Look to the Future

The latest technology has been used to update this genre on several occasions, with the pace of change increasing at the turn of the century and continuing in recent years. The most notable aspect of these changes is that the original game of Liberty Bell is still recognisable as the forerunner of the current slots that we can now play in so many different ways.

But with technology such as the metaverse and artificial intelligence promising to change the way we enjoy our hobbies, it seems certain that slots continue to evolve. Exactly how this happens isn’t yet clear. Just as players from the past couldn’t have imagined the changes that we’ve seen so far this century, you’re sure to get some surprises with the changes that occur soon.


When was the slot machine invented?

When we look for the first slot machine, 1887 is the year that many sources claim as when Charley Fey invented the slot that started this industry: the Liberty Bell.

What is the brief history of slot machines?

These gambling machines first appeared as manual devices in the late 19th century before electronic slots were created and the industry then went online at the start of the 21 century.

How were slot machines invented?

The first gambling machines were based on trying to build a winning poker hand. This was simplified by including just a few different symbols that could land in winning combinations across three reels.

Who discovered slot machines?

Several inventors worked on the idea of creating the first slot machine around the same time. Charles Fey is generally credited with making the first slot, thanks to his Liberty Bell machine from the 1880s.

What do you think?